City asks Foundation for $410K in grants

Published 10:29 am Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Austin City Council approved 14 grant requests to the Hormel Foundation at its public meeting Monday night, which include funding requests for a public transportation route to Mayo Clinic Health System — Albert Lea for dialysis patients and a home improvement program.

Council members individually rated 14 potential grant requests totaling more than $410,000 at their last work session, with priority given to the AMCAT dialysis route and the Austin Housing and Redevelopment Authority’s Home Improvement Program, which could help lower-class homeowners with small repair projects.

The council placed the least priority on a joint solar vehicle station project with Riverland Community College and funding for the city’s Main Street Project.

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The council is requesting funding for the following items, ranked from most to least important:

—$15,000 to continue an AMCAT busing dialysis route, to take area patients to Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea for dialysis appointments. The Austin hospital no longer offers dialysis services.

—$50,000 for the Austin Housing and Redevelopment Authority’s Home Improvement Program.

—$5,000 for the Austin Fire Department to provide fire prevention and education lessons to the community.

—$25,000 to replace the air conditioning at the Mower County Senior Center.

—$12,500 to replace the heating and cooling system at the nature center’s Ruby Rupner Auditorium.

—$15,000 to convert the city’s street lights to LED bulbs.

—$36,426 for the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center education program, which would cover costs for public school field trips.

—$12,500 for a community entrance sign.

—$35,000 to purchase tablet computers for the Austin Public Library, which started a computer lease program over the past few years. The library loans computers to residents on a consistent basis and the tablets would add to the library’s computer program.

—$20,000 for the Chamber of Commerce for Freedom Fest, the city’s annual Independence Day celebration.

—$50,000 to connect Wildwood Park to Mill Pond via a bike trail. The trail would run north from Mill Pond along the west side of Third and Fourth Streets Northeast to the tunnel connection under Interstate 90. The city would also construct a trail on the berm south of Kuehn Motors to connect North Main Street with Third Avenue.

—$25,000 for a climbing wall at the Austin Municipal Pool.

—$100,000 for the Main Street Project to help businesses upgrade downtown buildings and make aesthetic improvements.

—$10,000 to start a solar electric vehicle charging station in partnership with Riverland Community College. Austin Utilities officials would use the station to power electric vehicles, with any additional energy going back into the city’s power grid. Riverland’s solar installer students would build the station as part of a class project.

In other news, the council:

—Discussed the city’s proposed budget for next year. The city will likely stop receiving $10,000 from the state Department of Transportation to run AMCAT, the public busing service Austin operates with Mower County. Finance Director Tom Dankert said the $10,000 will likely be made up through Austin Utilities payments to the city.

Austin Utilities contributed about $1.6 million to the city’s budget last year as the utilities entity doesn’t pay property tax. That total varies over time depending on how much energy residents used. The move won’t raise water or electric rates as Dankert said the city could easily gain $10,000 from increased energy usage on a hot or freezing day.

—Voted to bring salary increases for several supervisors to its next meeting Sept. 3. The council preliminarily voted to approve a $3,000 increase to Police Captain Dave McKichan’s salary, to about $81,800 next year. Parks, Recreation and Forestry Director Kim Underwood will receive a $10,000 increase to make her salary about $77,000 next year, which Mayor Tom Stiehm said was the same salary as the previous Parks & Rec director, who was male. MIS Administrator Don Tomlinson will receive a $8,000 raise, to make his salary about $67,800 next year.

The council decided to look into the issue to make supervisor salaries comparable to nearby cities. City officials initially proposed a $3,000 raise for Human Resources Director Tricia Wiechmann, but council members voted against the raise as her salary was within range of human resource directors in other southern Minnesotan cities. The increase in salary means the city will hold off hiring an extra police officer until March 2014.

—Set a hearing to discuss sanitary sewer improvements at the 700 block of 22nd Street Northwest at the next council meeting on Sept. 3.

—Allowed the city Planning and Zoning Department to remove a swimming pool at 403 Ninth Street Northeast, as well as remove junk and illegally stored vehicles at 1803 Fourth Avenue Northeast, 710 11th Avenue Northwest, and 610 Fourth Avenue Southwest.