By Jordan Gerard

Editor, The Caledonia Argus

After a slew of resignations approved at the Houston City Council’s regular meeting on Nov. 8, the city is in search of several positions that need fillling. 

First was accepting the resignation of full-time police officer Brett Levin, who served the city for about two years. Chief Brett Hurley said he did a “wonderful job for the city, and gave his time and energy to keeping citizens safe.” The council authorized a search for a new full-time officer and posting the job at the 2022 wage. 

Then, the council accepted the resignation of Houston Nature Center assistant Grace Shupe. City administrator Michelle Quinn said Shupe had the wonderful opportunity to pursue a passion of hers. The council authorized that search. 

Chamber director Taylor Laschenski was the next resignation approved. This position is partially funded by the chamber itself. The city will work with the chamber to see what its future needs are. They could contract with CEDA for a chamber director. The council did not make an official motion on filling the position yet. 

In the realm of personnel matters, the summer rec program has asked the city to start advertising for a director earlier, allowing for more advanced planning and earlier enrollment. Whereas other cities usually start summer rec planning in February or March, Houston starts in May. Parks and Rec council liaison Emily Krage said starting earlier should get more kids signed up, get teams in the correct brackets and resulting in less crunching at the end of the school year. The council approved the earlier start.

Walking in Cedar St. Community Building

As was common in the previous community building, walking will be allowed in the new Cedar St. Community Building during cold weather months. 

Audience members suggested afternoon hours, as a few businesses were able to take breaks at that time and walk. However, the council agreed that maintenance workers would need time to check on the building and clean before evening activities started. 

Resident Krin Abraham said people would just be walking in the building, in clean gym shoes, not using anything else, so not much cleaning would be needed. 

Previously, the community building on Maple St. was open from 7:30 a.m. to noon, and the city did not receive any complaints about the time, Quinn added. 

The council approved opening the Cedar St. building from 7:30 a.m. to noon, Monday through Thursday, from December to April. Residents who wish to walk need to wear clean gym shoes, not street shoes. 

SMIF presentation

Jane Overstreet from the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF) presented to the council. SMIF was created about 35 years ago to address the farming crisis. It provides economic and philanthropic support to 80 rural counties in greater Minnesota. 

During the pandemic, SMIF distributed about $191,000 to Houston County for entrepreneurs, childcare providers and communities. In those numbers, 25 early childhood professionals were impacted through grants, trainings and technical assistance, and 26 businesses were impacted through entrepreneur programming, grantmaking and lending. 

In Houston, SMIF developed a grant to support Covid-19 relief efforts with the Community Foundation Relief Fund Grant, and also increased rural philanthropy through the Houston Area Community Foundation.

The foundation also provided $4,250 in local “Houston Bucks” to be passed out as needed to local residents for groceries and supplies. An additional $1,000 was provided to Houston Public Schools to provide meals and snacks for children living with food insecurity, and $1,000 to the HOuston Public Library to provide STEAM activities to families to replace the in-person summer reading program during the pandemic. 

Krage added the foundation also helped purchase the refrigerator at the new community building and partnered with the nursing home to purchase a new van. 

The council did not take any action.

Other news

The council approved Wapasha Pay Application No. 7 for $202,660.65. Matt Mohs reported most of the concrete work was complete, and about 30% of the total project was complete.

The council approved an increase of $1,800 to the Statewide Volunteer Firefighter Plan for benefit levels. The previous increase in 2018 was from $1,250 to $1,400. 

The council also approved the appointments of Brandon Olson and Ken Witt as assistant fire chiefs. 

Finally, the council affirmed a payment term of 12 years (with an interest rate of 2.125%) for a new pumper truck loan through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The amount is about $31,000, with the city responsible for half of that amount. 

The council approved payment of General Obligation Note Series 2011A, in the remaining amount of $45,000 (original principal amount was $462,000), to be paid in February 2022. City finance advisor Mike Bubany and the city auditor agreed that the bond could be paid off early (final payoff date was February 2023).

The council approved Ole’s Excavating  bid for snow removal. Costs were $90/hour for quad axle dump truck, $100/hour for skid loader with bucket and $125/hour for front end loader with three-yard bucket. The city does get reimbursed from the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) for plowing state corridors 16 and 76 in city limits. 

The council approved liquor license for JT’s Corner Bar and American Legion Post 423. 

Finally, the council approved a 3% increase for 2022 COLA and increased wages to $16 an hour for the Houston Nature Center lead. They also approved employee health benefit plans with Gundersen Health System. 

Next meeting

The next meeting of Houston City Council will be Dec. 13, at 6 p.m., with Truth in Taxation.

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