Summer is always a busy time of year in Forest Lake. From time spent on the lake to the Fourth of July celebration and backyard barbeques, summer always passes too quickly. As I look outside and see leaves beginning to change and school buses back on the road, it’s hard to believe summer is in the rearview mirror and fall is fast approaching. While fall ushers in everything pumpkin spice, it also brings with it work on the city’s financial plan.
In 2019, City Council has been focused on basic services provided by local government: public safety, public works, and strong financial management. We purchased a fire truck, filled open positions in our Police Department, reviewed infrastructure recommendations of staff, and brought back in house the finance function that had been provided by a part-time contract provider. Additionally, we are in the process of updating the city’s five year strategic plan. Thank you to the many residents who participated in the strategic plan community sessions and survey!
As we approached the 2020 budget, we did so with an eye on the updated strategic plan and with the goal of aligning funding priorities with strategic initiatives. One of the highest ranked goals that came out of the planning process was the need to improve our existing infrastructure – roads and water ranked especially high. Every year, the city rates its roads using the PASER system, which ranks the roads on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the best. In 2018, over half of the city’s paved streets were ranked 6 or less, and this was before the tough winter we experienced in 2018/2019! Additionally, expanding water capacity needs to be given near-term focus due to our aging infrastructure and rapidly growing community.
Rather than kicking the infrastructure can down the road for future councils to deal with, we have begun to explore the possibility of issuing bonds for necessary water infrastructure and to start catching up on deferred required road maintenance. The current bond market is seeing near historic low interest rates, making it an ideal time for the city to strategically utilize debt to address an issue that will only get more expensive as time goes on. According to a study performed by the League of Minnesota Cities, for every $1 spent on road maintenance, a city can expect to save $7 in repair costs.
Given the favorable bond market conditions, we are also evaluating refinancing the current city center bond issuance. A combined bond issuance (water, streets and city center refinance), will result in an attractive bond package and give the city the ability to obtain the most favorable interest rate and terms.
Council remains committed to performing a complete and thorough analysis on the impact of the bond issuance on current and future budgets. A public hearing regarding the bond issue will take place during the City Council meeting on Oct. 14. I personally invite all residents to attend the meeting and learn more about this opportunity.
Mara Bain is the mayor of Forest Lake.