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City departments look at short-term goals

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Last week, Detroit Lakes department heads met to discuss long-and short-term goals of each department.

A number of departments were covered in Sunday's Tribune. Now it's time for the rest of the story.

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Housing Authority

Housing Authority Director Gordy Grabow said his department plans to partner with either Emmanuel Community or St. Mary's Regional Health Center to build some assisted living housing. If he can get 10 residents in a building, the nursing homes will provide a 24-hour care nurse.

Because of budgets cuts, like most departments, Grabow said the housing authority has to scale back on assistance to residents.

However, the department does plan to some renovations in the community areas of the elderly-housing apartments in the city.

Community Education

Community Education is going online.

With money well spent, the Detroit Lakes community ed program is keeping up with the times and putting scheduling and the catalog for programs online.

Community Ed Director Mark Greenig reported the baseball program, funded by the VFW, is going strong with 406 players last summer.

The struggle with summer programs includes finding lifeguards. At the rate of $15 an hour, Greenig said he could only find one person to lifeguard last year.

With a reconstruct in the budget last year, the city and community ed were able to fund a 10th week of summer programs, as they have until last year, when it was cut to nine weeks because of city budget constraints.

"When you approved that, you headed off a headache you didn't know was coming," Greenig said of bringing back the 10th week.

For long-term goals, Greenig said community ed is looking to resurface the tennis courts, which will cost roughly $20,000, and install more playground equipment around the city.

Public Utilities

Commission

Some internal offices expressed their concern over not getting Lakesnet Internet repairs in a timely fashion.

Public Utilities Superintendent Curt Punt said either a third person needs to be hired for the department, or the work will need to be "farmed out" to another provider who can service the Internet problems.

Punt isn't sure there's enough work to keep a third person busy.

Police Chief Kel Keena said that may be so, but every time there is a computer problem, there is someone on his end twiddling his or her thumbs because the technology doesn't work.

Punt agreed to look into the cost of hiring another person versus finding another company to make repairs for the city.

Punt said electricity wise, the department will just try to keep up this year with all the new developments in town, Highway 10 project and the new Menards.

Water and wastewater rates are increasing.

City growth is becoming a significant problem. With having to get city water and sewer to new developments, the initial cost is growing too high for the city.

It's been 13 years since the last water and sewer rate increase, and everyone agrees it's time for another.

"It's just snowballed over the last couple years," City Financer Lou Guzek said of developments around the city.

Development along Long Lake was the largest growth spurt to set the city back.

Alderman Bruce Imholte suggested the city do gradual rate increases rather than a large percentage right away, to curb the shock value.

The city council voted on the decision last night and raised rates.

Finance Committee

Piggybacking on the discussion of bringing water and sewer to new developments, special assessments to developers was discussed.

There are 345 available lots in the Detroit Lakes area with city infrastructure. This year, there will be at least 60 more with Clear Creek and Dick Pettit making more available. That's a total of 400 lots. With roughly 50 homes being built last year, the city is set for eight years with new lots available for building.

The city has $3.6 million in deferred assets in the ground to these lots. That's a number some of the city heads aren't exactly comfortable with.

Last year, the city passed a new policy saying developers have to pay 10 percent down on assessments, and the remaining cost is deferred for three, seven and 10 years. Now the city is questioning if they should require 25 percent of cost down, with the deferred amount to be paid sooner.

City Administrator Rich Grabow suggested requiring nothing down, but assessing developers right away for the infrastructure. Mayor Larry Buboltz said he didn't agree that nothing should be put down, but liked the idea of assessing property or developers the first year.

Fee structures, like for the city pavilion, for example, need to be set and followed.

Non-profit groups have asked the city to waive fees on rental spaces throughout the city. Some are waived, some aren't.

City Attorney Bill Briggs said when the city waives a fee or even reduces the fee for a non-profit organization, it's as if the city is giving a donation to the organization.

Alderman James Hannon asked the mayor to appoint a council member to the Holmes Center, Inc. board, since the city supports it financially.

"I believe it's in the city's best interest to be more involved," he said.

The city's municipal golf course isn't a moneymaker for the city, but is holding it's own at the moment.

Imholte suggested since the Executive Course doesn't make any money, the city should sell nine holes to develop the land into residential. He said the same mentality should be used when discussing the second golf course as having a second liquor store. Some are thinking a second liquor store wouldn't be worth the money and only take away business from the original.

"It (the golf course) doesn't cost the city anything," Grabow said. "That's always been the goal. At one time, we were the monopoly in town."

Now, everyone agrees, that's no longer true.

The Pine to Palm course has 800 members, and Grabow said, "We've been tapping those people to pick up the slack."

There is a long-range plan to lengthen the course, "but it's going to be expensive," he said.

Airport Commission

Commission chair Duane Wething said the biggest short-term goal of the airport commission is to get through the Environmental Assessment/ Environmental Impact Statement for the runway expansion.

If the expansion plan does go forward, he said a parallel taxiway will need to be built as well.

"We need to do something so we can keep the airport open during construction," he said.

Long-term, the airport will need more hangar space, and improvements to the arrival/departure area.

The airport commission has asked the county and city to sign a statement saying the two joint entities support the expansion project. The county and city approved the motion.

Grabow said the federal and state government -- which funds 95 percent of the project -- need the signed letters of support to accept the EA/EIS.

Hannon said he still feels he doesn't have enough information to support the expansion. He also brought up troubles with the new airport manager, Darrell Lowe.

Wething admitted the airport is in a transition period with the new manager. Lowe has owned private airports previously, so he hasn't had to serve as public relations to the city and county in the past.

"He's struggling with that," Wething said.

Fuel sales at the airport are down, but Wething said it's because this winter hasn't been good for flying. Plus managers are responsible for purchasing and selling their own fuel, so he said there is no way to track how this year compares to past years.

He assured the group that air traffic is increasing each year.

"We're volunteer," he said of the airport commission. "We're struggling through some hard things."

He said the commission needs support, not to be criticized.

"Take a leap of faith," he said, encouraging the council to vote in support of the letter.

Community Development

Community Development Director Larry Remmen said the plan to help businesses relocated by the Highway 10 project is on the top of his list for the upcoming years.

Annexation and industrial development are also top priorities.

With the Highway 10 project, the city is planning on going whistle free.

"We're starting the process now, so by 2009, it will be in place," Remmen said.

Minnesota Department of Transportation is planning to build the new railroad crossing to accommodate the whistle-free crossings.

The group also discussed asking for a half percent sales tax for community and economic development.

Alderman Ron Zeman said he feels there are too many taxes right now, and the city should think about doing this in several years, rather than in the next one or two.

Since Detroit Lakes is a regional shopping hub, "people other than those living here help pay," Remmen pointed out.

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