The Rockford City Council conducted business at its Jan. 8 meeting under the leadership of Mayor Renee Hafften. Hafften, who served a 4-year term as a Rockford City Councilor, is replacing Mike Beyer who held the position for three consecutive terms. New Council Member Denise Kesanen was also present.
The council reviewed a recent cost projection from the construction management firm CPMI regarding a proposal for a multi-use event center to be located adjacent to Riverside Park in the downtown area of the city. The project is one that has been considered, discussed and re-configured over the last few years. It’s been put on the back burner a couple of times, only to be resurrected again with new direction and ideas. In 2010, the idea of researching commercial quality steel framed buildings arose as a possibility, one that could meet the needs and specifications of a community building while keeping material and constructions costs considerably lower than traditional construction. An Event Center Planning Committee was established, and the council received ongoing updates regarding what direction it was going, what progress was being made, and what cost projections looks like. In late November, the committee received a cost estimate of approximately $2 million for a center (at just under 7,000 square feet, seating up to 200) with pre-cast panel walls and concrete block. Asked to come back with a lower estimate, CPMI presented a new cost estimate with pre-engineered steel structure and framed interior walls, which cut approximately $400,000 for the project cost. The facility will house a full-use kitchen and restrooms.
Discussion was also conducted by council regarding how the project would be financed. The city’s administrator, Nancy Carswell, relayed information provided by the city’s financial advisor, Shannon Sweeney, regarding the option of using a tax abatement bond for the project. Abatement bonds are only available for specific kinds of projects (the city financed the 2010 levy improvement, at approximately $500,00, this way), and do not require a referendum. Annual payment on the obligation for the event center, beginning in 2015, would be about $135,000. Rental revenues are expected to defray operating expenses, but it’s difficult to estimate how much at this time.
Martinson told the council that he understood some of reservations being raised, but that thought this was something the city should move forward with, taking advantage of the low interest rate of 2.17% (currently available) and expecting growth/construction in the city to pick up.
The committee was directed to move forward and get additional information on associated utility (water/sewer costs) to report back to the council.
Rockford Fire Chief Ben Sanderson presented the council with a report that documented several interesting facts regarding the department’s members, training, numbers and response time.
On of the highlights was number of new firefighters who joined the department in 2012. Eleven new members have come onboard, bringing membership up to 33. Some of the new members, Sanderson said, came from other departments with the necessary training already completed. The Minnesota Training Board is also picking up training costs for five new members in 2012, saving the department several thousand dollars.
“We’ve lost a lot of good members,” said Sanderson, “and we’ve gained a lot of new good members”
The council discussed surveying the new members so that it was aware what the draw was, something it might want to revisit if department membership drops again. Sanderson and department liaison, Councilor Jeannette Graner, both expressed that moral appeared to be improved among members.
“It’s a new generation of young people who want to help,” offered Rockford Public Works Dennis Peterson who served many years on the fire department, some as chief.
Sanderson also attributes department restructuring, and equipment upgrades, to an improved call time. In 2011, the average time from department page to the first responder on site was 11 to 14 minutes. In 2012, the department averaged 7.5 minutes.
The Rockford Fire Department handled 295 calls in 2012, up about 35 from 2011. It’s services hours, 4,593, also increased by over 1,300.
The majority of calls continue to be medical related with most occurring in the City of Rockford (Greenfield and Rockford Township are also included in the service area, as well as mutual aid to other communities as needed). Calls are slightly hire, on average, on the weekends and in the evening.
The next regular meeting of the Rockford City Council is Tuesday, Jan. 22, at 7 p.m. at the Rockford City Hall, 6031 Main St.
Linda Herkenhoff can be reached at email@example.com