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Tennis court renovations to wrap up at the end of August

Hutchinson residents looking for a place to play tennis will soon have new courts to enjoy. The renovation projects of the Park Elementary and Hutchinson High School tennis courts are expected to be finished by Aug. 26.

According to Brian Mohr, Hutchinson Public Schools building director, the plan is to begin laying the padding and turning the court lights on. In February, Mohr recommended post-tensioned concrete as flooring for the courts.

“It sits on top of the existing blacktop and floats on top of that,” Mohr said during the meeting. “So any frost movement you get doesn’t telegraph through and bust it up like a traditional method would. ... From a playability standpoint, it’s a lot flatter than a traditional court.”

Post-tensioned concrete is unique in that it doesn’t require any excavation into the ground. It’s also estimated to last longer than traditional concrete.

Duininck Inc. of Prinsburg was given the bid from the School Board to renovate the courts at the High School, and R&R Excavating was given the bid from the City Council to renovate the Park Elementary courts.

Dolf Moon, Hutchinson parks director, said the Park Elementary courts were in dire need of repair and in danger of being shut down before the renovations.

“Some of the fencing was still there from the 1950s. It had seen its better days,” Moon said. “There were cracks that were three fingers wide, and they were offset so there were tripping hazards.”

The new courts at Hutchinson High School will be exclusively all tennis courts since the boys and girls tennis teams use them for competition. The Park Elementary courts will feature both tennis and pickleball courts.

“At the end of the day, there will be four concrete tennis courts at Park Elementary and seven pickleball courts,” Moon said. “They’re striped. One will be permanent where anyone would be able to drive up and play on the court. The other seven will involve setting up a pickleball net. Thankfully, we have a lot of pickleball players. There’s probably 70 or 80 guys that play on a regular basis.”

Staff photo by Stephen Wiblemo  

A wet and wild night out

The Rev. Greg Tobison of Grace Lutheran Church stands soaked in the middle of “the largest water fight in Hutchinson.” He drenched his share of other water fighters, too, as part of the church’s annual National Night Out party Tuesday. Check out more pictures from Tuesday’s gatherings on page A5.

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McLeod County repeals wheelage tax

McLeod County's wheelage tax is gone, but the decision to repeal it is tied to a web of other issues yet to be tackled.

The move to repeal the wheelage tax came as the first step in a plan proposed by the budget committee to address a shortage of road funds. Tuesday’s action was taken to meet a state deadline, but now County Board members must consider: a 15 percent levy increase vs. a 9 percent levy increase with a new tax, and a $10 million bond.

The wheelage tax kicked in at the beginning of 2014 in response to an option allowed by the state to cover growing transportation expenses. It was collected when county residents registered their vehicles each year. Counties were also given the option of adding a sales tax. Some used both options.

McLeod County's wheelage tax provided $385,000 annually, which was not enough to cover growing road costs. The county is currently contending with a $3 million annual funding gap from the state aid system meant to help maintain highways. The shortcoming is larger when county roads are considered as well.

"Being able to keep up with roads is getting pretty tough, and as a matter of fact we can't," said Board Member Paul Wright, who sits on the budget committee with Board Member Doug Krueger.

Public Works has identified numerous roads in need of updates, with 14 named as top priorities. Those roads are:

  • County State Aid Highway 18 from Renville County to State Highway 15
  • County State Aid Highway 115 from County State Aid Highway 7 to State Highway 15
  • County State Aid Highway 1 from County State Aid Highway 3 to Wright County
  • County State Aid Highway 2 from Sibley County to State Highway 22
  • Ring Road northeast of Hutchinson
  • County State Aid Highway 16 from State Highway 7 to Wright County
  • County State Aid Highway 13 from Sibley County to U.S. Highway 212
  • County State Aid Highway 116 in Winsted
  • County State Aid Highway 5 extension in Winsted
  • County State Aid Highway 10 from County State Aid Highway 2 to Carver County
  • County State Aid Highway 5 from County State Aid Highway 16 to County State Aid Highway 1
  • County Road 57 from County State Aid Highway 17 to U.S. Highway 212
  • County Road 61 from County Road 79 to County Road 60
  • County Road 81 from Sibley County to U.S. Highway 212

"The last winter was especially hard on the roads," said Board Member Rich Pohlmeier. "There have been road projects over the years just left behind because of a lack of funds."

With the wheelage tax gone, board members must now decide how to fund road maintenance.

Sales tax

Proposed by the budget committee is a half percent sales tax that would kick in wherever the standard sales tax is used in McLeod County, with a few exceptions, such as the purchase of motor vehicles registered for road use

On a $100 purchase the tax would add 50 cents. State statues mandate earnings must be spent on the road system.

The $10 wheelage tax was paid exclusively by vehicle owners in the county, and paid on each registered vehicle. Krueger said he is aware of residents who paid the tax when they maintained the registration on vehicles they rarely drove. The sales tax would be paid by all residents who shop in the county, along with shoppers from outside the county and visitors to the county's many events. The county estimates a half percent sales tax would garner $1.9 million annually and a quarter percent sales tax would garner $950,000 annually.

"Its adding a tax, but we need to fix our roads," Krueger said. "We're one county out of the metro area. We're looking for economic development, for people to move out here."

Wright noted the county has a high volume of heavy agriculture and manufacturing traffic on its roads, and that it needs to make sure to meet the demand.

