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Mitchell's debt, borrowing capacity on city council agenda

How much long-term debt does the city of Mitchell have, and what is its remaining bond capacity? Those are two of the items up for discussion during tonight's special meeting of the Mitchell City Council.

According to the agenda for the meeting, the city's long-term debt at the end of 2011 was $24.3 million.

Much of that is bonded debt for projects in the city, including tax increment financing (TIF) districts, which in theory will pay for themselves with new tax revenue. The city also owes money for the Mitchell Aquatic Center, water projects, the landfill and other debts.

Council President Jeff Smith said Mitchell is in solid shape and as long as tax revenue continues to come in, it's entirely appropriate to plan for the future.

"It looks like we have no more, no less debt than any other municipality," Smith said.

"Right now, we're sitting very well as far as finances go. And you have to bond for these kind of projects."

He said the TIF districts must be listed, but are not really a debt for the city.

"As long as the real estate taxes are paid, the bond is paid," Smith said. "It's not our obligation."

In addition to current debt, the council will review possible future expenses.

Several city departments issued reports on projects they would like to undertake, including a $3 million upgrade at the wastewater plant and lagoon or as much as $8 million for a new wastewater plant or if major additions were needed and replacing the earthen dam at Lake Mitchell, which is more than 80 years old.

That would cost an estimated $3 million.

The dam is inspected by the state every three years and by city staff more often.

Despite inspections, "failures are not always predictable," the report states.

There are several other proposals from the Public Works Department that were drafted after a Feb. 16 "brainstorming session" that included department officials.

The Parks and Recreation Department report includes a possible Rec Center expansion, with a price tag of between $7.5 million and $10 million, as well as a hockey arena expansion, estimated at $3.2 million.

The Mitchell Skating and Hockey Association would contribute to the project, according to the report.

A $1 million renovation of the Mitchell Public Library is also listed as a possible future expense.

The Public Safety Department lists $900,000 for a satellite fire station near Lake Mitchell, $850,000 for a ladder truck and $500,000 for a Traffic Division building as possible future projects.

The Corn Palace listed two possible projects in the next few years: $200,000 for a temperature control system and $150,000 to refinish the large dome atop the building.

Smith said the council wanted to hear these reports as it weighs spending several million dollars on a Corn Palace upgrade.

"We needed to understand what future projects the department heads have on their wish list," he said. "Then what we have to do is pick and choose. It's good to have a master plan for the community."

This will be the second special meeting the council is holding to discuss a "Next Generation Corn Palace."

The council normally meets on the first and third Mondays of each month.

It added these third monthly meetings to focus almost entirely on the city-owned Corn Palace.

Visitation has declined in recent years and the city wants to find a way to lure more people to the iconic downtown structure as well as persuading them to spend more time -- and money -- in Mitchell.

In addition to talking debt and money, the council will also hear a report from the Next Generation Corn Palace Committee as well as one from the City Hall Relocation Committee.

The meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall Council Chambers, 612 N. Main St. It is open to the public.