The Spring Grove City Council held their annual Truth in Taxation hearing on Dec. 3, and then departed from their original agenda.

On a motion from Council-member Nancy Nelson, the final levy was certified two weeks prior to the date originally set for that action.

City Clerk/Treasurer Erin Konkel reported that the final levy will be $548,000. Including other sources, the general fund will receive $1,140,215, while total budgeted expenditures for 2014 are $1,139,850.

The council set the proposed levy at $550,000 in September. Last year, the council set the proposed levy at $514,000, then certified the final amount at $500,000.

Konkel said that the biggest change this year is a transfer of $45,000 from the general fund to help pay for an estimated $120,000 in expected sewer repairs. Another difference from previous years is the amount of support that the city will provide the Spring Grove EDA. According to the report, that organization has received $27,000 per year since 2008. In 2014, that will be slashed to $7,000.

Former Mayor Saundra Solum expressed surprise at that news, and asked if items such as a $10,000 "contingency" fund and $6500 for repairs to the liquor store floor might go to EDA.

"That (EDA) is really promoting our town, which builds income for our town which hopefully generates revenue," Solum said.

EDA Commissioner Tammy Stadtler asked where similar cuts were made to other budget items. Konkel said that cuts were widespread. Nelson said that no more funds were available.

"Everything kind of went up, and the discretionary items are few," Nelson stated.

"I sat on there (EDA) for four years, and they're not as effective as one may think," she added later.

Konkel said the city will be exempt from sales tax in 2014, but the savings will likely be less than $15,000.

Councilman Robert Vogel suggested that $2,000 could have been kept in the budget for line items such as the EDA if the proposed levy were adopted in full. There was no motion to do so.

Instead, Nelson motioned to adopt the budget at $548,000. That passed by a 3-2 margin, with Vogel and Council-member Lorilyn Dehning casting dissenting ballots.

Cell tower application brings another vote

Vogel gave an overview on a conditional use permit (CUP) application, which would allow a 4G Verizon cell tower to be built on the north side on town.

The document would have moved the location of the structure 150 feet to the north of the site originally proposed last August, in keeping with a recommendation made by the Spring Grove Planning Commission. That body finished their review of the application on Oct. 30.

Curt Walter of Buell consulting appeared on behalf of Verizon, but was not asked a single question.

"It's an eyesore," Nelson said, noting a series of photographs which showed similar towers standing in Eyota, Stewartville, and Byron.

"You're going to see this thing from two miles away," she added, referring to the 175-foot structure proposed for Spring Grove.

The council originally rejected the application by a 3-2 vote on Oct 1. Verizon appealed that decision two weeks later. Another 3-2 vote (along different lines) sent the matter back to the planning commission for a full review.

Vogel and Dehning voted in favor of the CUP, while Nelson, Mayor Bruce Poole, and Council-member Rachel Olerud voted no.

Some members suggested that the tower be located at the Spring Grove industrial park, where the EDA could benefit by leasing land. Vogel said that current ordinances would prohibit such a move.

"In-fill" building permit approved

The council voted to approve a permit which will allow a Rochester building to find a new home in Spring Grove. The building will occupy a vacant lot at 231 1st Ave SW. Vogel stated that the planning commission determined that setbacks and lot coverage requirements will be met, and the building will meet code, since the City of Rochester requires that of all structures.

The CUP requires that the new foundation, footings or basement be inspected by city staff before the move. The owner of the building will be charged for all city expenses incurred, including utilities hook-up.

Mayor asks for public input

Poole gave a report on Main Street work, and asked citizens to contact city hall about any fixes that will be required. One major area of concern is puddling of water in sidewalk areas, he said. Ice forming on sidewalks is an obvious safety concern, and a few of the ADA ramps appear to have exacerbated matters in specific spots, Poole said.

Landscaping will be finished in the spring, and a new streetlight pole will be installed on the east end of town. That was held up due to a gas line which will need to be relocated.

Other news:

Members voted to shift a handicapped-only parking space from Main Street in front of Gift of Gab to the east of the American Legion, where two such spaces are to be provided.

An alley between Ye Olde Opera House and the Terry Sagdalen property was discussed briefly, and any suggestion that the city vacate or sell the land were dismissed. One idea was to utilize the space as a "pocket park." Ye Olde Opera House board member Steve Kemp asked if the city could designate the space as "non-smoking," but no action was taken as of yet.

City Attorney Joe Hammel later said that a "no smoking" stipulation was a possibility. Other city parks already have "no drinking" (of alcoholic beverages) designations, and the alley would also have that ordinance in place.

The council adopted a "budget timetable" proposed by Nelson. The document delineates when department heads, city staff, and council members are expected to act on future budgets.