Prior to its regular meeting on April 21, the Preston City Council held its annual Board of Appeal and Equalization meeting, which provides a chance for local business owners and residents to address the council and Cynthia Blagsvedt, a representative of the Fillmore County assessor's office, about the assessed value of their property.

The 2014 levy rate for the city of Preston was increased by 16.317 from 140.272 to 156.589.

Blagsvedt explained homes built in 1925 or earlier had been valued too high so they reduced those values. Overall, some home rates were raised while others were lowered in the city.

The overall city assessment for 2014 was increased slightly to $64,150,900, up .19 percent from last year.

According to Blagsvedt, agricultural land continues to increase throughout the country with this year seeing a rise of $1,200 for tillable land. She foresees this stabilizing for the coming years.

With no members of the community attending, the Board of Appeal and Equalization was closed.

TIF District Eight

The council then moved to open the Tax Increment Financing District (TIF) Eight Public Hearing.

Consultant Mike Bubany of David Drown Associates, Inc., once again briefed the council on the proposal.

This TIF district will include the approximately 10 acres of land along Highways 16 and 52 with the purpose of developing a new industrial park.

"This is a different type of TIF district, an economical TIF district, that is generally restricted to manufacturing, industrial warehousing and distribution type uses," Bubany explained.

There are two developers currently planning to move to the site, JMS Agronomics, Inc., and Bluff Country Industries, LLC.

As with the TIF District Seven, approved earlier this month, the property tax that is being paid on the existing value will continue to be paid as normal so the county, school district and city will not lose any of the existing taxes currently being paid.

Again the school district would benefit "from day one" where as the city and the county will be foregoing the new taxes and the new value for a period of time.

The estimated present value, at four percent, for the Bluff Country Industries site is listed at $111,527.

The estimated present value, at four percent, for JMS Agronomics is shown at $76,695, making the full development total approximately $207,813.

"So basically, how this project will work, is the city will acquire the site, the city will improve the site, then the city will sell two of the parcels within the site to these two developers for a total of $35,000 a piece." Bubany summarized, "The cost to actually get the site improved is well over $35,000 per parcel, so we are going to try to use every dollar of these tax increments to help reduce our costs."

As the council is looking to relocate the proposed location of the water storage pond to expand the available land in the industrial park, Bubany did verify the TIF budget may be amended within the first five years.

The TIF District Eight was unanimously approved by the council.

Business subsidy to Bluff Country Manufacturing

During the second public hearing, the council was briefed on the business subsidy agreements for Bluff Country Manufacturing.

For it's part, the company agrees to substantially complete construction of the minimum improvements by Dec. 31, 2014, which is defined as a manufacturing facility with an estimated size of 8,600 square feet along with associated site improvements.

They will maintain operations for at least five years and will create at least one new full-time position.

As with all subsidy agreements, if these goals are not met, the company agrees to repay any assistance received plus interest.

They are also required to indemnify the city for the project.

In turn, the city agrees to establish TIF District Eight and install public improvements to the industrial park site to make the lots ready for development in the summer of 2014. These improvements are to be funded with a blend of state grant funds, tax increments and any required city contributions.

The city has also agreed to sell approximately 1.5 acres of the site to Bluff Country Manufacturing for the price of $35,000 free and clear of any special assessments.

Business subsidy to JMS Agronomics

The third public hearing listed a business subsidy for JMS Agronomics, which is the same as the aforementioned agreement for Bluff Country Manufacturing with two exceptions.

JMS has agreed to complete construction of a warehousing/distribution facility with an estimated size of 8,000 square feet as well as associated site improvements.

They have also agreed to create at least two full-time positions within the company.

The council moved to approve resolutions for both subsidy agreements.

NTC update

With the closure of the public hearings, the council moved on to its regular agenda, beginning with the National Trout Center (NTC) update.

Board of Directors member George Spangler opened by introducing the center's new program coordinator, Richard Enochs, who has been contracted by the center for the part-time position.

As a retired businessman, who was the former president of Wenonah Canoe and is an avid fly fisherman, Enochs expressed his excitement to work with the NTC.

"When I saw the opportunity to join the NTC, I thought it made a lot of sense. I thought maybe I could not only continue to pursue what I love to do, but also bring some of my business background to the center," he said.

Dan Christianson then approached the council to give the quarterly update for the NTC.

