Preston Council moves forward with purchase of veterans home site

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On Monday night, City Administrator Joe Hoffman told the Preston City Council he had a conference call with representatives from the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs (MDVA) and a meeting is scheduled in St. Cloud next week.

The MDVA has requested the home site and any local donations be transferred to the state swiftly to meet its deadline.

According to Hoffman, the state will include the amount of local contributions in the federal application to ensure they are matched two-to-one by the federal funds.

“I think the underlying issue we are going to have with this site is the unknown access point to the west,” Hoffman expressed.

Because of this and the need for a quick purchase, Hoffman asked the council to make a determination on where they would like to see the access point.

“Until we narrow down which one we prefer it makes it difficult to get it surveyed,” Hoffman stated.

Several options were considered, but the council voted to pursue the purchase of the nine-acre building site, as well as driveway access to the north and a possible easement to the south for a total of 15 acres.

Questions were then raised about who would pay for the new roadway to the site, the city or the VA.

At this time it is unclear, though the council members hope to have this clarified during their meeting with the MDVA.

The purchase of the property will be approximately $195,000. The city has also committed $125,000 in cash donations toward the project.

The general fund currently has a cash and investment balance of approximately $240,000, which Hoffman said is the minimum of what a city the size of Preston needs.

Alternative proposed sources for the funds compiled by city staff was $55,000 in MIF funds, $25,000 from the EDA operating transfer, $55,000 from the EDA Development fund, $21,000 from the city contingency transfer and $164,000 from the street fund transfer for a total of $320,000.

“I like this idea real well,” said Councilmember Charles Sparks. “It's good that a good share of it is coming from the EDA since that is a big project for the EDA.”

The motion to accept these funding sources was approved.

Former Texaco/POP site

During its last meeting, the council learned the former Texaco/POP site was in tax forfeiture and the county requested the city determine what it would like to do or not do with the property.

At that time city staff was asked to research the options available to the city for the clean up of the site before the council would consider the purchase of the property.

The estimated cost of the tank removal is less than $10,000.

According to Hoffman, there is a kerosene and a diesel tank at the location and there is a possibility the kerosene tank may be eligible for the state's abandoned tank program.

“The abandoned tank program that the state has through the petrol fund will remove any tank that was taken out of service anytime prior to 1989. The state pays all the costs associated with removing the tank,” Hoffman shared.

Councilmember Robert Maust questioned why the city would consider the purchase and clean up of the property.

Both Sparks and Mayor Kurt Riecks commented there may not be anyone else willing or able to complete the clean up, which would leave the property in it's current deteriorating state.

“You would allow a suspected contaminated site to persist within your community. It is a couple of blocks away from a waterway. We go to extraordinary lengths as a public utility to protect our public water supply and here we have a suspect contaminated site just blocks away,” Hoffman added.

The council, with Maust and David Collett opposed, advised staff to draft a letter to the county asking for the sale of the property to be withheld from sale or lease to others in six months for further research.

AED Program

Ambulance Director Ryan Throckmorton, approached the council to discuss a public access AED (Automatic External Defibrillators) program.

“This is a program where we are following suit with Tristate Ambulance and Gundersen Health in La Crosse,” Throckmorton explained. “Essentially, anyone can fill out an application and use the unit while they are having a family function or whatever it may be.”

There will be no cost for those renting the unit.

Earlier this year, the ambulance service received a $350 grant from the Preston Area Community Foundation for a case, pads and batteries for the AED.

Throckmorton noted there are over 25 AEDs throughout the city at various businesses.

Other business

• Following the recommendation for approval from the planning and zoning commission, the council approved a variance request from Foremost Farms to allow for a tank replacement in the alley behind their plant located at 220 St. Paul Street SW. The city requires a 20-foot rear setback, but the request asked for the allowance of a setback of zero.

• The next meeting will be held on Monday, July 16, at 6 p.m.