The City of Preston held its Board of Appeals and Equalization meeting during its council meeting on Monday evening. Cynthia Blagsvedt from the Fillmore County Assessor office presented the 2013 assessed property values for the city. An appeal was heard from the POET Biorefining plant for its assessment.

Representing POET, Mitchel Henderson explained that a reassessment had been completed by the Department of Revenue last October and the taxable property value had increased by 57 percent from $5.2 million to close to $8.3 million.

Council member David Collett asked if any values of other plants compare to what the Preston plant had been assessed. Henderson said the plant was comparable to others although it is one of the oldest plants of its kind.

Council member Robert Maust asked if a large capital improvement project was done. Henderson said there had been improvement; specifically with fermentation tanks.

Mayor Steve Reicks asked when the last assessment had been done before October, to which Henderson answered had been five years and that there would be some items included in the recent assessment that hadn't been in the previous one.

"We understand that, but that 57 percent increase is an eye-popper," he stated.

It was determined that a public hearing would be held on April 29 during the regular city council meeting so POET could share what they have done in capital improvement. Both Maust and Collett suggested POET go through the appeal process. Reicks said that since the increase came through the Department of Revenue there would be a good case in keeping the value where it's at.

Henderson said that POET intended on being a good neighbor and would get involved in the appeals process.

The remainder of the assessment presentation showed that there had been a 25 percent decrease in residential property value per square foot within the city of Preston. The value of agriculture and rural land was assessed at $4.2 million; residential, $39.9 million; seasonal recreational, $3.3 million; and commercial/industrial at $16.4 million. The Estimated Market Value Total Except Exempt and Public Utilities decreased by just over 7 percent to roughly $64 million.

National Trout Center

Presenting its quarterly report on the National Trout Center's (NTC) finances were Director of Operations Heath Sershen and NTC board member George Spangler. Spangler thanked the council for the opportunity to present the report and reminded the council that the NTC relies on the city for both fiscal and moral support. "We want you informed as it is an expensive program," he stated.

Spangler explained that the NTC's presence at legislative session was well received and they even received vocal approval from several legislators. He said the legislature can see the NTC as having a local, regional and statewide impact. In regard to building a permanent home for the NTC, Spangler said several legislators said "this was the kind of economic incentive the state should be supporting."

Spangler said it still wasn't clear if a bonding bill would be approved this session to allocate funds to a permanent NTC building. He mentioned the bill Greg Davids presented was well received, but that it is starting to look like next year would more likely be the year when they receive funding.

He also said the NTC had developed an acquisitions policy to deal with the donations of books, fishing equipment and money coming into the NTC.

The conversation turned toward the quarterly financial statement. The statement showed that the NTC was very close to exceeding the amount the city budgeted for the entire year.

"A small run over is fine," shared Council member Dave Collett adding, "When we are almost out of money after the first quarter, there will be some problems."

Hoffman noted that through other accounts, the NTC should have enough money from the city to get through June to their second quarterly report.

Spangler said he hoped the next quarterly report would be more of a progress report concerning fundraising efforts. Spangler said the city had budgeted almost $93,000 toward the NTC for 2013. They had determined that amount after a feasibility study through AgStar showed them what income and expenditures they were likely to see.

The biggest expenditure for the NTC was the hiring of their director of operations and the hire of a part-time marketing and communications specialist.

From that feasibility study, Spangler said the NTC developed a plan to reach self-sufficiency by the end of 10 years. Part of that plan was hiring Sershen to be able to spend time developing additional revenue streams.

"We determined it would be a city employee who would receive fringe benefits," shared Spangler.

Council member Robert Maust asked Spangler if he felt their income budget was still realistic. Spangler said he didn't know, but their conservative estimate of bringing in 15 percent of what was projected by the feasibility study. He said this was the year to find out what revenue streams are developing well.

Maust asked why large organizations such as Trout Unlimited or even the DNR were not putting money into the NTC. Spangler said Trout Unlimited has given them less monetary support and more in-kind services in the NTC's program development. The DNR, he said, does budgeting on a regional basis through habitat trout stamps revenue.

Sershen addressed the council on the NTC's new fundraising campaign to begin May 1. Sershen showed the council a letter which will be sent out with local utility bills in May. The letter asks for sponsorships from individual, families and businesses, as well as charter sponsorships which are more expensive than the sponsorships/memberships.

Sershen said the NTC will be expanding their retail offerings both in-store and online. Applying for small and large grants is ongoing and Sershen reiterated the attempt of the NTC to get on the 2013 and 2014 state bonding bills.

Sershen also spoke about possible events hosted by the NTC, which would be able to generate revenue. "All campaigns are meant to generate both income and awareness of our brand," he shared.

He said their goal for 2013 fundraising was $65,000.

Other business

In other business, the council handled the following issues.

• Upon request by the Trout Days Committee, the council approved the closure of Main Street from St. Anthony Street to Houston Street for the Trout Days Car Show on Saturday, May 18, from 6 a.m. through 5 p.m. It was noted that County Highways 12 and 17 were approved for closure by the county. Hoffman suggested and received approval for the city to close Chatfield Ave. from Fillmore Central Elementary School to St. Paul St. from 2 p.m. through 5 p.m. for the parade lineup.

• The council approved paying a $35 membership fee into the Southeast Minnesota League of Municipalities. The city was a member in 2012 and Hoffman said it was recommended they renew their membership as it allows Preston to add their voice with surrounding cities.

• The city council considered options with its insurance provider. Hoffman said that the city had researched other providers in 2009, but were unable to receive quotes at that time. The city's current provider is the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust (LMCIT). LMCIT is a cooperative, member-owned organization founded during 1980 that provides property, liability, workers' compensation and employee benefit needs to Minnesota cities. Members contribute premiums to a jointly-owned fund rather than paying premiums to buy insurance from a private insurance company. The funds are used to pay for members' claims, losses and expenses. Relative to that topic, tort limits were also briefly discussed. Hoffman said the city could consider waiving their protection, but that it wasn't recommended. The city unanimously approved a motion to not waive the limits on protection they have against lawsuits.