Editor's note: Each month, City Administrator Aaron Burnett writes an update on city business for the mayor and city council. In order to invigorate engagement and involvement with local government, we'll reprint his report here.
Mayor and City Council Members,
As budget season is nearly upon the city, departments are completing their lists and preparing the proposals for review. I will start reviewing these soon and completing my recommendation to council for the upcoming fiscal year’s capital projects. This is always a difficult task due to the competition for scarce resources. However, the city has consistently worked to limit growth in the tax levy while maintaining strong reserves in the various funds.
In fact the city has had an average annual increase in property taxes of less than 1% over the last 5 years. This fiscal responsibility creates a lower cost for interest payments on bonds and a higher confidence in the city withstanding any future economic uncertainty. This year will be no different as the city will balance the frequently conflicting interests of ensuring the highest level of service with the lowest tax burden possible and preparing for any potential negative impacts from upcoming legislative and economic changes.
With respect to the city workforce, we continue to experience significant turnover in the departments primarily due to retirements. City staff is working diligently to fill these positions and provide training to ensure the citizens do not experience any decrease in city services provided. Maintaining a well-trained workforce presents more of a challenge as we must accelerate promotions within the departments.
To combat this challenge, city management has identified these obstacles as priorities for the upcoming year and efforts are already underway to ensure continuity and resiliency in the departments. This training is a mixture of external training, internal training and simple cross-training on duties within departments.
As for an update on the River City Renaissance projects, the arena is in the final push to open. Contractors are everywhere in the building and offices. The final efforts to complete installations, inspections, start-up, stocking and coordination with vendors and partners is daunting. The efforts of everyone involved cannot be commended enough through this hectic period.
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The opening comes about 10 months after the initial groundbreaking for the multi-million dollar facility.
I would encourage anyone interested in holding an event in the new arena to start contacting the Recreation Department for general information or the North Iowa Bulls if it will be specifically during a Bulls hockey game. Staff is answering numerous questions related to groups interested in the space and a schedule is being established for both ice and non-ice events.
The hotel continues through design and the city is preparing for the spring transfer of the hotel land to Gatehouse for the construction of the hotel and conference center.
Along with those emotionally and financially impactful items, council considered hotel development plans as well as funding for an apartment project.
The developer working with Mason City on a hotel/conference center project now must have its financing secured by February 2020.
Lastly, the preliminary designs for the pavilion should be released in the next month for the public to view.
Cold weather is setting in to North Iowa and residents need to be aware of the alternate side parking restrictions and stay updated via media, social media or the city’s website to avoid tickets. The alternate side parking allows for streets to be cleared appropriately and enforcement this year will again be substantial to ensure the travel lanes of the city streets are as clear as possible. Last year was particularly hard on the city’s equipment and several replacements will be identified in the upcoming budget.
However, city staff has worked to prepare the city’s snow removal and sanding equipment and the city is prepared for the eventual winter storms that will hit the area. As always, I would encourage people to call or email the city with any comments or concerns and to please report slippery streets, unshoveled sidewalks, and other dangerous winter conditions to the city for remediation.
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Aaron Burnett is Mason City's city administrator.