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Council also receives Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities update

By Fiona Edberg - Staff Writer | Aug 15, 2021

Young representatives of the Sunday School program at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church present Mayor Scott Robertson with a check for $1,000 to fund repairs for Winnebago’s swimming pool. They raised the money at their annual Vacation Bible School fundraiser.

The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC) advocates for the rights of small, rural Minnesota towns. On Monday, August 9, representative Marty Seifert was present at the 7 p.m. Winnebago City Council meeting to share updates from the coalition.

“We are focusing on specific rural issues,” stated Seifert, in regards to the CGMC’s overall mission.  

Seifert cited local government aid (LGA) as a first-priority issue for the coalition.

“Local government aid is extremely important for cities like this,” he said. “It might be 40-50 percent of your budget.”

Seifert explained there was originally a certified deficit in LGA during the previous year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The government talked about holding back local government aid packets,” Seifert shared. The CGMC responded accordingly.

“We had meetings with the Governor’s office,” Seifert explained. Efforts such as this brought attention to the importance of LGA to small Minnesotan communities.

“They paid out the local government aid on time, in full,” shared Seifert. “We went from a deficit to a surplus, mainly because of governmental transfer money.”

Council member Tim Hynes inquired whether there would be an increase in LGA next year. City administrator Jacob Skluzacek clarified Winnebago will receive a few thousand more dollars.

Seifert elaborated upon Skluzacek’s answer. “The bigger increase in aid would have been last year,” he explained. “We got a $22 million increase and had a pretty decent bump.”

Seifert continued, “In the future, we’re looking at trying to get inflationary increases. We’re not expecting gigantic increases every year.”

“We like to have stability with modest growth,” he added.

Hynes responded, “I’m grateful to get it, but with one percent, two percent, we’re not at cost of living.” Hynes was referencing the amount LGA is adjusted each year to keep up with rising rates of inflation.

Seifert agreed with Hynes. “The reality is, inflation is at five percent now. Reality is, you have to pay people more.”

He was optimistic for the future, however. “We’ve got pretty good support,” Seifert reflected. He feels the state government understands LGA’s importance to small communities.

Seifert also brought up the issue of childcare. He explained he commonly sees a lack of childcare options in smaller cities.

“It’s multifaceted,” he reasoned. “It’s a lack of childcare slots, having smaller centers, that’s been a problem.”

Mayor Scott Robertson elaborated, explaining Winnebago’s recent struggle to provide adequate childcare for residents.

“A few years back we thought we had the opportunity to get a center started,” Robertson explained. “We were told by the senator that it was a need we had. But with all the red tape, it wasn’t profitable.”

Robertson continued, “Childcare is big here. Now our ethanol plant is opening up again, so we might need more.”

Winnebago’s youth did play an additional role in Monday night’s meeting. Young members of the Sunday School program at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church turned out in full force to present a gift to the council.

“This year, for our fundraiser for VBS, we did a cookie and lemonade stand and a carnival,” shared Sunday School teacher Maggie Hassing.

“We heard the swimming pool needs some repairs, so we made them our beneficiary for the fundraiser,” said Hassing.

The children presented Robertson with a check for an impressive $1,000, for which the council was exceedingly grateful.

Our Savior’s Lutheran Church board member Jeremiah Schutt responded to the council’s thanks. “Thank you for maintaining our pool. We appreciate it.”

Other business discussed at Monday night’s meeting included: 

• The resignation of part-time police officer James Johannsen, and subsequent hiring of part-time police officer Benjamin Johnson.

Johannsen just worked one shift, according to Chief of Police Eric Olson. Hynes expressed concern regarding the expense of hiring new officers so frequently if they serve such short terms, and inquired whether the council could stipulate that reimbursement is required if an officer leaves a position too quickly.

Olson explained given the current shortage of qualified police officers, this would make it too difficult to find applicants for positions on the police force in Winnebago.

• Revisiting bids for repaving the gravel driveway at the water plant. The council postponed accepting a bid at the previous month’s meeting as they wished to check whether the lower bid from Smith Concrete included rebar.

The council determined Smith’s quote did cover rebar, however, and so voted to approve their low bid of $7,095 for repaving the driveway.

• Reviewing quotes submitted for the repair of the city’s dump truck. Two quotes from Crysteel Truck Equipment were submitted for the council’s review. One quote, for $20,701, covered the full replacement of the dump truck box. The other quote, for $19,140, covered the repair of the box.

Initially, the council leaned toward fully replacing the box for just $1,000 more. However, council member Paul Eisenmenger brought to the council’s attention several extra services that Crysteel included in the quote, which would bring the total for replacement up to $27,105.

The council ultimately voted to accept the bid to replace the dump truck box, with the stipulation that they could bring the issue back for discussion if, upon review, the quote did exceed the bid of $20,701 without the extra services.

• The purchase of a restorative asphalt modifier from Biorestor, which is meant to extend the life cycle of pavement throughout the city.

The cost of the machinery and product, with shipping, comes to a total of $41,814. The council saw the purchase as a worthy investment for the city, as it will save money in the future by extending the life of roads and eliminating the need to pay externally to have streets sealed.