City tax levy considered; old Coborn's purchased
By Doug Voerding
On Monday, Dec. 4, the Buffalo City Council held its annual truth-in-taxation hearing on the city's 2018 capital and operating budgets.
City Administrator Mert Auger opened the hearing by reviewing issues that could change individual property taxes in the city.
Changes can be due to an increase or decrease in valuation. For example, in Buffalo, townhouse valuations saw major increases for taxes payable in 2018. The classification of properties might have been changed by the state legislature. Individual property taxes are also affected by a change in the tax levy, as well as new construction.
The 2018 proposed levy is $7,906,723, an increase of about eight percent over last year. That increase will meet debt service requirements and increased operating expenses.
The City of Buffalo does not assess for street and utility reconstruction projects. Rather, street and utility reconstruction is part of the general levy and part of the debt service levy, spreading the cost of street and utility reconstruction to all property owners.
The proposed levy certification shows: revenue, $4,025,071; debt service, $3,037,374; library, $80,628; payments to other government, $21,949; lease purchase, $439,995; EDA, $1706; and sewer $300,000.
Mayor Teri Lachermeier said, "We had many meetings, many tough meetings, and looked at the budget line-by-line."
Councilmember Steve Downer gave one example.
"We had a big debate over a fire truck," said Downer. "We had to weigh the need with the safety of the firefighters."
In the end, the budget includes a new fire engine pumper.
The city will begin 2018 with fund balances of $4,939,714, which gives the city the cash to operate until tax money first comes to the city in July, 2018.
The council continued the public hearing to the Dec. 18 meeting, at which time the council is expected to approve the final 2018 levy and budget.
To continue the city's work and support of the redevelopment of downtown Buffalo, the Buffalo City Council on Monday, Dec. 4 awarded a bid for $330,000 in bonds to Center National Bank of Plymouth.
The bond money will be used to purchase the former Coborn's building. The city already owns the parking lot, and, by combining the two properties, the city can better partner with developers who are interested in the city's vision for high density housing and mixed-use businesses in the downtown area.
The taxable general obligation bond interest rate will be 3.09 percent. The bonds are temporary bonds for two years, but payable with interest at any time. The interest is included in the bond, so there will be no affect on the property tax levy.
The two-year bonds will give the city the time to partner with a developer who would then pay the city for the property, thus paying for the bond.
Lachermeier said, "There are interested parties, interested in revitalizing our downtown. I have been on city council for 17 years, and we have been talking about downtown for all those years. Much has been done, like the lake walk and the lake park, but now we need to do even more."
Said City Assistant Administrator Laureen Bodin, "We have been working with developers all along, but it will take some time. This gives us the needed time."
Downer said, "We need to do this to move ahead. This is positive."
KleinBank also bid on the bonds, submitting an interest rate of 4.6 percent.
During the open forum, Jim Tool questioned the city's costs for Wild Marsh Golf Course.
Tool said the city, comparing income and expenses, "has to put in a fairly significant amount of money every year."
"In the long run," said Tool, "the city should be considering doing something different, with property taxes paying to the city."
In response, Lachermeier, "Yes, this is an asset that costs us, but we are taking this seriously, continuously looking and studying. There are always things we are working on."
Councilmember Scott Enter said, "We are looking at the civic center, too. Our amenities, do we truly want to give them up?"
In other action, the council:
- reappointed John Siffert to the Housing and Redevelopment Authority.
- accepted an anonymous donation of $100 for the 2017 Flora of Buffalo program. Donations for the 2018 Flora of Buffalo can be made beginning in January.
- discussed but took no action on the Trailblazer Joint Powers agreement. Trailblazer provides bus transportation throughout Wright County, including the City of Buffalo.
- heard from Council-member Linda Kittock that the Parks Advisory Board is looking at a new subdivision plan.
A late but sticky situation
The snow took a while to get here. This stop sign was plastered with the white stuff, as about an inch of snow fell Monday night, Dec. 4. (Photo by Ed DuBois)
Deck the Halls event enjoyed at Sturges Park
The horse-drawn wagon rides at the Deck the Halls event at Sturges Park in Buffalo are very popular each year. Here, Joleen Olson of Ken-Mar Draft Horses in rural Buffalo drives up a hill to a parking lot, where people are waiting in a long line for their rides. The event ended with lighting a very tall Christmas tree. See more photos inside this week's issue of the Journal-Press. (Photo by Ed DuBois)
Striebel sentenced to over four years in prison
A young man involved with the death of Justin Harvey in Montrose during an August 2016 incident has been sentenced to almost five years in prison.