"This first quarter has been a little slow, but the numbers are we've taken in a little more money than we paid out. That includes the payment to the city, so that's a positive," Christianson recapped.

Christianson admitted the trout center board was a little too aggressive too fast when it hired a full-time coordinator last year.

"It's a different model this year, getting part-time help instead of full-time, I think it will be more effective financially for us and I think it will be a great summer," Christianson added.

"As long as you take in a little more than you spend, it always works out better," surmised councilmember David Collett.

The NTC has participated in six programs already this year, Spangler informed the council as he concluded the update.

The center did see some significant changes with the loss of five board members and the gain of three new members in return.

"One thing about a change in board members is that it's always good, because you get new people with new ideas. If you run with the same group all the way from point A to point B you will just get the same ideas," expressed Collett.

Goose Flat Park

"As the council knows, Goose Flat Park has been an issue for the council for some time and Gary Feine and his group of retired firefighters sound like they might be coming to the rescue," said city administrator Joe Hoffman as he introduced the next point on the agenda.

Feine explained the group has previously worked on many projects around the city of Preston and are now looking at cleaning up the park.

Though they have no true plan laid out, the group wants to eliminate the flowers and plants that have overtaken the property due to lack of upkeep. Then, they would build the park back up with more manageable plants in areas where it is easier to keep groomed.

According to Feine, the firemen have tried to contact the local garden clubs to determine if anything should be preserved, but as yet, have not heard back from anyone.

Before they begin the project, the group wants assurance from the council that the property will be kept up after they complete the work.

Discussion arose on whether the responsibility would fall upon the park board to provide the maintenance.

With a minimal cost estimated at $300, the council decided to fund the project though their undesignated unreserved fund.

Park and Ride parking lot

The city staff was asked by the fair board to have discussion about the park and ride, south of the fairgrounds, which was installed in 2005 around the time of the Highway 52 project.

"At that time it was a cooperative effort between the city, county and state," explained Hoffman. "Ongoing maintenance was addressed in an agreement between the county and state, so the city is not mentioned in the maintenance portion of the agreement."

Hoffman noted that doesn't necessarily mean the city is not partners in it, now that the lot needs maintenance.

City engineer Brett Grabau looked at the site with Public Works Director Jim Bakken. They found a single large crack, but it is not a candidate for crack fill.

Grabau recommended minimal maintenance involving cutting out the cracked section and replacing the area.

No action was taken by the council, but they are aware what they decide in the future will set the precedent for other repairs on the property.

Rezoning of Dairy and Farm and Gehling site

Looking to clear up any confusion, Hoffman asked the council to rezone the Preston Dairy and Farm and Gehling sites that were recently annexed into the city of Preston.

The Preston and Dairy parcel would be rezoned to I-1 for industrial use. The Gehling site would be zoned as B-2 for highway commercial use.

The council moved to approve the rezoning for both properties.

Sign ordinance

On the recommendation of Planning and Zoning, the council discussed amending the city's current wording for the sign ordinance.

"What brought this about was a proposal from the school (Fillmore Central Elementary) to put an electronic sign up in front of the school," Hoffman explained. Upon scouting the school it was found that there are numerous signs currently on the property. With the strict ordinance for signs in residential zone another sign would not be an option.

Part of the LED sign would be animated, leading to more questions for the council.

After much discussion, it was decided one sign will be allowed for every 200 square feet. The sign cannot exceed 40 square feet in surface area. And, finally, all animated, flashing or scrolling signs must be stilled from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m.

Trout Days street closures

The council heard two requests for street closures during Preston's Trout Days Festivities and approved both.

The Trout Days committee requested closing Main Street, from St. Anthony Street to Houston Street, for the Trout Days Car Show.

The NTC ask that the alley adjacent to the center be closed for activities sponsored by the center.

Both closures would be in affect on Saturday, May 17, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The county has already approved the closure of CSAH 12 and 17.

Summer help

The council concluded the meeting by approving an application for summer help. The position will last approximately 14 to 15 weeks (weather dependent) and includes mowing, painting curbs and other general maintenance assistance.

Though the council usually prefers to hire locally, the winning candidate is from Spring Grove. Garrett Cross has numerous years of experience and can begin the job almost immediately, so the city will not have to work around any school schedules, which has previously been a challenge.

The next council meeting will be held on Monday, May 5, at 6 p.m.