By Mark Fischenich
Free Press Staff Writer
NORTH MANKATO — More than $20 million in construction projects and equipment purchases through 2017, financed with borrowed funds, were included in a capital budget approved by the North Mankato City Council this week.
The unanimous approval of the plan is far from the final word on the spending because each project will require a specific authorization by the council. But the five-year schedule offers a preview of the big-ticket expenditures facing the city, and spending slated for 2013 is likely to happen because it’s already been deemed most critical.
The tab was large enough to prompt concern from North Mankatoan Tom Rieff that the city might be setting itself up for property tax increases when payments come due on the bonds and equipment certificates that will be sold to finance the construction and purchases.
“Are we looking at a levy increase right off the bat?” asked Rieff, an unsuccessful candidate for the council on Nov. 6. “... We’re already locking ourselves into a levy increase. That’s my concern.”
Councilman Bob Freyberg said he shared Rieff’s concern and promised that a detailed look at the city’s debt and future payment obligations is coming after a new city administrator is hired.
“I understand what Tom’s saying. He’s absolutely right on,” Freyberg said.
Finalists for the vacant position have been asked about their ability to prepare a long-term capital plan that includes a debt service target for serving past and future debt.
“With those types of numbers, then we could address what you’re talking about,” Freyberg said. “But I hear what you’re saying exactly.”
The five-year plan approved by the council reflects a range of city services, including a library expansion ($500,000 in 2015), a 75-foot ladder truck for the fire department ($750,000 in 2015), a recoating of the interior of the water tower on Carlson Drive ($324,000 next year), replacement of the electronic controls in the city sewer system ($400,000 in 2014), a bathroom remodel in the municipal building ($10,000 next year), and caulking for the flood wall ($25,000 in 2016).
The costliest items, though, are centered on planned improvements for city parks, storm sewers and streets. The park upgrades alone total more than $4 million, much of it financed with bond sales that will be repaid by the half-percent local sales tax approved by voters to cover the costs of library improvements, park work, downtown development and road expansion.
The plan includes $500,000 next year for partial implementation of the ambitious plan to transform Benson Park, which is now largely undeveloped, into a multi-habitat nature park. Another $500,000 is slated for 2015 for other amenities at Benson including parking, a pavilion with restrooms, a bridge and trails.
Caswell Park, including its new soccer complex across Howard Drive, is set for $430,000 in 2013 with another $1.1 million scheduled for the following four years, including $250,000 for land acquisition to the west for a potential indoor ice rink/recreation center.
Spring Lake Park spending totals $750,000. But other than $100,000 for new restrooms on the south end of the park in 2014, the expenditures on the lower North Mankato park are mostly concentrated in the later years of the plan.
New walking/biking trails are planned for the Lee Boulevard Hill ($150,000 in 2017) and along the Highway 14 right-of-way from near Culvers to the Hiniker Pond area ($350,000 in 2014).
Street expansion on the city’s growing north and northwest sides, which would be funded partly with assessments on property owners, total $1.8 million, and reconstruction of aging city streets (including Cliff Court in 2013 and parts of Roe Crest in 2014) total $5.25 million.
A new well, aimed at providing additional fresh water capacity on the growing hilltop area, is scheduled at nearly $1.4 million for next year. Nearly as expensive in the 2013 budget is a $1.15 million upgrade of the sewer and storm sewer systems in the Roe Crest/Noretta/Old Belgrade Hill area.