James Striebel, 19, of Howard Lake was sentenced on Nov. 29 for felony manslaughter in the second degree to 57 months in prison. He must also provide a DNA sample and pay restitution.
He was an accomplice in a drug deal that ended in the death of Harvey last year, and he pleaded guilty last month to second-degree manslaughter.
According to the Wright County Attorney's Office, Striebel was originally charged with murder in the second degree and simple robbery. On Tuesday, Nov. 7, he agreed in court to plead guilty to manslaughter in the second degree.
The vehicle driver in the August 2016 incident was sentenced on May 30 to a total of 41 months in prison. Noelle Ziegelmann, 19, of Montrose was sentenced for felony criminal vehicular homicide.
According to the criminal complaint filed in Wright County, deputies responded at 2:28 a.m. in Montrose, where Harvey, 18, was lying unconscious and bleeding profusely on a street. Harvey had allegedly attempted to sell marijuana to Striebel and Ziegelmann. Striebel reportedly grabbed the marijuana without paying for it. Striebel was inside a vehicle, and Ziegelman, who was driving, drove forward and accelerated. Harvey was dragged, and then he fell to the pavement. He died later at the Hennepin County Medical Center.
Striebel will reportedly get credit for time already served in jail.
Friends of Buffalo Community Center now a nonprofit
Citizens who are interested in establishing a new community center in Buffalo have recently incorporated as the Friends of the Buffalo Community Center.
As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the organization can now receive tax-deductible donations. They are also eligible to receive matching funds from businesses that offer to match donations.
The Friends of the Buffalo Community Center has elected officers. They include President Sandra Tool, Vice President Fred Naaktgeboren and Secretary/Treasurer Darlene Bechtold.
All are welcome to contact any of these people for more information and answers to questions. The Friends of the Buffalo Community Center phone number is 763-682-0654.
Their mission statement follows: "The Friends of the Buffalo Community Center is a nonprofit organization which promotes providing a safe, healthy and enjoyable environment of citizens of Buffalo of all ages. Our long-term goal is to attain a new building to replace the current Buffalo Community Center."
They are always open to welcome more members to the taskforce.
For questions or to donate, write to: Friends of the Buffalo Community Center, Inc., 700 6th Ave. NW, Buffalo, MN 55313, or call 763-682-0654.
County State Aid Highway 18 construction project planned
County State Aid Highway (CSAH 18) is planned to be reconstructed during the 2018 construction season. A posted detour will be in place to route traffic around the project limits during construction.
The CSAH 18 (50th Street NE) improvements, approximately one mile in length, from Maciver Ave NE to Naber Ave NE, are being done to address current and long-term safety and capacity needs of the corridor, and improve the structural strength of the roadway. The 50th Street NE (Highway 18) project is identified as a Mid-Term (2015-2025) improvement in the Northeast Wright County Sub-Area Trans-portation Study, dated June, 2004. The project is also included in the Wright County Local Option Sales Tax projects list(approved June 13, 2017) as a short-term project (2018-2022). The project will improve safety and capacity by widening the roadway to provide for left-turning traffic, providing right-turn lanes, and intersection improvements to meet current state aid design standards. This route is identified in the NE Wright County Sub-Area Study as an important arterial route that will provide a continuous east-west connection between highway 19 and highway 22 (Naber Ave.NE).
The only show in town now
Crossroads Animal Shelter wants it known, they are still here, and they are not going anywhere
By: Ed DuBois
For about 17 years, the Buffalo area had two major animal adoption shelters. One was the Animal Humane Society Shelter just off Highway 55 between Buffalo and Rockford, which closed in early-November this year. Meanwhile, the Crossroads Animal Shelter, located just south of Buffalo near Highway 55 and CSAH (County State Aid Highway) 14, remains open.
"We're the only show in town now," said Karla Heeter, Crossroads' president and one of the founders.
She added that the hours are Fridays 2-6 p.m., Saturdays noon to 5 and Sundays noon to 5.
She expressed great appreciation for the volunteer work of Linda Schwichtenberg for managing Crossroads. Heeter said Schwichtenberg is a key reason Crossroads has been doing well financially.
Crossroads now has its first paid manager, Alyssa Snavely of Rockford, a veterinary technician who graduated from Buffalo High School in 2012.
Snavely hasn't noticed a big jump of inactivity at Crossroads since the Animal Humane Society Shelter closed, but she said more visitors have been seen in recent weeks.
