Simonsen receives a key to the city

Published 9:45 am Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Albert Lea Mayor Mike Murtaugh presented outgoing City Manager Victoria Simonsen with a key to the city on Monday during what was Simonsen’s last City Council meeting in Albert Lea.

Simonsen said she will leave Albert Lea knowing that the city not only had a great 2009 but also that there have been many positive years together.

“We have grown I think and matured as a community,” she said. “To not only blossom ourselves, but to be something that people outside of Albert Lea notice.”

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She said people in St. Paul, Washington, D.C., and even around the globe are starting to be more aware of Albert Lea.

“Those things make me proud,” she said.

Having accepted a position as town administrator in Lyons, Colo., Simonsen’s last day at City Hall will be Friday.

She talked of the potential for Albert Lea and said she hopes the people both outside and inside of the community appreciate the potential that this city has to offer.

During her time as city manager, Simonsen worked with five different mayors and numerous council members. She said she hoped she’s been able to educate and enlighten them.

Recounting the last year

Simonsen said the city ended the fiscal year 2009 more than $700,000 in the black.

“That’s truly remarkable given the circumstances,” she said.

Most of these extra funds came through initiatives such as hiring stalls, changes in seasonal staffing patterns and a reduction in utility costs, to name a few.

“We were able to not only survive but thrive,” she said. “That’s something we should all be proud of.”

This is especially true during tight budget times, she noted.

The $700,000 figure is especially notable even after the installation of a more than $500,000 City Arena project. That project had been planned to be taken out of reserves, but instead was able to be absorbed, she said.

“We really want to thank everyone,” she said.

The general fund has actually been able to return some of its reserves, so that the 2010 budget starts with reserves up near 48 or 49 percent of its general fund balance, she said. The city is encouraged to be at 50 percent.

The city also had several other accomplishments during 2009, Simonsen said. Sometimes people forget that positive things happen in difficult times, she noted.

There was the North Edgewater Park landfill cleanup, which brought in more than $6 million in funding to the community. Because such low bids came in on this project, the park will soon be getting new amenities including a pavilion, playground parking facilities.

During 2009, the city also received $4.5 million in federal stimulus funds to go toward the airport improvement project, Simonsen said.

“Those are monies that are pretty much a blessing to us,” she said. “Those are projects we would not be able to do on our own for many, many years.”

City staff also worked to clean up hot spots at the Blazing Star Landing site, making it one step closer to being able to develop.

Then of course, there was the Vitality Project and all of the initiatives that were brought because of it, she said.

Other highlights included an update of the city’s comprehensive plan and park’s master plan, the installation of sidewalks around Fountain Lake, successful collaboration with the Shell Rock River Watershed District and Freeborn County and the upgrades of the heating and cooling system at City Arena.