Fillmore County commissioner Duane Bakke speaks to the Preston City Council regarding the proposed veterans' cemetery to be built outside of Preston.PHOTO BY GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/REPUBLICAN-LEADER
Fillmore County commissioner Duane Bakke speaks to the Preston City Council regarding the proposed veterans' cemetery to be built outside of Preston.

Fillmore County Commissioner Duane Bakke spoke to Preston's city council during the Monday, March 4, meeting. Bakke shared information regarding the permit progress and construction plans at the proposed state veterans' cemetery to be built near Preston.

A parcel of the land in question - north and west of the county highway shop - must be re-zoned to R-1 agricultural-residential from I-1 industrial in order to satisfy requirements as the planning stage proceeds.

Bakke informed the council, "The application is in Washington, D.C., for approval...I can't stand here and say that it's a done deal, but of the 113 they approved last year, we're number eleven."

A conditional use permit (CUP) will be presented at an upcoming Fillmore County commissioners' meeting to advance allowing the cemetery's construction. The cemetery will serve veterans within a 75-mile radius and will accommodate up to 300 burials per year, according to Bakke.

"This is a very unique thing," he added as he referred to the location's rolling hills. "We've been told that at the national level, it will become a model that people will come and look at because they usually have flat ground at these cemeteries, and this is a new way of building them."

The council approved the re-zoning for the county to continue pursuit of the cemetery's construction.

Brush dump

City employee Jim Bakken asked the council to allow him to have the now-bumpy, overgrown brush dumpsite leveled and cleared as an act of maintenance. Bakken explained this would make room for actual brush instead of the accumulating dirt that has resulted from years of burning and piling brush at the site.

"It has become very inefficient and unmanageable," he reported, explaining there's a lot coming into the dump every year, but nothing going out.

The dump's annual maintenance budget is $1,000, but Bakken said, "Last year, we spent $10, and the year before that, $74."

He shared that the cost of hiring Ron Scheevel to spend two days bulldozing the site stands at approximately $3,000. However, considering the fact that so little had been spent from the dump's account in previous years, he felt it left leeway for the council to grant the sum from the general fund, where the funds were deposited when not used.

Bakken then shared an $8,130 estimate for a 57-foot by 17-foot bunker to store various street repair materials, as some materials had been stored next to the city shop building, which now has been updated and repaired.

Scheevel would rent concrete forms to the city for $800 and provide advice regarding construction, but city utility workers would do the actual work, costing the utility department $4,500 and the city an equal share.

Councilmen raised the issue of whether the proposed build site is too close to the river and Bakken agreed to check with the county regarding whether the chosen plot would lead to materials running off into the river in case of flood or heavy rain.

Street project financing

The council discussed issues relating to the city's financing options for upcoming street projects, including numerous repairs and replacements. The main decision needing to be made is whether to finance $2 million or $4 million worth of projects.

City Clerk Joe Hoffman pointed out that Preston's bonding rating stands at AA-, a "good rating," and that the current debt per capita is $1,500. Financing $4 million would "put us in the moderate to high range," with $4,500 per capita debt, but it would also help the city accomplish cohesive projects.

With a larger portion of the projects tied together and a larger portion of the community assessed for the projects, the city could see a potential savings of 7 to 10 percent on a loan with a 2 percent interest rate.

The negative aspects of doing so would incur larger project staging, difficulty maintaining access to neighborhoods and would double the number of affected citizens. The larger project would also place a greater demand on city resources and the possibility that certain contractors will not be able to take on the project due to its size.

Financing $2 million, Hoffman noted, might incur additional costs simply because borrowing too little might mean the city would have to borrow again to finish a project.

He stated, "It's a gamble...we can delay the decision until we know more about the projects...we don't have to make a decision tonight."

The council followed that recommendation and tabled the matter until a future meeting.

Franchise agreement

The council renewed the city's service franchise agreement with Minnesota Energy Resources, as the 25-year agreement that had been in effect had expired. The agreement was approved with some changes made to the contract, including removal of a confidentiality clause that would limit the city's access to some information from Minnesota Energy Resources. This information includes data such as maps of gas service systems, as the maps must be provided to anyone who requests them, but the details of the systems are at the discretion of the company.