By Jordan Gerard

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on-profit organizations who utilize Houston’s rental facilities could see a slight discount from regular rates, as the Houston City Council discussed the topic at its regular meeting on Monday, May 9.

Council member Cody Mathers said he’d like to see something in writing that would guide city staff, specifically city administrator-clerk Michelle Quinn. 

“Michelle has been having to make determinations without guidance from us,” he said. “Particularly important is some of those non-profits affiliated with us at least get a discount rate. Our typical practice is full price.”

Houston-area non-profits such as the Friends of the Nature Center, Friends of the Houston Public Library and Houston Fire Relief Association can use city facilities free of charge from Monday-Thursday. They’re also flexible and willing to move locations if a paid event wants the space on the same day, he added. 

Quinn added the policy has been changing since she came on board with the city. Rental fees help ease the burden of the facilities upkeep off taxpayers. The city would need to protect that revenue stream, she summarized.

“There’s a funding stream that offsets expenses that otherwise go to taxpayers. We want to find a blend that works well,” she said. 

There are about 15 to 20 different non-profit groups in and around Houston that utilize the facilities every year. If all of them have one event at no fee, for 15 to 20 weekends or days, that’s all taken out of revenue to provide for costs, Quinn said. 

She said she understood the good works they do, adding that rentals were on the “upswing” and groups from outside Houston were interested in renting. 

The council took no formal action on this matter, but did approve the Friends of the Houston Nature Center to use the center for three reserved rates at a discounted rate of $20 per day. 

 Yard waste drop off location

The city has changed its residential yard waste drop off location to Westgate Dr., just across from Flex Craft, Inc. The area will be marked with orange snow fence. Yard clippings and garden waste is allowed, but no brush.

Hires

The council approved several hires. They hired Lynne Farmer as a nature center assistant. She will be available on-call as needed, as the city hired a local student to work at the center as well. 

Therese Jore was hired as a library assistant. She is a Houston High School student who serves as the student rep. on the library board. 

The council gave permission to hire staff for the summer rec program upon favorable recommendations and criteria. Interviews took place Friday, May 13. 

Other news

The council approved Wapasha pay application No. 13 for $137,624.80.  They also approved a permit for a fence at 114 W. Maple St. 

The council approved Dan Smith and Alan Wade at Prairie Moon Nursery, for native prairie plant seed harvesting. Prairie Moon will harvest the seed, clean it and sell it, with 10% of profits going back to the city. They also offered to weed the garden beds around the nature center and add plants as needed. That contract was also extended to 2024. 

The city approved a pay equity report that reflects a more updated pay scale between employees. Quinn said upon review by the state, the city was out of compliance for qualifying city positions. The approval brings them back into compliance.

The city waived its annual League of Minnesota Cities Insurance on tort liability. Waiving this allows the city coverage up to $2 million, instead of $500,000 if they did not waive it. The move was recommended by the city’s insurance agent, Tom Danielson.

The council approved a temporary liquor license for Houston Hoedown, from July 29-31. 

Finally, the city approved an in-kind donation for use of the bandshell for the summer concert series. The city will be recognized as a sponsor for as well. An audience member let the city know that the Friends of the Nature Center have taken over that program from the Chamber. 

Dates and acts are as follows:

• July 13: Patina

• July 20: Derick Alan and the Stampede

• July 27: Under Paris Skies

• Aug. 3: Uptown Jazz

• Aug. 10: Thompson Valley

• Aug. 17: Patchouli

• Aug. 24: rain date or Ken Ring

The council is also looking for a group to take over maintenance of flower beds by both city entrance signs. Hometown Pride is not able to maintain them anymore. There was no formal action on the topic. 

The council also approved the replacement of a light pole that was knocked over on the east side of the 100 block of South Grant Street. The cost was $6,936, and Hoskins Electric will do the work. 

The council approved two new firefighters to full status: Mitch Seekamp and Carter Chiglo. Fire chief Steve Skifton reported the department had about 375 people come through for the recent pancake breakfast fundraiser. 

Quinn updated the city on ambulance crew numbers. Since partnering with Riverland Community College on an EMT education course, the city has seven candidates who will be taking the national registry test. That puts them in line to eventually become crew members. Quinn said they would need to re-assess pager needs and those funds could come from the American Rescue Plan Act money that was donated from Houston County. 

Council member and ambulance member Tony Schultz said the ambulance has had a total of 70 runs this year, an increase from last year’s 32. 

Krage added a thank you to community members who donated bats, balls and funds to the community education baseball program. All eight teams are full this year. 

Next meeting

The next meeting of the Houston City Council will be June 13, at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

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