Everson: Plenty going on in our city
Clearing up misconceptions from a recent letter to the editor
A recent letter to the editor by Stewart Hanson held a number of less than accurate statements. I feel his editorial warrants a response.
First, the vote by the City on a City Manager was to formally change the form of government and add the City Manager position, in effect, changing the role of our Mayor. The result was hiring a City Administrator, which is a position that answers to the Mayor and Council. Decisions come from the Council and Mayor. Council sets Resolutions and Ordinance, the Mayor oversees implementation and operations of the City.
Mr. Hanson touts how high the property taxes are. This is not a City function. We do have a portion of the property taxes we garner for the City budget, but the taxes are set by the County, not the City. I will point out the City levy has decreased from 6.341 in 2014 (When Ms. Ellwein came on board) to the current levy of 5.073. A savings. Though admittedly, property valuations do play a part in that levy, and rising evaluations do allow us to reduce the levy while still receiving the same amount of money. I will also point out in 2020 and 2022, the levy did have a small increase each of those years, but overall, it is down from 2014.
The water rates have increased, mainly due to infrastructure projects that are being completed to improve our century old systems. Mr. Hanson mentions a comparison which shows the current rates of some class A cities, Watertown, Sioux Falls, and Pierre; but those communities are most likely going to see costs increase as well. However, we do not speculate on what those will be, so we use today's current figures, knowing they will see increases in the very near future. Mr. Hanson asked about cutting back on water consumption when B-Y notifies us of too much usage. We do put out bulletins asking residents to reduce consumption. We have no way, currently, to force them to do so, so we rely on residents taking a good faith approach to reduction of use. What gets used by the schools and courthouse is beyond our control, they have their own governing bodies, and the City can only request they reduce consumption. As for the parks, we do try to limit what they use. Keep in mind Cadwell Park, the Cemetery, and Golf Course all use water directly from Lake Mitchell and are not taking any B-Y water for their landscaping.
Looking further at debt, the City has paid down our constitutional debt by $12,759,000.00. Our General Fund balance was 11% in 2014 when Ms. Ellwein took the position. Today our General Fund balance is at 32.8%. It would seem it grew in a positive manner by roughly 21%. We now have a Capitol Improvement Fund to help with major projects. Our Bond Rating has gone up allowing the City to borrow at far better rates than in 2014. We have completed numerous infrastructure projects. If people have paid attention to the SPN presentation 18 months ago, we are in need of some $300 million worth of infrastructure improvements. We have started those. They do come at a cost.
City growth has not been what I would expect for a community our size on a major interstate. Some of that issue is water, and a secondary source would position Mitchell to be able to pursue entities that should help us grow. We have 2.65 million gallon per day of water available from B-Y water contractually, in the summer we are seeing use of 4.4 million gallons per day. Anything over the 2.65 MGD can be withheld from us, which is why we need to look at additional water supply. Growth should only help residents as the tax base gets larger as well.
Mr. Hanson does not care for the spending on facilities. They speak to a quality-of-life issue. On the Ice Arena Second Sheet of Ice and the Indoor Pool we have had issues. Those relate to construction and materials, and we have been expending time and effort to correct the deficiencies and ensure they are not encountered again. Mr. Hanson is incorrect on the steps at the Barber Shop on Fifth Avenue, they will remain. The owner had several constructive discussions with the City and any issue has been resolved.
The Casey property was not purchased by the City. It was given to the City by Casey's when they made the decision to close that location. In delivering it to the City, it had numerous covenants, making development of that lot difficult for future investors. Basically, any business placed there could not sell any goods carried by Casey's. The request by the original purchaser was for a Boutique, which seemed like a good fit given the restrictions placed on the lot. Suffice it to say, that was a hard learned lesson.
The Kelley Property was an excellent acquisition for the City, in my opinion. It allows us to do much needed work in the watershed ahead of Lake Mitchell. Was it a loss, that is open to interpretation. We bought the house and just over 300 acres for $4.1 million. The house sold for $1.59 million. We now have a 37 acre wetland about to be constructed, and we still hold just under a half section of land to the North, valued at, arguably $2.5 million, given recent land auction prices. More importantly, it is land that can be utilized in any number of ways to benefit the City. It had a long term farming lease, which we will continue to honor, which does provide some income from it. We will have to agree to disagree on the value of that land.
Improvements to Main Street such as the bump outs, will only enhance our downtown, as the business owners have already stated in several meetings. The dollars for that work is coming from the Downtown BID as well as third penny which must be used for promoting and improving the City.
I hope this helps clear up many misconceptions.