Civic leaders discuss priorities with legislators during annual forum

By : 

 Chatfield welcomed its local legislators on Tuesday evening, Nov. 20, for the city’s annual legislative forum to share its priorities for the coming year.

Sen. Jeremy Miller, Sen. Carla Nelson and Rep. Greg Davids joined Chatfield’s mayor, Russ Smith, city councilors and City Clerk Joel Young, as well as members of the Chatfield School Board, representatives of the Chatfield Center for the Arts (CCA) and Chatfield Economic Development Director Chris Giesen in reviewing legislative priorities that have been set for 2019.

Giesen spoke about how the EDA and the city had been awarded a Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) grant that was to be applied to the betterment of city infrastructure to promote the development of a project that would benefit the city’s economic standing.

He stated over the course of the five-year period allotted for the grant funds to be used, the city and EDA have had a project in the works — first, with a Family Dollar store that rescinded its plans because of a corporate takeover by another company, then a hotel project that did not garner as many local investors as necessary, and now, a seemingly very viable Dollar General store project that would be disrupted by the city’s need to pay back the sum that it got from DEED.

Sen. Miller observed that the EDA and city would essentially need an extension for the DEED grant’s requirements to be fulfilled, and he asked how long it might take to secure the Dollar General store’s construction.

Giesen informed him that environmental studies are underway and assured him this endeavor felt more certain than the past two.

Miller questioned, “How much of an extension would you need? Six months? Eight months?”

Giesen answered, “Our agreement with Dollar General is within a year — it comes up in March.”

Young interjected, “March is what they’ve asked for, and they’re doing their due diligence.”

Nelson said to Giesen, “I want you to know that this is not an unusual situation.”

Giesen thanked the legislators for their input, then went on to highlight other uses for EDA funding, such as the $130,000 in lot purchasing assistance the EDA has made available for home-building on Amco Drive.

Renovation of the Chatfield Center for the Arts has been a showcase the city has hoped to keep before legislators, and the legislative forum was no different, as the city is seeking funding for the improvement of the CCA’s second renovation phase.

The priority was listed along with the rest of the city’s 2019 items, reading, “The city seeks funding for the improvement of the Chatfield Center for the Arts property as previously submitted for Capital Investment Funding. Operationally, this non-profit organization is already contributing $250,000 a year to the regional economy, in addition to other indirect economic and social benefits. Further improvements to the property will enable the addition of fine arts programming to the successful performance art programming that is continuing to grow.”

Most recently, Young explained, the city had sought $7.9 million in state bonding to carry out further renovations — this time, for the 1916 school building attached to Potter Auditorium, Chatfield’s gem of a theater stage and entertainment venue. The 1916 school building is eventually meant to function as a fine arts outlet and as lobby space for events happening in Potter Auditorium.

CCA representative Carla Gallina told the legislators that the CCA has only one set of compliant renovated restrooms and, for larger events during the summer, the board of directors had rented portable toilets to accommodate event attendees. However, the same cannot be done during the winter due to not-so-rave reviews about using an outdoor toilet in 20-degree weather.

She added that the heating system in the school building is inconsistent and there is no air conditioning outside of the auditorium, making it an uncomfortable place to be in midsummer.

Also, the lighting throughout the building is not energy efficient and needs to be upgraded to LED so the utility bill can decrease.

Miller asked Young and Gallina to round up an estimate of the cost of the second phase so he could bring it to the state’s attention during an upcoming session.

Small Cities Aid (SCA), Local Government Aid (LGA) and the Local Road Improvement Program (LRIP) were the third city priorities brought before the legislators.

The priority listing read, “LGA is a critical source of funding for Chatfield. Stable, full funding of the Small Cities Assistance Fund is also a critical need for Chatfield because cities of 5,000 and under do not receive direct dedicated state aids. Chatfield also supports expanding the Local Road Improvement Program (LRIP).”

Chatfield Superintendent Ed Harris had a turn at sharing his concerns with the legislators before they departed, and he related that his and the School Board’s concerns are with flat revenues and flat enrollment — not declining, but flat — in relation to the rising cost of educating students.

He requested that the legislators consider the possibility of granting School Boards more latitude in determining operating levy renewals so that when a district comes closer to needing an increase in local funding, it can address that problem.

Harris also relayed his perspective that the workload and mandates involved with special education have put undue stress on teachers as they attempt to manage their instructional and bookkeeping time. “There will be a cost savings of reallocation of teachers’ time, and that would make a big difference to us locally.”