"To allow ourselves to become a bedroom community for the metro is a big mistake," Wright said. "We need to do our own development."

Tax levy

McLeod County is currently projecting a 15.99 percent levy increase of $3.61 million. The county levy is among the levies collected from property owners each year. 

As has been the case with levy increases the past few years, compensation and benefits for the county's roughly 300 employees are cited as one of the main factors. In addition to a desire to offer competitive wages, County Board members have cited the burden of meeting state mandates and the responsibility of county services to handle a myriad of problems stemming from drug and alcohol abuse. 

A $216,051 portion of expenses for the renovation of the former Jungclaus building into the Government Center is expected to be paid for with a one-time 1 percent levy increase, which is accounted for in the whole.

But the need to address roads has become a growing part of the equation, especially as staff hope to tackle problems before they grow larger and raise the price tag even further. 

The half percent sales tax is seen as a way to tackle those road projects and stop a trend of dipping into the county's fund balance. It would also likely reduce the projected 2020 levy increase to 9 percent, which is 2 percentage points higher than the increase for the 2019 levy.

"We sure don't want a 15 percent levy increase," Krueger said.

Board Member Ron Shimanski said he believed a sales tax would have a smaller burden on property owners than a larger levy increase.

$10 million bond

The final issue of note is a $10 million bond proposal that reflects an $8 million bump from a previous proposal.

Following a previous public hearing, the County Board approved a $2 million bond to help fund the remodel of the upcoming McLeod County Government Center in the former Jungclaus building. The project's total cost is projected at $12 million when accounting for the purchase of the building and nearby properties. The renovations account for $9 million. Of that $9 million, the county planned to cover $2 million with its fund balances.

"We no longer want to do that," Wright said. "This whole thing is about (how) we've been depleting fund balances for a few years now. ... We have to stop."

So it has been proposed to bond for $2 million more on the project, bringing the bond contribution to $4 million. 

An additional $6 million bond would be used for highway projects, if the budget committee's plan is approved. That portion of the bond would be paid back by the proposed sales tax. By combining the various bonding proposals, the county hopes it can find a better rate.

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McLeod County moves ahead with Dakota Trail grant request

McLeod County is moving forward with a request for funds to improve another segment of the Dakota Rail Regional Trail. The issue was discussed among County Board members Tuesday after Hutchinson City Council declined to offer a letter of support.

Funds for the project are being sought from Minnesota’s Legacy Fund, which is comprised of tax dollars earmarked for natural resources, culture, parks and trails. Voters approved the creation of the Legacy Fund in 2008. Lawmakers decide how the money is distributed each session.

A previous grant was used to pave the 2-mile segment of the Dakota Rail Regional Trail from the Carver County line to County Road 1 on the west end of Lester Prairie. The grant was for $647,000 and called for a local $33,000 match. To the east, the trail is paved to downtown Wayzata.

An overgrown 16-mile section ending in Hutchinson remains unpaved and in need of work. McLeod County Public Works director John Brunkhorst described the proposed trail project for 11 miles of that section from County Road 4 to County Road 1 as “basically everything except for paving” at a previous County Board meeting. If the county is offered a grant based on the application, and if it is accepted, work will include drainage repairs, bridge repairs, culvert work and work on the gravel base.

In a letter written to the County Board, Hutchinson City Council Member Steve Cook said he offered a resolution to decline a letter of support because, “I felt that there are questions if there is a commitment to following the master plan that was previously submitted (specifically paving and extending the trail to Hutchinson).” He said withholding a letter didn’t mean the city no longer supported trail development.

He asked the county to instead submit the grant as a “preliminary grant” and ask the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission to review it and give feedback. He said this should be done so future applications have the best chance of success.

County parks superintendent Al Koglin told board members all proposals are preliminary until they’re approved.

“Right now we’re just doing another section of the plan,” he said.

“Also, this would be a good time to ask about the importance of following the master plan that was submitted and what should be done if there are thoughts of deviating from that plan, as well as clarifying the concept of ‘regional development,’” Cook wrote.

Board Chair Joe Nagel said the steps laid out in the county’s grant request do not prohibit further steps in the future, including paving.

Board Member Paul Wright said the current proposal makes the trail safer for users, addresses drainage concerns and respects nearby private property, all while moving the ball forward.

“It does keep our foot in the door,” he said. “It’s an attempt to at least make some progress with the development of the Dakota Trail.”

Wright added that the county should be sure to seek its share of Legacy dollars, as everyone in the state pays into the pot, and he believes it too often favors the metro area.

Lester Prairie did submit a letter of support.

“This is very hard for me,” Nagel said.

He said the townships he represents do not support trail development, and the action from Hutchinson City Council casts more doubt from his point of view.

“I get what they are saying even if I don’t like how they said it,” Nagel said, noting that he had expected to vote against the resolution, but now was not as sure. “It’s not for Hutch. It’s for the whole county.”

Board Member Ron Shimanski said the trail is currently not fit for use and needs substantial work.

“This grant application gets us to where the corridor is a usable surface,” he said, adding that more work, including paving, could come in the future.

Board Member Doug Krueger said that while his constituents aren’t in favor of major trail developments, he has heard from people about how dangerous the Dakota Rail Regional Trail area is, and has heard from landowners about water issues.

“I thought this was a step forward,” he said.

The resolution to seek Legacy funds was passed unanimously.