Wadena City Council members heard from most department heads Tuesday, Nov. 5, during a special meeting, where the group shared how budgets were looking for 2020.
In several of the budget reviews, alcohol kept bubbling up to the top of conversation as a means to help bring departments more profits.
Certainly the liquor store is an example of a department that brings in money to the city. Liquor store manager Tim Booth budgeted for an expected $2.28 million in revenues for 2020, which allows for about $17,000 surplus. That includes a planned $120,000 transfer of funds into the general fund, which is than used to offset other city costs, like the Maslowski Wellness Center or Whitetail Run Golf Course. The liquor store looks to spend over $900,000 on beer in 2020, but bring in about $1.25 million selling it.
Conversations about the liquor store quickly shifted to funding a marketing study that could hopefully show the city what options would be best to improve revenues at the store. Some options may include a brand new store, remodeled store or an expansion of the store, but all options looked to take advantage of the highly visible property the city owns at the corner of Hwy 10/71.
“This location is really just prime,” City Administrator Janette Bower said.
Bower included an estimated cost of $10,000 into the budget for the market study expense.
Booth shared that the Hwy 10 construction would likely impact traffic to the liquor store. He added that the recent news about WE Fest not happening in 2020 would likely mean a drop in sales as well.
As part of the desire to see what kind of design Wadena could mimic in a new or improved store, Bower requested that two council members join forces to tour area liquor stores. Mayor George Deiss and councilman Wade Miller quickly rose to the occasion. Both noted they already had significant experience visiting other establishments.
As a portion of the property next to the liquor store was recently cleared for Hwy 10 improvements, the city likely won’t get the property back for use from MnDOT until 2022, Bower said.
The Wellness Center has been one to benefit from the abundant revenue at the liquor store. If the council chooses to move forward, the Wellness Center could one day be open to allowing alcohol within a portion of the building.
The hot topic was one Mayor Deiss and Wellness Center manager Eric Robb said they have heard strongly from both sides. Some who were donors of the building do not want to see alcohol brought into a place of health and wellness. Others have said the community needs an event center and this could be it. Robb believes staff are asked numerous times each year for wedding rentals at the wellness center but the policy is that no alcohol is allowed.
Robb made it clear several times that he was not for or against the project, which he said would involve improving the north entrance as an event center entry and installing a gate in the hallway to keep event goers from entering the rest of the wellness center during after-hour events. Council members requested Robb come up with numbers to bring to the council as early as January in order to see what this may look like.
Council members and Robb were all in agreement that this addition might not bring much additional revenue, but much like the wellness center, it fills a need with more options for the community. No one spoke in opposition to the idea.
“It adds to the quality of life,” Bower said.
Robb said he would support whatever the council supported, but he added, “If we do it, do it right. It’s going to have to be a knockout.”
Council member Mark Lunde asked why the original policy was written not allowing alcohol. Mayor Deiss said as best he could recall, there were just more people concerned about having alcohol there than there is now.
Lunde said he believes strongly in private business and does not want to see the Wellness Center taking reservations away from other area locations. Others chimed in that there isn’t another location like this in the area.
Public Works director Dan Kovar discussed his budget plans that did not include alcohol. He did, however, include a way to increase revenues by about $40,000 with increases on commercial water users. This was an increase meant to avoid hitting the average home owner with added costs, and instead place a higher cost on those putting the greatest strain on the system.
That increase will help in paying for an estimated $30,000 capital outlay study Kovar said would help the department plan for maintenance needs for many years to come.
“It kind of lays out a road map for the future,” Bower said of the study.
Not counting depreciation, the sewer budget showed a surplus of about $8,000.
Electric and Water funds
Utilities Superintendent Dave Evans noted a few additions beyond all that’s involved with keeping electricity and water flowing into homes and businesses. A couple highlights of the 2020 budget include a plan to pave a loop around the new utilities building. Aside from a parking area, much of the area around the facility remains gravel. Evans budgeted $35,000 to have that area paved and tacked on another $10,000 for a pole bunk, a concrete structure to hold telephone poles in storage.
Evans mentioned the abundant work that will come in 2020 as they work with MnDOT on utility work along Hwy 10. They may be working with the hospital to provide utilities to their new building planned for start next year.
One illuminating budget item was plans to add Christmas lights on the new poles on Hwy 10.
“I think we should light Hwy 10 up,” Evans said. Council members backed the project. Evans included $10,000 in the budget for that line item.
“They are not cheap, each little candle on a pole is about $700,” Evans said.
Not including depreciation the electric fund was projected to be $269,000 in the black.
Few high dollar items were detailed in the water fund aside from regular maintenance of the large system. The water fund expects to see $979,571 in revenue and looks to have about $9,737 remaining after expenses, that’s after an expected transfer out of $200,000.
Golf pro Kevin Ross showed his budget had few changes from the previous year. An item to note included a beverage cart at $10,000, after the previous cart wore out.
Ross stated that alcohol costs at the White Tail Run Golf Course could go higher as a means to generate more revenue.
Ross said the golfing game is going more towards a social gathering, which may play into future design of tee boxes or the course in general. While some courses have an emphasis on professional design, Ross said more golfers coming up are looking to have fun when they golf. Creating a more user friendly experience may help with that.
Ross added that liquor at the wellness center would make a lot of revenue. It’s expected to bring about $60,000 in revenue to the golf course.