Preston City Council sets preliminary tax levy, supports Toward Zero Deaths initiative

Melissa Vander Plas

The Preston City Council set its preliminary levy and 2020 budget during its second meeting of September last week.

The total levy for 2020 is $985,130, which is a 4.57 percent increase. The levy includes $661,520 for the general fund, $88,802 for the library, $62,490 for the economic development authority, $2,500 for fire relief, $123,648 for bonds for the 2014 street and utility project, $24,170 for the north industrial park and $22,000 for storm water.

City Administrator Joe Hoffman explained that the levy increase is mainly due to increased health insurance costs, salary increases for city employees, fire department equipment and the fact that 2020 is an election year, which also causes some increased costs to the city.

Also, because the council had decided to delay the proposed street improvements that had been planned for this fall – due to higher-than-expected bids – additional funds had been set aside in the general fund for street improvements in the future.

Hoffman also urged the council members to go through the proposed budget and look for ways in which cuts could be made as the preliminary levy cannot be raised before being adopted in December, but it can be lowered.

Toward Zero Deaths

The council approved participation in the Toward Zero Deaths (TZD) initiative in which the Preston Police Department participates through the Fillmore County Sheriff’s office to conduct enhanced traffic enforcement. The TZD enforcement grant program provides federal funds to the law enforcement agencies to conduct these extra shifts.

Police Chief Blaise Sass explained to the council, in a note, “TZD is a program that was adopted by the state of Minnesota in 2003. It was established with the goal of reducing the number of traffic-related fatalities and major injuries. The TZD program’s main focus is the four areas of education, emergency medical and trauma services, enforcement and engineering. The state of Minnesota works cooperatively with local law enforcement to meet that goal through grant funding. During these shifts, officers focus solely on traffic enforcement. Statistics have shown our efforts have reduced the number of fatalities, major injuries and medical expenses since the beginning of the program.”

Hoffman also explained that for the Preston Police Department, the TZD funds help cover the costs of overtime and extra shifts. “It’s a way to get officers on the road for some extra hours,” he said.

MMUA safety contract

The council also approved the renewal of the contract between Preston Public Utilities and the Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association (MMUA) to provide safety coordination services for the city and utility.

Hoffman explained that the city shares 45/55 in the cost with the Public Utilities. Preston shares a safety coordinator, Mark Hottel, with 11 other communities, including Harmony and Spring Valley. Hottel spends about two days a month in Preston and provides all mandated safety training and record keeping and works with employees to ensure OSHA compliance.

Hoffman said the trainings provided include the employee right to know information, blood-borne pathogen training, first aid, fire extinguisher use, confined space entry as well as trainings on other industry-specific topics.

The city’s cost for 2020 is estimated to be $7,402 – a 2.2% increase from 2019.

Hoffman added that it is a budgeted expense and he recommended approval.

Other business

Mayor Kurt Reicks appointed John Kinneberg to the Planning and Zoning Board to fill a vacancy created when Matt Schultz moved away from Preston.

The consent agenda included approval for a letter of support being sent to MiBroadband for its application to the Border-to-Border grant program. MiBroadband is a partnership of Harmony, Mabel and Spring Grove telephone companies and MiEnergy. They are proposing to build a fiber backbone in Fillmore County, including a fiber line through Preston. Hoffman explained that the city and Public Utilities already have an existing relationship with this entity as it has wireless facilities on the water tower and city hall. The city also receives its internet service from MiBroadband.

Also included in the consent agenda was to authorize assignment of TIF 7 payments to Ron Gehling rather than Gehling Auction Co. LLC. Hoffman explained the TIF 7 agreement is between the city and Gehling Auction Co. and currently, payments are made to Gehling Auction. However, Ron and Lanna Gehling own the real estate and would like the checks to come to them personally. Financial advisor Mike Bubany suggested that a simple assignment agreement should be signed to document this change. The council approved the request.