The Preston City Council reviewed its budget during its Dec. 4, meeting, swore in a new councilman and heard news regarding the historic Milwaukee grain elevator project.

City Administrator Joe Hoffman spoke on the budget, stating, "There will be approximately a 3 percent change in the levy, and the largest expense is our general expenditures. Police comprise 16 percent of the budget at $281,440, but a third officer is reimbursed us by Lanesboro."

The fire department cost $98,885, or 6 percent; the EDA and National Trout Center were $70,037; tourism, $49,984; the library, $107,711; the park department, $127,900; streets, $276,959; bonds were $268,922; and general expenditures, $467,068. Revenues stood with state aid providing $484,980; police and fire, $75,106; tourism, the library and park, $91,962; other revenue, $149,388; and the property tax levy, $672,725.

Councilman David Collett questioned the amount allotted the National Trout Center. "The Trout Center gets about double, and we asked them to hold the line. I feel that it should stay the same, not increase."

Mayor Kurt Reicks cited, "We act as their fiscal agent, and we don't want to give them their whole budget at once and have them come back and ask for more, but my opinion is that we should keep it going as best we can because it's going to be a great part of our town. We should keep it moving forward."

A final decision regarding the center's budget will be made at the next council meeting on Dec. 18.

Sheila Craig, Richard Petsch and Robert Maust, of the Preston Historical Society, presented an update on progress at the historic elevator, a project that has been ongoing for the past several years and will eventually include the restoration of the bagging shed, the scale bed and the dump house, as well as interpretive decks and display areas with interactive informational videos.

The trio showed a collection of architectural draft plans that illustrated how the bagging shed, scale bed and dump house would be constructed, with speculation on how to make the entire site as handicapped accessible as possible. The society is applying for funds through the Minnesota Legacy Act, which allows for restoration, but not new construction. Craig said, "What we need is a letter of support from the council dated in January since the next applications will be for the 2013 grants."

The council voted not to sell a parcel of floodplain land in Kercher's Addition to Preston resident Steven Schlick, who had requested that councilors consider doing so to "make mowing easier," as he has a garden on land adjoining the parcel, which is along the bike trail.

Hoffman pointed out that the city purchased the land in October 1995 in an effort to obtain floodplain land to create green space - the land in question can't be used for construction. However, the council decided not to sell it to Schlick, even though he stated that he would sell it back to the city once he was done with it, because, as council member Charles Sparks observed, "I don't know about selling it and turning right around and buying it back again ... it might be hard to buy other land when we're selling this, and for the legal work involved, it would be a lot more money."

The councilors agreed to allow Schlick to continue having access to his garden on the edge of the parcel in question, adding that not having to maintain it might be a benefit.

Dwight Luhmann of Joerg Law Office will remain as the city's attorney, hired on an annual retainer of $18,000 instead of the $3,600 meeting retainer and hourly rate of $125. Scott Springer of Springer & Gumbel submitted a proposal for attorney's services, with a meeting rate of $4,800, an hourly rate of $135, and an annual retainer of $16,200. He stated that after offering the second and third hour of the month free, his services were essentially available for $108 per hour, as averaged out. The council expressed its concern that with ongoing eminent domain litigation related to the acquisition of right of way for the bike trail outside of Preston, changing attorneys might be difficult. Luhmann has worked extensively with the city on the matter, and that fact helped determine the council's preference for his continued role as city attorney.

Other business

• Pam Ristau, C.P.A., of Preston, will be the city's auditor once more. Her quote of $10,400 was less than Smith, Schafer & Associates' quote of $14,500 for 2012 and $15,200 for 2013.

• Next, councilors chose to limit rental of the city council chambers to during city hall business hours, given that the chambers were recently remodeled. In the past, the room had been available to any group from anywhere for a $20 fee.

• The Fillmore County Journal was selected as the legal newspaper based on the lowest bid for advertising rates.

• Robert Maust's letter of intent to become a council member was accepted and he was sworn in, taking council member Kay Spangler's seat. Final business of the evening included electing a mayor pro tem and determining whether to hold the regularly scheduled Dec. 17 meeting on that date or on Dec. 18 since Reicks would not be able to attend. Sparks nominated Collett as mayor pro tem, the council approved it, and then concluded that the next meeting would be held Tuesday, Dec. 18.