It what was a classic example of putting the cart before the horse, the Monticello City Council viewed plans for a new public works building during an Oct. 28 workshop.
Two site proposals were outlined by Andrew Cooper of Oertel Architects: one on School Boulevard near the city’s water tower, and another on Dalton Avenue in the Otter Creek industrial park.
And while some city staff wanted the City Council to make a site selection during the Oct. 28 workshop, a $20 million price tag, combined with a lack of a financing plan and a lack of detailed project plans in the hands of councilors kept the project from moving forward at the moment.
The largest hurdle needing to be cleared appears to be the price tag. Estimated by Cooper to cost between $20.6 and $21.3 million, depending on the site, cost estimates are to be $8 to $9 million more than city council members expected when the project was first proposed in 2018.
Councilmember Lloyd Hilgart noted that was about a 70 percent increase. To do the project would significantly increase taxes in Monticello. He estimated the project would result in a 15 percent increase in the tax levy.
“We need a new public works building- no doubt- but we can’t afford to do it right now,” Hilgart said.
But Councilmember Bill Fair respectfully disagreed.
“It’s my opinion we need to bite the bullet,” Fair said.
Fair said the City must embark on the project while it has the certainty of Xcel Energy operating its nuclear power plant in the city so it can take advantage of the tax benefits that come with the power plant’s large portion of the city’s tax capacity.
There was no disputing a need for a new facility, which not too long ago seemed headed for the Edmondson Farm site at Edmondson Avenue NE near 85th Avenue in what is now Monticello Township. But that site has been sold to a developer as part of a land-swap deal that will eventually result in the expansion of the UMC manufacturing facility on Chelsea Road.
Councilmember Jim Davidson said he can’t disagree with the argument that a new public works campus is needed, but added, “I will not vote for a 15 percent tax increase in one swoop.”
Hilgart added, “It is not possible to add this much debt.”
Mayor Brian Stumpf reminded councilmembers that in Monticello “it’s not all about public works.”
He noted that there is still work to complete at Bertram Chain of Lakes Regional Park, and the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is in need of a new facility.
Stumpf said the city’s finance committee, on which he and Councilmember Charlotte Gabler sit, will ultimately be charged with finding a financing solution if a public works building is to become a reality.
Gabler noted that she purposely remained silent on the matter during the Oct. 28 discussion because she was disappointed by the lack of plans and details presented to the council prior to such an important discussion.
Financing remained unclear at the conclusion of the work shop, but Andrew Cooper outlined details of the Dalton Avenue and School Boulevard proposals during a presentation.
Proposed is a 108,000 square-foot building that would sit on about 10 acres of land.
The public works campus would include an office, vehicle storage, and an area for vehicle maintenance. Department shops and cold storage would also be incorporated into the buildings on site.
On the public works grounds would be a storage area for salt and sand, storage bins for materials, a fuel island that would provide gasoline to city vehicles, employee parking, a site yard and green space.
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