In a first for many in attendance, the Wadena City Council and department heads took part in a committee of the whole work session Tuesday, May 28.
The meeting was meant to be free flowing, no actions were to be taken. It was just a chance to share thoughts, be heard and get everyone on the same page with what needs to happen in the future. It was also timely for the city administrator Janette Bower and financial officer Loyd Lanz to hear what future expenses may be coming down the pipeline.
Here's a not-so-brief-but-condensed version of what was discussed.
Maslowski Wellness and Research Center
Oddly enough two topics of discussion at Wadena's Wellness Center were smoking and drinking.
A recent incident involving individuals stepping out an exit door at the pool area to take a smoke had employees concerned about the loophole. At the time there was no signage showing no smoking and the city does not have an ordinance in place to enforce it. Following the incident a sign was placed naming the door an emergency exit, not a casual smoke break area. Bower noted action should be taken to have some ordinance in place for this situation.
The topic of alcohol allowed at the wellness center was one that needs an answer, too, director Eric Robb said.
Allowing alcohol into the wellness center for banquets and the like would be another avenue of making money. Robb said it would make money for the center as he has requests often for that type of use. Robb mentioned allowing alcohol would likely mean adding a second entry. It could also mean hiring another person, more maintenance costs, more equipment such as tables and chairs.
"I'm not for or against it, I just don't know," Robb said of the alcohol question. He said there is a need to keep the gym space busy in order to make revenue, he also knows that members looking to use the gym want access to it.
Other down the road topics included replacement of much of the workout equipment in the next five years as it reaches the end of its life in a commercial setting. He said the equipment is now five years old and most have a life of seven to 12 years. He mentioned he has looked into leasing vs. buying the equipment.
Other topics that Robb brought up that are a regular thorn in the side are the troublesome HVAC system in the center; the tile floors in the showers, which sport drains higher than other parts of the floor; and a lack of parking for large events. Robb said if more happenings like the boxing events come to the center, more parking will be a necessary step.
Other ideas included a better database for membership and improved signage leading people to the wellness center. It was mentioned that those driving on Hwy 10 and reading the giant MWRC letters on the building may not have any idea what's inside the building.
Municipal liquor store
The short term goals of the liquor store seemed like a bit of bandaid for what was needed in the long term needs. Liquor store manager Tim Booth expressed the need for:
• Handicap ramping at the back door and a correct ramp at the front entrance as well as seal coating of the parking lot.
• Relocation of an employee bathroom is needed as it is currently in the office, an unpleasant location for the manager.
• Better signage on Hwy 71 and Hwy 10 could help after the Hwy 10 medians are installed in order to turn folks around who were unable to turn at the intersection they once could.
• More cameras placed in blind spots in the store and relocating exterior cameras for more views around the outside.
What the group excitedly spoke about was the idea of a new store altogether. One that could really take advantage of the Hwy 71/10 intersection. A store with not only employee bathroom, but public bathrooms, better access for delivery, ease of access parking, beer storage warehouse and room for quantity buying.
The idea of a new store brought development director Dean Uselman to chime in that a portion of the business could be leased by a convenience store, making the site a one-stop shop for travelers. The idea brought some concern over the city giving an unfair advantage to some business over another existing business.
The liquor store is a contributor to the city general fund so the council members and staff were eager to make the site as profitable as possible.
Electric and water
Wadena Electric and Water Superintendent Dave Evans spoke of the future of electrical rates including different rates throughout the day.
Evans sees the changes coming, but said he didn't plan to be the first one in the area to try this new method of variable rates. He explained that the new variable rate idea is one that is looking to get people to change their habits in when and how they use energy. And it's one that Missouri River Energy, Wadena's electric provider, looks to implement in the near future to cut down on peak energy use.
"I believe Missouri River will charge the city that way in the next two years," Evans said.
The best way to deal with it is to charge those the most that use the most.
In other topics, Evans brought up the desire to serve entities that choose to build in Wadena. This may require expanding the electrical service territory. If they chose Wadena because they wanted to take advantage of their services, Wadena should be the one providing their electric, he said. That's not always the case for those locating just outside of the city's footprint, the new Freshwater Education headquarters is a fine example of that. The difficulty is working with those utilities serving outside of the city to buy out the utility.
• Water topics included the city water tower, which is in need of a new paint job, inside and out. That comes at a cost of about $300,000. The question was, should the city paint it or build new. Evans felt that the water tower is in good enough condition that funding may not be so easy to get to pay for a new one, a cost of around $1.5 million. But the topic was considered as the tower is now in a somewhat desirable location. The council spoke about moving it to a site out of the commercial district, possibly near the hockey arena and wellness center. If repainted, it would be another 30 years before the topic may need to be addressed again. The tower was built in 1967 and last painted in 1993. Evans said he was given some advice that if the city repaints, they should have it painted in a more memorable way. He also mentioned an idea to extend a water main to underserved areas.
