With the time for budget talks approaching, the Council also heard requests from Community Thread, seeking a $16,000 general operating grant for 2020; and from the Washington County Historical Society, which is in the process of raising $5 million for a new Washington County Heritage Center on South Greeley Street. WCHS Executive Director Brent Peterson told the Council that the new facility will house the first-ever exhibit covering the history of logging in Washington County and Stillwater. It also will have an exhibit on photographer John Runk, whose collection spans more than a century.
“This is going to be a museum like Washington County has never seen before,” said Councilmember Ryan Collins, who serves on the Washington County Historical Society Board of Directors. “We are preserving tomorrow’s history.”
Peterson said the old Warden’s House will likely close temporarily after the new facility is opened, because “It needs a little bit of TLC.” Peterson submitted a request for an operating grant of $5,000 and a capital gift of $250,000 over five years. The requests will be discussed when the Council begins budget talks later this month.
Meanwhile, in a report on the 2018 audit, Chris Knopik of ClifftonLarsonAllen commended the city on a clean financial report with regard to internal control and Minnesota legal compliance.
The Council also was briefed on a sewer rate study conducted by Bakertilly, with recommendations for rate increases that would pull the sewer fund out of the red. According to Patty Kettles, Bakertilly, the sewer fund’s operating and net income has been negative in each of the past four years with a net loss of $422,338 projected for 2019. The fund has borrowed from other city funds in recent years.
The Council discussed possible sewer rate increases of 15-18% for the next two years, dropping to a 3% annual increase after that. Average residential users can expect an increase of $10.65 to $12.78 per quarter next year, depending on which scenario is chosen.
The Council also authorized Hoisington Koegler Group to conduct a downtown parking capacity study aimed at finding ways to maximize use of the existing parking system and increase capacity rather than rushing to build another ramp. Mayor Ted Kozlowski said he’s received a lot of calls about parking tickets lately. He asked that a reminder be sent out explaining the city’s parking regulations, especially for employees of downtown businesses. Community Development Director Bill Turnblad said he would place an article in the next city newsletter.
During the open forum portion of the meeting, Cameron Murray provided a sample of smoking station receptacles that can be obtained free of charge, to be mounted in various places especially downtown where cigarette butts are a problem. Murray will work with city staff to identify locations to mount the stations. He said members of the Sustainable Stillwater organization have volunteered to empty the containers.
Friends and family members of Ralph Bell, the 23-year-old who went missing from Stillwater December 20, 2018 and was found dead three months later in Roseville, once again spoke during the open forum, presenting their concerns over how the case was handled by the Stillwater Police Department.
Nicole, a business owner from Minneapolis, told the Council she was there “to bring awareness and partnership but I’m not here to make friends.” She asked what the city is doing to locate the person or people who murdered Bell. “I think criminals across Minnesota now know where they can commit crime and get away with it especially if it concerns a person of color,” she said.
Jason Taylor of St. Paul, Bell’s cousin, said he was treated disrespectfully by officers during the time Bell was missing. “That could be me tomorrow,” he said. “What is your law enforcement going to do?”
Police Chief John Gannaway said the department will review its policies regarding missing persons reports.