Unlike most of its meetings, the Preston City Council found more questions than answers during its Monday, Feb. 5, assembly. Discussion once again centered around two of its large proposed projects, the State Veterans Home and the purchase of the former Dairy and Farm site.

The first project on the agenda was the state veterans home.

The city of Preston has had a land option with Bob Doherty for the 15 acres selected for the proposed state veterans home site, located just north of Preston, which will expire at the end of February.

The option is to purchase the land at $14,000 an acre for a total of $210,000.

As proposed, the city would put 15 percent down, $31,500, and finance the remaining $178,500 at five percent interest with an annual payment of $30,000.

During the previous meeting, the council determined it wanted city engineer Brett Grabau to prepare preliminary engineering designs.

Grabau presented the council with a layout option to consider based on his review of the site.

A point of contention became the driveway entrance to the proposed site.

Grabau showed the entrance at the west of the site off of Golfview Road with a 100-foot right-of-way due to the steep incline of the area. This would give the roadway a 10-percent grade.

Council member Robert Maust stated he would like to keep the entrance to the northwest of the site so the entrance would not have to be a 90 degree angle as he believed this would be easier for any large truck traffic.

According to Grabau, creating a Y intersection on Golfview Road near the entrance to Highway 16 would not be safe for traffic and the grade of the road may be higher in that direction.

Decisions will need to be made on the location of the roadway prior to a survey, so they can determine what 15 acres the city would purchase and if any additional property would need to be included.

Questions also arose whether the roadway would be considered a city street or driveway for the facility.

Because the legislative bill is for a state home to come to Fillmore County, no decision has been made on whether the site would be built in Spring Valley or Preston, the two towns in the county vying for the project. This decision will be made by the Fillmore County Commissioners once the project is awarded to the county.

Unfortunately, this also makes it difficult for the city to make any determinations on purchasing the property or even to clarify some of the engineering questions.

“Lots of questions to be answered,” Mayor Kurt Reicks commented. “It's tough to decide where we want to buy this land, if we want to buy it or where the roads are going to go...how can we proceed? I really think we're getting the cart in front of the horse, here. I support this project full heartedly, but we've got to get some answers to these questions before we decide what we're going to do.”

Reicks suggested that someone related to the project contact Doherty to discuss the possibility of extending the purchase options.

City attorney Dwight Luhmann volunteered to discuss extending the option with Doherty on behalf of the city.

City Administrator Joe Hoffman noted that if the council is seriously considering purchasing the property he, along with Luhmann, would need to begin researching finance options.

Former Dairy & Farm site purchase

Luhmann updated the council on the progress of the new purchase agreement for the former Dairy and Farm site.

The price changed from $100,000 to $115,000 with the possibility of a $15,000 reimbursement depending on special funding for the clean up.

The contract also states Dairy & Farm would be responsible to complete all clean up prior to the city's purchase.

Questions then arose about what work remains to complete the clean up.

“This is another situation with a lot of unanswered questions,” Reicks commented.

After much discussion, the council approved the purchase agreement with the new changes.

Maust then stated the Preston Historical Society would like to begin using the west building on the site as their new location if approved by the council.

“It would be their responsibility to do whatever improvements need to be done to it for their use,” Maust stated.

Council members also questioned whether the historical society would really want to put money into a building when the city may decide to tear it down.

“I still think we buy the property, clean it up and then use it for something new in the future,” Reicks said.

“I'd like to hear from the community what they would like to see there and how much support there is for a community center,” council member Holly Zuck expressed.

No decision was made at this time.

Fire Department Relief Association

Fire Chief Josh Ristau and Dustin Arndt gave the council an update on the department.

Ristau noted the department welcomed two new firefighters in the fall and received a grant from the Department of Natural Resources.

“We did a grant with the DNR for half the cost of our boots, so everyone got a new pair this year,” Ristau shared.

According to Arndt, the department was also able to purchase training videos through grant funding.

Since the creation of its gambling fund the fire department has been able to donate $160,733 to the community.

“Most of that has been toward our equipment fund, $122,406 went back to the city for the equipment fund, $6,000 to the park board and then $32,327 to 27 other area organizations,” Arndt shared.

Arndt then asked the council to consider increasing the per year of service retirement rate by $100. Currently, the rate is $1,600 per year with 115 percent of the retirement funded through the association.

The city voluntarily budgets $4,000, which would not change, according to Hoffman.

It was noted that while most cities comparable to Preston pay approximately $5,000 annually to the department's officers, their officers waive a salary in order to put the money toward the department's needs.

The council voted to approve the $100 increase.

Squad car purchase

Police Chief Matt Schultz addressed the council to discuss the purchase of a new squad car.

Schultz stated the department's 2011 Chevrolet Impala has been damaged and repaired numerous times and is now in need of replacement.

The recommendation was for the purchase of a new, full-size Dodge Ram at the cost of $27,450. It is estimated to cost another $2,650 for graphics, wiring, lights and the cage.

The city's police vehicle fund has approximately $42,000 for the purchase.

The council approved a motion to purchase the new truck.

Other business

• The 2017 ambulance write-offs of $83,773.77 were approved. These monies represent the funding gap between the ambulance rates and the reimbursement from private insurance, Medicare and Medicaid.

• The fire department 2017 write-offs of $600, which are from uncollected accounts, were approved.

• On the recommendation of city staff the council approved the write-off of $325.

• The council approved a $100 donation to the Fillmore Central Post-Prom Committee.

• The next council meeting will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 20, at 6 p.m.