Ambulance Director Ryan Throckmorton addressed the Preston City Council at its Dec. 3 meeting to ask the council to consider options for obtaining a replacement emergency vehicle for the city.

On Nov. 20, the city's second ambulance or "B-rig" experienced an engine failure while coming back from a call. The extent of the problems with the vehicle has not been exactly determined and repairs are being estimated to exceed $10,000. Throckmorton said over $8,000 had been spent in repairs on the same vehicle within the past two years. He suggested that the city replace it sooner rather than later.

"City vehicles are important, but this is an emergency vehicle," Throckmorton stressed.

The 2006 vehicle was scheduled to be replaced in 2016. The city is required to have one ambulance, but with call volume being up overall in the past two years, the city council determined the vehicle needed to be replaced.

Throughout a long discussion, the council determined to purchase a new AEV F450 4X4 vehicle which will be on the market in February. They decided to wait and see what the cost of repairs would be. The city would get approximately $8,000 more in a trade-in if the vehicle runs.

The council decided not to repair the vehicle if it cost more than that. The city will lease a secondary vehicle in the mean time.

2014 budget and levy

Hoffman presented the 2014 budget and levy for public comment. The city will see a $36,000 increase in its property tax levy, or a 5.4 percent increase to tax rates. Most of the increase can be attributed to the 2014 street and utility project the city will be commencing. Hoffman noted that taxes would have increased 2.2 percent otherwise.

This places Preston as the fourth highest tax rate among cities in Fillmore County. Properties values are also going down and even by 20 percent in some places of the city. Hoffman said agriculture, commercial and industrial properties would probably see greater decreases than residential properties.

"It's a complicated formula this year," he said, adding that individuals could stop by city hall, talk to him and set up a meeting with the county assessor. He noted that decreasing values typically means taxes go up, but said that residents' taxes would have gone up this year even if their value had stayed constant.

The tax levy will make up 44 percent of the city's revenue, with 30 percent of its funds coming from the state. The city will see a $10,000 increase in local government aid from the state.

No comments were received from the public and it was determined that the final budget and levy would be approved at the next meeting.

Brownsville green belt

Tim Johnston, owner of the Brownsville Mobile Home Park, addressed the council concerning the green belt for the park. He said he had met with Kerry Soiney, who lives north across the street from the park, to discuss what work would be done to create a green belt.

Soiney had addressed the council at an Oct. 7 meeting and stated at that time there was not enough being done to establish a barrier between the park and other residences. A city ordinance written in 1971 had specified the requirement of the green belt.

Johnston expressed to the council his willingness to incorporate some landscaping into the project, such as latticework and shrubberies.

Soiney said the barrier wasn't up yet, but that he appreciated Johnston's willingness to work with new plans. Johnston said the work would commence and be completed next spring.

Bond rating

The city recently received notice of their Standard and Poor's (S&P) bond rating, which had recently been upgraded from an "AA- rating" to an "AA rating." This means the city has a more improved bond rating.

Hoffman explained the improvement had been derived by the city's strong budgetary flexibility with reserves above 85 percent of expenditures, a strong liquidity position, an average income at 91 percent of the United States average, a strong debt profile, among other factors.

Hoffman explained the S&P had suggested the city approve a formal capital financial plan and a fund balance policy. He said the city had been working well without one and would be giving up some flexibility if they did make those changes. The city of Chatfield is the only other area city which received a AA rating. Rochester received a AAA rating and Byron, a AA+ rating.

Other business

• Eight acres owned by Robert Doherty were approved to be re-zoned from B-2 (highway business) to I-1 (industrial). The plot of land is located at the intersection of Highways 16 and 52.

• Due to a change in staffing, the Lanesboro Ambulance department had sent a new mutual aid agreement for the Preston Council to approve. Hoffman stated the agreement itself hadn't changed, just the signature at the bottom. The council approved the agreement pending a procedural review by the city attorney.

• The next city council meeting is Dec. 16.