The Preston City Council met for its final meeting of the year on Monday evening with numerous issues to discuss, namely the final 2014 levy and budget.

The tax levy will reflect a 5.36 percent increase for the Preston property owners. According to Joe Hoffman, the city administrator, two-thirds of the amount is due to the 2014 street improvement project.

While the council agreed on the majority of the proposed budget, it was the National Trout Center (NTC) that became the focus of discussion.

Councilman David Collett addressed the issue, "Last year we had trouble with the Trout Center running out of money. I feel like it would be a good idea to give them their money prorated in 12 equal installments."

Councilmember Robert Maust agreed, stating, "I don't think it's proper that we're in the so-called fiscal management business with the trout center. I think their board and their group needs to run it and they need to show us that they can. Because I don't think they can forever hang on the shirttails of the city of Preston."

The frustration of council members was evident in regard to the budget issues of the center and they largely agreed with the 12 payments per year. But Mayor Kurt Reicks conveyed his worry that the NTC may not be ready to be their own fiscal managers by Jan. 1.

After much discussion, the council approved the levy and 2014 budget with the amendment of paying the NTC in 12 equal monthly payments.

Industrial park, revolving loan

Economical development director Cathy Enerson approached the council on behalf of the Preston Economical Development Authority (EDA) to discuss the future possibilities of the Doherty property located at the intersection of Highway 52 and Highway 16.

There are two businesses currently interested in the property, which has been rezoned as industrial.

The first business has a purchase agreement, but has not closed on buying two of the 10 available acres.

The second business has signed a letter of intent.

"In order to provide industrial sites for both of those businesses, Preston will have to provide the infrastructure. This would be electric, sewer, water, storm sewers and roads," Enerson advised.

She asked the council to approved a feasibility study to determine the cost of setting up the necessary infrastructure.

The cost of the study is between $2,500 and $3,000 with the Utility Commission paying half.

"There is a plan in place," Enerson said of the grants she has already looked into regarding the costs of building the infrastructure.

Collett made a motion to approve the study, saying, "I think we'd like to see more businesses go up."

All councilmembers agreed, approving the study, pending the signing of the industrial park option.

Enerson next reviewed the EDA revolving loan for Nancy Back. The loan of $4,445 with a five-year amortization will be for her massage therapy business, Serenity Within, located at 133 Fillmore Street, Suite Four. The council approved the loan.

Tree chipper purchase

Public works director Jim Bakken told the council the power-take-off shaft on the city's wood chipper has failed, causing major damage to the machine.

"It's kind of been a problem for a couple of years now, we've been babying it along and trying to band-aid it up. We've probably spent several hundred dollars in that time trying to get it fixed," he explained.

The model of the machine is unusual, making it very difficult to find replacement parts. Essentially, they would have to order parts, which would then need to be customized for the chipper.

To fix the machine, Bakken received an estimate for approximately $5,500, but there is no guarantee this would completely remedy the issue.

Considering that a replacement wood chipper was budgeted for 2015, Bakken recommended purchasing a new chipper at the approximate cost of $27,937. This amount will be split 50/50 with Public Utilities.

The council voted to purchase a new chipper after the first of the year, in order to take advantage of the no sales tax amendment, which would allow local government entities to be tax exempt on certain purchases.

Ambulance issues

Ambulance director Ryan Throckmorton proposed an ambulance rate increase for the coming year. Currently, the rate is set at $10.50 per loaded mile with the base rate at $600.

According to Throckmorton, their billing service has recommended an increase to $12 per loaded mile and $650 for the base rate.

The rates have not been increased for at least two years.

The council approved the rate increase.

The council moved on to hear an update on the city's B-rig or second ambulance, which experienced an engine failure recently.

Throckmorton advised the council that he and several other crewmembers went over the options for the new rig and were able to save nearly $1,400.

With the added expense of graphics, which will be done by Kelly Printing, the cost will be $175,000 minus the trade-in.

As for the repair of the 2006 ambulance, Throckmorton explained the best estimate he can obtain is to fix the fuel pump, which is $2,500 to $3,000. Though without completely taking apart the engine, there is not a guarantee this will be the only issue with the vehicle.

If repaired, the city has the possibility of receiving $28,000 with it running and $20,000 without the rig running.

"That's kind of a no-brainer. I'd spend $3,000 to get $5,000," Reicks said of the option.

Throckmorton explained that since the new rig will not be delivered until approximately February, the dealership will lease them an ambulance at no charge, but the city will need to cover the insurance.

The council voted to repair the 2006 ambulance as long as repair costs are less than $4,000.

CEDA contract

The council next considered the 2014 Community and Economic Development Associate (CEDA) contract. CEDA is the company which employs Enerson who, in turn, provides the EDA with numerous services throughout the year.

The amount of the annual contract is $26,515, which is a two percent increase over last year. These costs are shared with Public Utilities with the city paying two-thirds, totaling $17,676, and Public Utilities covering the remaining one-third. Public Utilities has already approved the contract.

Councilmembers questioned if there were any other companies or persons that could do this job, so they could compare prices.

"If next year we want to try and look into going somewhere else we should start looking into this in September. We can't do it in 10 minutes," Collett stated.

Hoffman and city attorney, Dwight Luhmann, explained the city had tried to hire an EDA director position several years ago, but there were no applicants interested at that time, as it is quite a unique service.

Reicks added that CEDA has many connections and expertise throughout the company.

The contract was approved with the city of Preston paying the two-third amount of $17,676.

City attorney proposal

The council reviewed the renewal of the services from Luhmann Law Firm for 2014. They were provided with two options with one paying $3,600 per meeting and $125 per hour outside of meetings. The second option is an annual retainer of $18,000. For the last several years the city has approved option two.

Luhmann explained that with the amount of hours he worked for the city last year the second option was a very good deal for the city.

Maust jokingly agreed saying, "I think that, too, because I think in 2014 we're probably going to have a lot of work for you!"

The contract was approved with the second option terms.

Other business

In other business, the council handled the following items.

• The Republican-Leader was approved to be the official newspaper of Preston for the 2014 term. The Fillmore County Journal had been the official paper for the last two years. City information will be found in the Republican-Leader and the Bluff Country Reader beginning with the new year.

• Holiday hours for city hall were approved, so the hall will be closing at noon on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve.

• The final portion of the agenda dealt with the litigation strategy relating to the Forestville Trail eminent domain case. The city council went into closed session for this discussion. See next week's paper for a follow-up on that issue.