Public Works director Dan Kovar went over his hopes to do more forward thinking including working with an engineer to take a proactive approach to what they should be doing and ways they could improve their current operations at the wastewater treatment plant.
Kovar noted issues of land applying liquid biosolids, in other words, there could be fewer fields to spread human waste on in the near future as older landowners sell farm land to larger farm operations that don't utilize what you flush down the toilet.
Those solids can only be applied so thick to the remaining areas. It could be dried and landfilled or possibly marketed as a fertilizer. Both could be difficult processes.
• Kovar noted that there may be needs for collection system expansions soon as the need for more commercial and residential property rises.
• He noted major needs for improvement include the area of SW Wadena from Colfax Ave to Irving Ave. and Jefferson St. to 5th St. This area needs full utility replacement. Hwy 71 N will also need to be redone as part of MnDOTs next reconstruction project.
• As far as streets, the SW portion of Wadena will need new curbs and pavement when the utilities are replaced; Kovar would like to see pavement on Greenwood Ave. NW from 2nd St. NW to the county line road to the west along with Olmstead Ave. from 4th St. to 11th St.
• Bridge replacement on the bike trail is being planned but if funding is not found soon other options will need to be explored.
• Some play sets including the large wooden play set in Tapley Park are in need of replacement.
• Kovar noted that he would like to see a bike path constructed to connect the city with Black's Grove Park. He saw this as a gateway to other trail expansions possibly to Deer Creek, Henning, Battle Lake or all the way to Fergus Falls.
Wadena Police Department
Chief of Police Naomi Plautz shot out an idea that could come together in the next 20 years. It involved absorbing the entire Fire Department portion of the building the PD and FD now share. Plautz said that with the growing size of squad vehicles and fire trucks, there's a need for more space. Her idea was to use the fire truck bays for storing forfeiture vehicles, an area for vehicle searches and they would have use of the meeting room for training and meetings. The PD currently has a two stall garage and four squad vehicles.
No relocation site was brought up for the fire department
• Other ideas involved adding a position that would handle some of the duties now handled by secretary/dispatcher Sharon Roberts. Plautz said Roberts handles the work of three people.
• Body cameras are coming, and with them come expenses and added duties.
• Instead of replacing a squad car every other year, Plautz would like to do so every year so the oldest vehicle is never more than three years old. She said the cost to do so would not be much different because the trade in value would be much higher than their older vehicles. She also mentioned the idea of leasing vs. buying.
Planning and Zoning
Wadena Planning and Zoning director Dean Uselman spoke about the need for a comprehensive plan update. He noted that this would assist in identifying areas for growth and future land use; promote orderly and logical annexation; and assist in planning utility expansions. He said in his 25 years working with the city in some capacity, he knew of just one comprehensive plan update.
He also spoke passionately about the need for developed property for business and residential growth.
"Everything we've got is sold," Uselman said.
Wadena Development Authority
WDA executive director Dean Uselman spoke about determining future development land needs for the next 5-10 years and address funding acquisition, annexation, platting, infrastructure needs and marketing. Of special note was the Halliwell Farm's future use.
He also spoke of a strategic planning session in June to address the future direction of the development authority, asking what should the WDA work towards?
Wadena Fire Department
Putting on his third hat of the meeting, Wadena Fire Chief Dean Uselman spoke about the future of fire departments in rural areas like Wadena. He mentioned that there is potential for consolidation with other departments and communities through a joint powers agreement or other means. What this could look like is one person that coordinates the day-to-day operations, management and training of other area departments. While everyone would still have their department and equipment, one person could coordinate how the departments work together, promoting cost and operational efficiency. Uselman said this sort of change would not come as long as he is chief, but that it would likely happen some day.
"It's not going to be under my watch," Uselman said.
City Administrator Janette Bower spoke of some topics needing action soon. The topic of the Chamber of Commerce using the Depot building was brought up again. Bower wants to get an agreement in place to take the situation out of limbo.
• Work on the airport crosswind project and the hiring of an airport manager continue.
• She also spoke about working with the city engineer to come up with a capital improvement program that could be used to show the Legislature the needs of the city.
After hearing the thoughts and desires of the staff over two and a half hours, Mayor George Deiss mentioned that the city council has a duty to provide services to the residents, while not overburdening them with taxes. He mentioned speaking with other city leaders at a mayor's conference and noted that many cities would like to have what Wadena has to offer.