City, county talk about sharing

Published 10:25 am Friday, March 4, 2011

Albert Lea City Council members and Freeborn County commissioners reaffirmed Wednesday they want to look for ways to share services, especially considering the tight economic crunch throughout the state.

During what has become a biannual joint workshop for the two groups, councilors and commissioners briefly discussed if there were any services between the two entities that could be shared.

They also talked about updates for a series of other projects.

Jon Kluever

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Albert Lea Mayor Vern Rasmussen asked whether the shared information-technology position with Freeborn County could service a finance program for the city as well.

One of the members also asked whether the city and county’s planning and zoning departments could be combined.

Freeborn County Administrator John Kluever said a retirement is coming up within this department in the county,at which time he would probably oversee the department for a period of time. That might be a good time to talk about potential sharing of services.

Freeborn County Board Chairman Dan Belshan said anytime someone retires, a potential collaboration should be considered.

In other action, the two boards:

• Discussed an update about the Bridge Avenue reconstruction project.

City councilors and commissioners have had to consider whether to reconstruct the road into a two-, three- or four-lane road when the infrastructure underneath the road is replaced.

Rasmussen said the general consensus among the council right now is to reconstruct the road in a similar fashion, with maybe a few variations.

“I don’t think as a council we’re envisioning a four-lane coming through town,” he said.

Debate about what to do on the road has been in question for several years.

City Engineer Steven Jahnke said as he is able to put together some ideas about the project, he will take them back to a subcommittee made to discuss.

Vern Rasmussen

He said the goal is for the council and county board to reach a consensus by late fall in time for the next round of grant or bonding applications.

• Discussed what to do regarding the Stables area, which is outside of city limits.

Many of the homes have septic systems that are failing and in need of replacement.

The project to get sewer and water to the houses in this area and to annex them into the city would be more than $5 million.

Rasmussen said the city would like to wait until 2012 to see if bonding money is approved for the project.

Belshan talked about developing a sewer district in the area, which he said would cost less than $5 million.

“I believe there is a way to solve this problem now,” he said. “We just need to be open to what other communities have done.”

• Heard the timeline for the Union Pacific rail abandonment from Albert Lea to Hartland.

Dan Belshan

Kluever said Union Pacific will most likely formally file for the abandonment in March, which will be followed by a 10-day window of time where anyone interested in purchasing the land can do so.

Assuming there’s no interest from any other parties, he said, the county would then — likely in April — write a letter to the Surface Transportation Board, informing this board of the county’s interest in acquiring the property.

The letter will also explain how the county board wants to turn it into a multi-use trail. It would put the county into a position to negotiate with the Union Pacific, Kluever said.

In the meantime, the county will be submitting several grant applications for both federal and state money.

The City Council recently passed a letter of support for the project, which has also been passed by the city of Manchester. Hartland is also expected to approve a letter, too.

• Discussed potential complications with off-street parking at the Freeborn County Courthouse.

Rasmussen explained that the city is working diligently with Albert Lea Medical Center on an agreement for the Freeborn National Bank and Jacobson Apartment buildings.

He said if ALMC goes through with the agreement — bringing more than 200 employees to the downtown — offstreet parking might become an issue.

The city is planning to designate the North Broadway Avenue parking lot for the employees, but some of the employees would also park in other areas.

• Discussed the changes made this week to the Broadway Ridge Renewal Fund.

Instead of being a revolving loan fund, the program has now turned into a grant fund, where business owners on Broadway Avenue have the opportunity to apply for matching grants up to $50,000 to renovate the facades of their buildings.

City leaders are hoping the program will revitalize the downtown.

Interim City Manager Pat McGarvey said once the $193,000 currently in the fund is depleted, the city will more than likely be looking for additional funding from Freeborn County. The current fund has $45,000 from Freeborn County, $140,000 from the city plus interest earnings.

• Discussed rezoning the Freeborn County Courthouse to allow for a new tower to be installed for the new Allied Radio Matrix Emergency System.

• Listened to a summary of the city’s proposed streetscape plan.