On Monday evening, Feb. 3, the Preston City Council members set a public hearing for Tuesday, Feb. 18, at 6 p.m. at city hall related to setting assessments for the St. Paul Street improvements of 2014. Assessments would cover the partial or full cost of improvements that will benefit properties located on St. Paul Street between Fillmore Street and the Root River as part of the CSAH (County State Aid Highway) 17 improvement project.

City Administrator Joe Hoffman outlined the process of setting assessments, which is set by Minnesota statute. The hearing will include a report by the city engineer looking at such issues as project feasibility, if it should be done in connection with some other improvement, the estimated cost of the improvement and a description of methodology used to calculate individual assessments on affected properties. Stantec Consulting Services of Rochester provided the feasibility report.

Fillmore County is planning the CSAH 17 project, which in the Preston corridor will include replacement of concrete curb and gutter between the south bridge and Fillmore Street. This includes pedestrian curb ramps, concrete driveway aprons and portions of the adjacent sidewalks as necessary for curb and gutter replacement; the reconstruction of the CSAH 17 and Main Street intersection with ADA-compliant pedestrian curb ramps and "bump-outs," as well as setting up a more efficient storm sewer network; and mill and overlay improvements within the roadway for an average new bituminous pavement base mat of a two-inch depth.

Hoffman noted many would be facing heavy assessments in the project. He thought it would be fair to do assessments along St. Paul Street just for sidewalk and for curb and gutter. Hoffman said Fillmore County and the city of Preston would each pay half of the curb and gutter costs. Cost shares and anticipated dollar amounts will be presented at the public hearing.

Fire department

The council voted to increase the Preston Fire Department retirement benefit from $1,300 to $1,500 per year of service. Ron Schreier spoke on behalf of the Fire Relief Association and said the last increase had occurred in January of 2007. The increase amounts to 2.07 percent a year.

Hoffman shared background on the retirement fund, "Upon retirement, firefighters receive a lump sum for each year of service... They are vested after 10 years at 50 percent. The percentage increases 5 percent per year to 100 percent at 20 years of service. Firefighters may receive the retirement at age 50."

Council member Bob Maust asked about current funding.

Schreier said liability stands at $327,000 and there is $335,000 in the fund. It also includes investments in the stock market. Depending on how that is going, the city and township amounts required for funding could vary. A state formula sets the funding.

In other news from the Preston Fire Department, the council confirmed its members election of new officers with Dave Keene as chief and Josh Ristau as assistant chief.

Housing incentive

Council members voted to continue the Preston housing incentive as it's been set up in recent years.

Preston Economic Development Authority (EDA) Director Cathy Enerson summarized the program, which includes incentives for new construction (up to $3,285 value); the purchase of existing housing for new residents to Preston (up to $1,890 in value), and rehabilitation/improvements (up to $1,330 in value). Each category allows up to three applications.

Enerson shared that the new construction incentive had one approved applicant in 2013. That person said city's incentives were a large factor in the move.

Other news

• Ambulance write-offs were approved for $42,791 for 2013 and $4,642 for 2012. Ambulance Director Ryan Throckmorton explained it represents a funding gap between what private insurance, Medicare and Medicaid will reimburse for a call and what the service's rates are. Some uncollected bills are included in the 2012 number, but that does not forgive the debt.

• The council donated $100 to the Fillmore Central Post-Prom Committee for the planning of a safe late night activity.

• Dave Collett ran the meeting in the absence of Mayor Kurt Reicks. All other council members were present.