There are many sure signs of spring in Forest Lake: the ice going off the lake, the first dock being put in and of course, the city’s compost site opening for the season (which officially opened for the season on April 3 by the way). While I always look forward to spring, I am especially looking forward to this spring given the challenges of the past year. Even though we are still feeling the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are starting to see signs that life may soon be returning to more normal footings.
Since last March, the city has not only worked to address the challenges brought on by the pandemic, but we have also begun work to ensure that the City is positioned to meet the opportunities that the future will bring. One thing we have done to ensure we are ready for the future is to draft a 10-year financial plan for the city. The 10-year plan identifies the future needs of the city in areas such as infrastructure, capital equipment, and staffing levels. It also identifies the best way to finance these needs.
In addition to the 10-year plan, the Economic Development Authority is about to embark on a downtown planning process. This work will be led by planners from HKGI and is funded in part by a grant from the Washington County CDA. Planning efforts are set to be in earnest later this spring and will include numerous opportunities for residents to provide input on the plan. Keep an eye on the city’s weekly email and website for additional information on how you can participate in the downtown planning process.
We are not only focusing on the future needs of the city, we are also continuing to work with local businesses to do what we can to provide some relief from the impacts of COVID. The City Council approved the waiving of city-issued on sale liquor and massage licenses for 2021. Combined, these fee waivers provided over $45,000 in savings to local businesses. To prevent the need for budget cuts or raising the levy as a result of this fee waiver, the EDA agreed to use a portion of its fund balance to cover the lost general fund revenues.
Similar to last year, the city is once again allowing local restaurants to expand their outdoor seating for the upcoming patio season. Restaurants who wish to expand their seating can do so by completing the application found on the city’s homepage.
While we are all longing for a return to in-person meetings until it is safe to do so, all city council and board meetings will continue to be held virtually. Information on how to attend a virtual meeting and how to view the live stream can be found on the city’s website.
As I wrap up this column, I would like to mention how I am in awe of how this wonderful community has demonstrated perseverance and patience in the wake of the multitude of challenges we have faced throughout the past year. I am both humbled and proud to serve as your mayor.
Mara Bain is the Mayor of Forest Lake