Much of the regular Preston City Council meeting on Monday, July 15, was dedicated to the review, discussion and understanding of the National Trout Center's (NTC) 2013 budget. All council members were present except David Harrison.

The council followed up on a request from a June 25 special council meeting in which the council members had asked the NTC Board of Directors to prepare and present a revised budget for the remainder of 2013.

NTC Board of Directors President George Spangler handed out the proposed revised budget that showed the NTC would eliminate the full-time director of programs and operations position on July 31 and reduce several other expenses. These changes would reduce the year-end shortfall from an estimated $43,500 to roughly $10,000.

The NTC had started 2013 with a budget of just over $97,000. Whereas the expenditures have not increased, the revenue for the NTC has been much lower than was anticipated. Currently, the NTC has around $8,400 in their F&M Community Bank account. Within their city account, the NTC shows a deficit of $3,000.

Councilman Robert Maust asked if the $8,000 the city had requested at the special meeting had been transferred in. Spangler said it had not and suggested the number be reduced to $5,000 in order to allow the NTC to handle any unexpected expenses that could come up. He said that agreement would come with an expectation that the NTC would continue to pay as fundraising continues.

The revised budget showed a reduction in expenses by the elimination of salaries and fringe benefits, but also a reduction in estimated revenue. The estimated expenses through to the end of the year would be $21,650 and estimated revenue was set at $9,750. This led to an estimated shortfall of around $12,000. The NTC's intention of paying a $5,000 check would take care of the current city account $3,000 deficit and move the shortfall to $10,000. Spangler said the NTC would continue to have Kathy Dahl, a part-time communications officer, working to develop and find new revenue streams.

Dahl works at the tourism center and would need to physically be at the NTC. Maust asked if volunteers could be at one whenever Dahl is at the other.

City Administrator Joe Hoffman said the city could redouble their efforts to get volunteers for the NTC and Visitors Center.

Maust asked Spangler if the NTC could be on their own since they are a 501(c)3 organization and not for profit. Spangler said that could be possible in the future, but would be a better idea to consider after a permanent home for the NTC is built. The NTC is working to obtain funding for a permanent home through the state bonding bill and would need the city as their fiscal agent through that process.

Spangler noted as well that the NTC did not have the money to hire a secretary or bookkeeper.

Councilman Dave Collett asked what the NTC's expectations were for 2014.

NTC board member Dan Christianson explained the plan was to go back to a part-time director position. "The full-time was a great idea, but maybe it was too early," he shared. Christianson also noted that the blame for this year's financial problems could be passed around. "We made a mistake," he said, encouraging council members to not dwell on it, but to move forward.

Councilman Charles Sparks made a motion to accept the revised budget. Mayor Kurt Reicks seconded the motion and Collett immediately asked if the council would put a dollar limit on the shortfall. Reicks said they couldn't because the NTC may not return what they expect in fundraising. The vote was taken, but Maust failed to vote, causing the motion to fail.

Maust also voiced his concern that the city might not limit the NTC to within a certain amount of the expected shortfall. Sparks proposed that the council look again at possibly requesting another budget revision at the end of October. The motion was seconded by Maust and passed 3-1 with Collett against. The motion also included direction to terminate the director of programs and operations position.

Spangler also updated the board on visitor and retail statistics. The NTC has had 1,226 visitors so far this year, compared to 887 visitors all of last year. Retail sales are at around $1,200, which is just under last year's total.

Goose Flat Park

Discussion was had on the condition of Goose Flat Park and how the city should respond to encourage its upkeep. The park has become overgrown and city crews do not have the time to provide proper upkeep.

Preston resident Nancy Harrison said she walks past the park everyday and would hate to see the park diminished or go away after the effort put in by previous groups to have it there.

Park Board Chair Heath Mensink had sent a memo to the city saying the park had gone past any plan of saving it.

Harrison suggested that the city Park Board solicit for volunteer groups. Reicks suggested the retired firemen or church community step in to help out. Harrison also stated thefts of plants and vandalism in the park may be reduced if the weeds were cut down and taken care of again.

Small cities grant

Unanimous approval was received from the council to adopt 10 policies/plans for the Small Cities Development Program. The city had already entered into an agreement with the Department of Employment and Economic Development for grant funding by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under the Community Development Block Grant Program.

This program will be administered by the Bluff Country Housing and Redevelopment Authority to assist in single family and multi-family rental rehabilitations. The council approval would be contingent upon the city attorney's review of the policies.

Other business

In other business, the council discussed the following matters.

• The council approved a pistol upgrade request by the city's police department. Their current Glock 22s were nearing 20 years old. The cost of four upgrades and new pistol was $1,045.98 to come from the department's forfeiture fund.

• The meeting was closed following all regular business for the council to discuss strategy with city attorney Dwight Luhmann concerning the eminent domain case for the recreational trail development against the Snyder and Ristau parties. The action came in response to the recent reversal by District Court Judge Thompson, who ruled the Forestville-to-Preston trail segment was unauthorized by state statute. According to Luhmann, following the meeting, the city had not yet made any decisions to pursue further litigation. The city has 30 days from the July 8 decision to make any post-trial motions for the trial court and 60 days to make an appeal.