Henning gets ready for potential PFA funding

By Chad Koenen

Publisher

  A new funding program could provide some additional money for future infrastructure projects in Henning.

During its regularly scheduled meeting on Feb. 7, which was held in the Henning Community Center due to the amount of people who attended the meeting, the city council heard from Apex Engineer Bob Schliemann concerning a Facilities Plan for Henning. The plan identified future projects in Henning and now makes the city eligible to request funding for some of these projects as part of a new funding package from the Minnesota Public Facilities Authority.

Beginning in 2023, the state of Minnesota will receive up to $680 million in federal infrastructure funding. Some of the funding could come in the way of grants to cities to help replace aging infrastructure. Last year the city received funding through the PFA, which included a grant for 80 percent of the project. 

The facilities plan included a wide swath of the community that were not already completed in past projects, or are beginning to show its age. Project areas include portions of Jensen St., Marshall Ave., 3rd St., Front St., Carlson Pl, Minnesota St., Milne Ave., Douglas Ave., Railway Ave., Balmoral Ave., Holden Ave., School Ave. Hipple Ave., as well as the main wastewater lift station underground utility and street improvements.

As part of the project, the project needs include:

• Replacing the wastewater collection infrastructure vitrified clay pipe that was thought to be 50-90 years old, which are beginning to show their age by cracking pipes, offset joints and tree roots. 

• Replacing the water distribution system infrastructure that is made of cast iron pipe that is thought to be 50-90 years old. The pipes have failures, resulting in valves and hydrants that are unreliable. 

• Replacing some of the surface and storm sewer infrastructure that is in generally in poor condition.

• Replacing the main wastewater lift station force main that was constructed in 1971 and is made of cast iron pipe. 

The total estimated cost for all of the projects, if they were to be completed, was $10.6 million. Schliemann said the preliminary cost was just a best guess based on today’s prices and if the city completed all of the projects at the same time. 

As part of the report, Schliemann also included an estimated increase that would be needed for water and sewer rates to complete all of the work. Schliemann said the increased in rates was based on receiving no grants and the preliminary cost estimate. The user rate increases would be decreased if the city received additional grant funding, similar to what it received last year when it completed the 2nd St. project. 

Schliemann said given the opportunity to back out of the project should it not receive the PFA funding, as well as the future needs of the city, he didn’t see a reason why the city should not seek funding for the projects in the city. 

“I don’t really see reason why you would not move ahead with going after some of that money. You have already obviously benefited with an 80 percent grant on the 2nd St. project. I would recommend the city move forward and take advantage of the funding situation in front of you.”

Apex Engineer Bob Schliemann

If the city does not receive PFA funding it would not be required to move forward with some of the future projects. He said the plan will simply  provide the city an opportunity to get grant funding if it wishes to move forward with the projects. 

Public forum

The Henning City Council, on a 3-2 vote with councilwoman Tammy Fosse and councilman Jim Haberer voting in dissent, approved a new set of public forum guidelines for its regularly scheduled meetings.

In a letter to the council, city attorney Tom Jacobson said the manner in which the public has commented at recent meetings has made it difficult for the city council to conduct its business in an orderly manner. He said similar concerns have been observed in other communities in the region, some of whom have suspended the public forum portion of their meetings.

“Since becoming your city attorney, I have had the opportunity to observe your council meetings. Based on those observations, it has become readily apparent to me that the manner in which public input is provided at those meetings has made it difficult for the council to effectively conduct its meetings and do the city’s business,” he wrote to the city council.

Jacobson suggested the city council should either end its public comment period or suspend it pending the adoption of a set of rules to guide that part of the meeting.

Henning Mayor Darren Wiese said he wanted to keep the public forum option available at public meetings, but reportedly asked Jacobson for a set of guidelines the city council use for the public forum portion of the meeting.

Fosse and Haberer both asked why the city’s employment attorney developed a set of rules for the public forum portion of the meeting. They said they would not be supporting the new rules for the public comment period. Fosse went on to say that the council did not authorize Jacobson to develop new rules to govern that portion of the meeting.

Jacobson said he offered some input following several past meetings he attended for employment issues, including a special meeting on Monday, Jan. 31. Wiese asked him to develop a set of rules to continue to allow public comment at city meetings moving forward. Jacobson said the rules will help the mayor to effectively run the meeting. 

Councilman Scott Hart said it is important to have a set of rules to follow for things like a public comment period and voted in favor of the new rules. Councilmen Wes Johnson also supported the new rules with Wiese casting the tie breaking vote.

As part of the new rules the public will have up to 15 minutes to address the council on topics already on the agenda. That time could be extended by the mayor if necessary. In addition, each person will have up to 3 minutes to address the council.

During the public comment period the council will only listen and not address the individual concerns brought before it. 

In other news

• Heard the Willow Creek report that stated there are currently 23 residents at the independent and assisted living facility. Executive director Lisa Augustus also said there is currently about $84,000 in elderly waiver that is outstanding from 2021.

• Discussed whether, or how the city, should shovel the patios and decks for residents at Willow Creek and Countryview. Several council members stated the city does not have enough staff at the time to do additional snow removal for things like patios and decks. 

• Heard from Beth Rose regarding improvements the Henning Lions Club would like to complete at the city park. The improvements would help to get a sidewalk to the new picnic shelter. 

Photo by Chad Koenen

The City of Henning received PFA funding for its 2nd St. project that took place last summer.