By Jean Doran Matua, Editor
At its Sept. 12 regular meeting, the Watkins city council approved moving forward with refunding the $4,070,000 bond from 2013. Doug Green of Baker Tilly MA attended the meeting and further explained how it will work. He emphasized that the city is under no obligation, and can terminate the deal at any time. He presented a contract drawn up between Baker Tilly and the city as well.
Interest rates were better two weeks earlier but they had shot back up; they were still good. The true interest cost on the bond refunding would be 2.79% (the interest rate on the current bond averages 3.5%). After refunding, the city is expected to save about $20-25,000/year for the life of the bond, or about $560,000 including fees.
The council unanimously authorized the sale of the bond. Baker Tilly will ask for bids the morning of Oct. 10 and present them at the council meeting that evening. The council can then accept a bid, or reject all bids at that time.
The council heard from David Tysk. He and his partner have purchased the Meeker County EDA townhome properties, including the townhomes in Watkins across from Hilltop Health Care Center.
There is a two-acre parcel behind the townhomes in Watkins that is currently owned by the Watkins EDA. Tysk and his partner want to purchase the land and build 20 or 24 apartment units there; a second 12-unit building is being considered, although there may not be room for that and detached parking both. The partners plan to apply for a Minnesota workforce development grant for this project, without which the project likely will not go forward. It is anticipated that the state grant could contribute $400,000 toward the project, and another $200,000 would be required from the city (in the form of selling the land, tax abatement, or some other combination). It is not yet clear whether the entrance to the apartments will be from Western Avenue or through the current drive for the townhomes.
Tysk and his partner will move forward with the grant application, planning to submit it by Nov. 1 with the city’s review first at their Oct. 10 meeting. There will need to be a separate council hearing for tax abatement, and an EDA hearing to sell the land. The next EDA meeting is Oct. 7.
Although a new ambulance is on order, the tires on the current one won’t last that long. The council approved $1,200 for new tires for the existing ambulance.
The council heard from two representatives of Meeker Coop about their fiberoptic/wifi product Vibrant. They explained that both government and schools will get member pricing that includes $299 installation of fiberoptic (payable over 12 months), and no-cost installation of a wifi receiver. (Wifi must be within line of sight of one of the Vibrant towers in the area.) Various speeds are available starting at 25 Mbps. Vibrant will be available to customers throughout the Meeker Coop service area, including cities that may be serviced by Xcel Energy. No action was needed at this time.
The council discussed paying tuition for two Watkins members of the Meeker In Motion program through the Litchfield Chamber, Brenda Carlson and Jeff Brinker. Tuition is $450 each for the year-long program. The council will pay tuition for both.
The council agreed to allow both Robotics and FFA championship signs to be placed by MnDOT on the population signs in Watkins. The school district will pay all costs.
A city resident presented with a $460 water bill for July. He had a broken water pipe, and all the water went onto the ground, not down the sewer. As per city policy, the sewer portion was reduced from $260.95 on this bill to the monthly average (around $10). His most recent bill was $198 for 10,000 gallons; this was due to an issue inside his home where the water covered the floor but did not go down the sewer. The sewer portion of this latest bill was $105.60, and it will similarly be adjusted.
Employees received official reviews at the Aug. 8 meeting, and all were very good. It was recommended by council member Tootz Tschumperlin that Jeanette Niedhardt receive more than the 4% increase that was proposed for all city employees. She suggested $15.50/hour instead of $14.91 as the new rate, for 2020, and the 2021 increase to be like everyone else. This was approved.
Not much has developed with the CP Rail property. An offer was made, and a reply received saying that it has been referred to a manager. In the meantime, CP Rail is encouraging the city to sign the lease and pay rent (which would make the city liable for any and all railroad accidents and spills within the city). The council does not intend to sign a lease at this time.
From the EDA report: Jeff and Reneen Babbitt plan to purchase Stein’s Thriftway Foods from Ed and Cindy Stein. Reneen will work there a month with the Steins before the purchase is finalized. Also, there may be someone interested in building townhomes in the Glenshire Estate development, and storage units may be coming to the corner of Highway 55 and Glenshire.
The council approved a proposed levy and budget for 2020. The Truth in Taxation hearing has been set for 7:05 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 12, at the beginning of a regular council meeting.
From public works, they’re waiting on excavation down to the crack/leak in the pool wall to see what they’re dealing with. Also, the electrical panel for the reservoir needs to be replaced; what’s there now is the original from 1953. The council approved $2,300 for caster wheels on the snow plow.
The recent Swimming Pool Carnival fundraiser brought in $700 in profits and another $1,300 in donations. All but $500 (to be used for a carnival next year) will be put to use on pool expenses.
The next regular meeting of the Watkins city council will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 10.