Red Wing city officials struggle with infrastructure woesRed Wing city officials say they find themselves in a tough pickle: At a time when city coffers are declining, they need to pay for infrastructure projects to maintain an aging city's roads, sewers and municipal buildings.
By: Jon Swedien, The Republican Eagle
Red Wing city officials say they find themselves in a tough pickle: At a time when city coffers are declining, they need to pay for infrastructure projects to maintain an aging city's roads, sewers and municipal buildings.
Between 2001 and 2007 the city spent $1.7 million on capital improvement projects annually. That figure spiked in to $1.9 million in 2008 and $2.1 million in 2009, before dropping to $1.5 million in 2009 and $1.4 million this year.
The recent cutback in capital projects comes at a time when many infrastructure projects are coming due, and city officials say, and a backlog of projects has been created.
"Even before the financial crisis we weren't doing enough," City Council
Administrator Kay Kuhlmann said.
Now city officials say there are looking for new ways to finance projects.
Street reconstruction and bonding
West Sixth Street was one of a few streets and alleys City Council tentatively approved for reconstruction this summer. But the project -- which Director of Engineering Ron Rosenthal said is overdue - is dependent on council approving a bonding package that would finance it and several other projects.
Borrowing money for street improvements and maintenance is not something
Red Wing has done much of in recent history.
"What we've traditionally done is relied on anything but bonding," Finance
Director Marshall Hallock said. Just a few years ago, council members bragged about being a "pay-as-you-go" city, he added, but in the past 18 months the council has slowly warmed to the idea of bonding.
"There are over a 100 miles of road in town and if we're not refinishing them then it's going to cause some problems down the road," Rosenthal said.
Right now Red Wing's roads aren't too bad, he said He would give them about a "B" letter grade, but that grade could soon regress.
"We should be replacing about a mile year and we're nowhere near that."
Bonding isn't all bad, Hallock says. He noted that interest rates are low now and that by bonding and doing projects now the city could enjoy the relatively cheap construction costs that exist because of the financial turndown.
Still, council members retain some ambivalence toward borrowing for projects and have voiced concerns about becoming over extended. Last year the council penciled in a bonding package into its budget that is contingent upon what happens in St. Paul this legislative session and how deep state aid cuts are this year.
Sewer projects and fees
Last year was a tough on Red Wing's water and sewer pipes.
Public Works discovered water pressure problems on the east side and discovered a leak between the city's sanitary and storm water sewers downtown. Plus officials heard numerous complaints from residents who disagreed with the city's recently instituted storm water fee.
Public Works Director Rick Moskwa notes that many of the city's water pipes are old, some nearly a century old. And, as Moskwa said, "They don't last forever."
Unlike roads and bridges, roads and sewers are paid for with fees instead of tax dollars. So while needed improvements to the water and sewer system may not raise taxes they could lead to higher fees. Currently the city is undergoing a rate study to determine the proper way to set its fee schedule to meet future needs.
And while the study isn't due out until later this year, it is known fees will go up. One fee in particular - Red Wing's storm water fee - will rise because of tougher state and federal regulations that will likely take effect in 2011.
Currently, Red Wing is required to manage the amount of storm water that runs into the Mississippi River and other nearby waterways. But regulations enacted by the Clean Water Act are set to ratchet up this year and will require Public Works also to manage the quality of its storm water.
That means the city may be required to build new storm water ponds and other infrastructure that will help maintain the quality of local storm water.
Focus on infrastructure
In the past couple years as the city's coffers have taken a hit and the council has forced to cut budgets, much attention has been paid to declining services.
"It's so arcane people just don't want to listen to it," City Council member Lisa Bayley said of infrastructure issues. She and others know these problems won't go away.
"It's going to be the biggest single challenge I can see," Red Wing City
Council member Mike Schultz said. "Red Wing has aging infrastructure that
needs to be improved.