On the horizon: New Richmond City Council mulls priorities for 2015
Keeping with his theme of 2014 as the “Year of the Plan,” New Richmond City Administrator Mike Darrow kept the New Richmond City Council focused on the future at its most recent work session meeting on Monday, March 24.
Darrow laid out several options for short- and long-term capital projects, planning processes and citywide improvements for council consideration over upcoming years.
He positioned the presentation and discussion as a brainstorming exercise.
“This is an exercise where we’re really just starting at the top,” Darrow said. “We’re looking at it from a 30,000-foot elevation, and there’s no wrong answers. Tonight is a really good opportunity to voice your idea, whether it’s a big idea or a small idea.”
Darrow said he asked city department heads to do the same thing and he plans to bring the larger group together in the next few months to work on it as a team.
Darrow said once all the ideas are on the table, discussion would move toward a financial review and what the city can afford. According to his presentation slides, Darrow hopes to wrap up the brainstorming session in May, and use May through October for the financial review in hopes of adopting a capital project plan by the end of 2014.
With Fire Chief Jim VanderWyst and several other firefighters in attendance, discussions immediately began with the needs of the New Richmond Fire & Rescue Department.
“There is a critical need, as Jim will tell you, for a ladder truck,” Darrow said.
Darrow recommended setting aside up to $400,000 of city funds in 2015 to go toward a new ladder truck in hopes of receiving a grant to pay for another $350,000 for a $750,000 vehicle.
VanderWyst said the grant he applied for could cover up to $750,000 for a new ladder truck, but it is not known at this time whether the grant will be awarded to New Richmond, and when funds could be available.
“No news is good news. Until we get a rejection letter, we’re still in the running,” VanderWyst said.
The department is currently using a 28-year-old ladder truck that doesn’t meet modern fire safety regulations, and is on its last legs.
“On a fire call on Sunday there was trouble getting the brake pressure up to even get out the door,” said Mayor Fred Horne, who also serves as a New Richmond firefighter. “It’s becoming very urgent. This isn’t something that can be pushed off.”
Darrow’s presentation slides hinted toward another area the city will likely need to direct funding in the coming years: street repairs.
He identified roughly $2 million worth of projects that were needed in five areas: Paperjack Drive, Dakota Avenue, Jefferson and Marshall, North Starr and Hughes, and North Fourth Street.
“On North Fourth Street, some of the issues being talked about are not just the streets, but obviously the sidewalks,” Darrow said.
Horne lives in that neighborhood and shared his personal insight on how schoolchildren had to walk far into North Fourth Street after being dropped off by their bus, because high snowbanks on each side of the street made it impossible to walk anywhere else.
Paperjack Drive on the south side of town is a similar situation.
Public works and Civic Center
Darrow, along with Public Works Director Jeremiah Wendt spelled out the needs for new vehicles and equipment, including grader tires, which cost $4,000 per tire and aging trucks, snowblowers and a street sweeper.
Darrow also suggested the council consider updating the Civic Center by replacing windows, resurfacing the parking lot, installing new carpeting and replacing the building’s 19-year-old boilers.
Perhaps the most ambitious idea was reserved for the airport. Along with the typical costs associated with fencing and pavement maintenance, Darrow suggested the council members begin thinking about big-ticket items including bringing water and sewer lines to the airport.
Doing so could add 77 acres of developable land to the city, and open the door for the creation of an aviation industrial park. Only two others currently exist in Wisconsin.
Bringing water lines to the airport property would make it possible for businesses to build larger hangars than they currently can, because fire suppression would be required.
Engineered Propulsion Systems (EPS), an aviation engine manufacturing startup currently based in the former WeTEC building in downtown New Richmond, has expressed interest in building a manufacturing facility at the New Richmond Regional Airport, but its engines are currently in the test phase. The company likely wouldn’t be ready to begin full-scale manufacturing until 2016.
Having water and sewer services at the airport would be a must to draw EPS and similar firms to the city.
Alderperson Craig Kittel was quick to point out that taking on such a large and costly project could backfire if EPS went bankrupt or sold its technology to a firm like Boeing, which wouldn’t build in New Richmond.