"More people have been coming in here, but I'm not sure if it's because of the time of year or because the other shelter closed," Snavely commented.
Some visitors said they heard Crossroads closed. They apparently confused Crossroads with the Animal Humane Society.
Heeter and others involved with running Crossroads want to get the word out that the shelter is going strong.
"We're still here. We're not going anywhere," said Crossroads' vice president, Rachel Pearson.
About 300 adopted each year
Just over 6,000 animals have been adopted at Crossroads since 2000. An average of about 300 animals have been adopted each year.
Some animals that are brought to Crossroads get returned to their owners. They call it an RTO (return to owner). Snavely said there were 105 RTOs last year.
In addition to finding good homes for mostly dogs and cats, Crossroads serves as an impound facility for several cities, including: Buffalo, Delano, Howard Lake, Independence, Maple Plain, Minnitrista, Montrose, Orono, St. Bonifacius, and Waverly, as well as Rockford Township.
The euthanasia rate at Crossroads is low. Adoption is preferred, but sometimes euthanasia is the best option for an animal to prevent suffering, Heeter, Snavely and Pearson explained.
Crossroads has a contract with Wright County to provide dangerous dog services.
Incidentally, Heeter stepped down as the Crossroads president during the time she was a county commissioners. She wanted to avoid a possible conflict of interest related to the dangerous dog contract. Now she is president again.
Passionate about animals
Crossroads has a staff of eight people, and a ninth position could be filled soon. All but Snavely are volunteers.
Heeter said efforts are underway to grow the volunteer program. If you are interested, call 763-684-1234.
A few board of directors positions are being added, as well. In fact, interviewing is underway with candidates recommended by a nominations committee.
Heeter said, whether you are a volunteer or board member, "we want to engage more people. There are many opportunities."
Snavely said the volunteers are very committed.
"They are passionate about animals. They are caring, and they treat the animals like their own," she stated.
Some volunteers help with Crossroads events. Others work on fundraising.
Dog walking is an area where more volunteers would be greatly appreciated.
Volunteers also help keep the shelter clean.
Heeter mentioned that people comment about the cleanliness of the Crossroads facility, and she is proud of that.
Fundraisers in February, April
One of the fundraising activities involves sewing Pet Pads, and many of these have been sold over the years. The volunteers who sew the Pet Pads are very much appreciated, Heeter said.
Fundraising events include Taste for Tails, an evening of tasting wine, beer and spirits next door to the Downtown Wine and Spirits store in Buffalo. The date for the event this year is Feb. 25, 2018.
In April, an annual dinner is planned. This year, it is called Cocktails for Cats ... and Dogs, Too.
A coin jar fundraising effort has been surprisingly effective. About 60 big jars are in stores all over the county. The coins from the jars added up to over $11,000 in 2016.
"We paid the $1,000 monthly mortgage mainly with the coins from the jars," Heeter mentioned.
A few other fundraising efforts involve pet sponsorships and sales of gift cards. When you sponsor a pet, you get updates about the animal you are sponsoring, and you get informed when the animal is adopted.
Heeter stated the support from people for Crossroads was significant right from the start. A total of $70,000 was raised in the first year. That led to obtaining a $100,000 loan for the construction of a shelter. Rick Scott of Scott Builders volunteered to oversee the project without charge.
'Refresh' the shelter
The facility opened in 2002, and now Heeter and the others in charge are planning to "refresh" the shelter with some paint on the walls. The floors need attention, too.
Planning is underway for a new house for cats. This would be a separate structure specifically constructed with cats in mind.
Besides that, a Crossroads "Catio" on the outside of the main building could be an added-on patio. This would be an outdoor cat cage with climbing structures. It would give cats some fresh air and a different environment.
Crossroads already has an agility area for dogs, so now the cats are getting some special consideration.
Match animal and owner
When it comes to putting a dog or a cat up for adoption, Crossroads puts some thought and consideration into the process.
"We don't just sell animals," Heeter said. "We ask questions and get some history with animals. We try to match the animal and the new owner."
Because of the extra effort, the Crossroads' return rate is low, according to Heeter.
"Sometimes it (the process) is off-putting. People will ask, 'Why all the questions?'" Snavely said.
Heeter stated, "We want a forever home for each animal."
The Animal Humane Society Shelter down the road from Crossroads wanted the same thing. Now that one of the shelters is closed, Crossroads is "the only show in town." Heeter and company want to be sure everyone knows, "We're still here. We're not going anywhere."