Council holds annual retreat: City department heads outline progress, 2019 goals

Published 8:07 am Thursday, March 7, 2019

The Austin City Council held its annual council retreat Tuesday evening at the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center.

Council members heard reports from the city department heads as well as 2019 goals from some departments.

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Public Works Director Steven Lang reviewed the Local Option Sales Tax and its relation to future flood mitigation funding. Lang recommended for the council’s consideration an option to focus on acquiring properties located in the floodplain area of Wildwood Park and Lions Park, both in the northeast. The option also includes funding a portion of the cost for sanitary sewer trunk main improvements along Dobbins Creek, Turtle Creek and the Cedar River.

Public Works Director Steven Lang

Lang addressed the Wastewater Treatment Plant upgrade requirements to meet Minnesota Pollution Control Agency standards. The plant’s MPCA discharge permit expired in June 2015 and the city received a draft permit late last year. Lang said the city is planning for $40 million in improvements, though he indicated that was a low estimate. Funding for the improvements will likely come from capital improvements bonds repaid by sewer user rates, industrial rates and state grants.

Lang also updated the council on the infiltration/Inflow (I/I) program implemented last year as a means to reduce the amount of clear water that enters the sanitary sewer. Last year, 1,526 private sump pump and beaver drain systems were inspected, with 10 percent found to be in noncompliance. The city also inspected 400 sanitary sewer manholes and found about 60 were actively leaking or in severe condition. The city also found about 42,000 lineal feet of the sanitary sewer system had a pipe that had failed or was likely to fail in the next 5-10 years.

Planning and Zoning Administrator Holly Wallace highlighted expansion projects in the city last year. These include the Community Rec Center, the new Kwik Trip at 14th Street Northwest, the new Gold Cross facility, the renovation of the old Target building for Furniture Mart and Hobby Lobby, the construction of Fox Pointe Townhomes, the addition to Gerard Academy, and the building of 10 new single family homes.

Wallace also laid out an inspection timeline under the newly implicated Rental Housing Ordinance:

  • Northwest – January – September 2019
  • Northeast – September 2019 – February 2020
  • Southwest – March – September 2020
  • Southeast – October –December 2020
  • Main Street/Oakland Avenue – December 2020

Library Director Julie Clinefelter

Library Director Julie Clinefelter went over the Austin Public Library’s 2019-20 strategic plan of “connecting people with resources to foster literacy, equity and community in a safe, comfortable space.” She said the library hopes to make library services and programs, such as the ability for visitors without home internet access to checkout Wi-Fi hotspots, more accessible and promote community engagement through feedback and conversations from patrons and promote inclusiveness.

Clinefelter also announced the APL will be celebrating 25 years in 2021.

Human Resources Director Trish Weichmann said the city is hoping to have the Classification and Compensation study finalized this year with implementation to follow. Because of the delay in the results of the study, Weichmann said that negotiations on labor agreements have been put on hold.

Weichmann also said one of the Human Resources Department’s goals is to develop strategies for increased recruitment efforts.

Recruitment was a major issue for Austin Fire Chief Jim McCoy and Austin Police Chief David McKichan. McCoy called staffing the AFD’s number one concern, particularly in part-time and volunteer firefighters. McCoy informed the council of the availability of the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grant, which allows for a portion of new staff salaries and benefits to be paid for three years, though the city would be responsible for 100 percent of the hired firefighter’s compensation in the fourth year.

Austin Police Chief David McKichan

McKichan said the APD is looking to hire three new officers, and a potential fourth officer, in 2019.  He pointed out that the number of candidates has decreased over the years and that several officers hired by the APD have stayed temporarily before going to other departments. He stated the need to find a way to get younger people interested in the profession as a means to increase candidates.

McCoy said that the current 100-foot ladder truck is 26 years old, while the walk-in rescue is 27 years old. Both will need to be replaced in the near future. McCoy also addressed needs for the fire station, which was constructed in 1981 as a 50-year structure. Current overhead door openings are 12’ x 12’, but new emergency apparatus are being manufactured in larger sizes. This presents a problem with backing up, and ideally the station should have drive through bays. The current station is also not designated as a “clean station,” meaning staff living quarters gets exposed to products of combustion because staff are required to walk through them in order to clean up after an emergency response.

McKichan highlighted the change in police squad cars resulting in the increased electronic needs and desire for fuel efficiency.

He said the APD plans to purchase a Hybrid Explorer in 2020, which cost $3,000 more than current APD vehicles, but should save enough in fuel costs to compensate for more than the additional amount. McKichan also said the APD is open to the concept of body cameras, though to do so would come at a considerable cost and require a public meeting before its implementation.

Park and Recreation Director Kim Underwood stated that the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center is on track in its goal to receive regional significance recognition from the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission. She is hoping to have the Park Board approve the master plan by June.

Administrative Services Director Tom Dankert

Underwood also said the Parks and Recreation Department is continuing to replace worn out equipment throughout parks in the city and has received petitions from citizens for improved equipment in their respective neighborhoods.

Administrative Services Director Tom Dankert discussed future financial planning, which includes working with auditors with the 2018 audit and completing the budget preparation and 5-Year Capital Improvement Plan on a timely basis. Dankert also hopes to maintain the Cash and Investment Rate of Return at or above the rate of the 10-Year Treasury bond.

City Administrator Craig Clark ended the meeting with an update on the Austin Port Authority levy.