Over $57,000 in grants have been received in Henning
By Chad Koenen
Henning area organizations and businesses have benefited in a big way thanks to the services offered by West Central Initiative. That includes everything from accessing the services being offered by the local non-profit organization to grants and low interest financing.
During its regularly scheduled meeting last Monday night, the Henning City Council heard from Rick Schara, of West Central Initiative, about the local impact the organization has had on the nine counties it serves in West Central Minnesota.
Since 1986, Otter Tail County has received 1,632 grants totaling $12.6 million and another 331 loans were issued through West Central Initiative totaling $16.3 million. Locally, Henning has received $57,500 in grants from January 2020 through August 1, 2023 for everything from the school to childcare facilities and businesses.
In addition to grants and business services, the organization is developing a new program aimed at increasing interest in serving in the public sector. Schara said the WCI has always tried to look ahead at future needs in the area. For example, he said the organization provided assistance in the 1980s during the farm crises and then pivoted to focus on childcare, workforce and housing. Today, he said there is a vast shortage of people who are willing to serve as leaders in their communities on things like school boards and city councils.
“We need people in leadership positions to make the gears of our communities go,” he said.
While residents in larger communities don’t necessarily have to serve on local boards organizations to make the community function that is simply not true in rural Minnesota, due to a lack of overall population. For example, Schara said 1 in 8 people in Traverse County will need to serve on a local board or organization to fill all of the positions, while larger communities that ratio is closer to 1 in 200 people.
“There is a lot more pressure here for people to get involved,” he said.
As a result, West Central Initiative is hosting a Rural Democracy Project from September 29-30 and October 6-7 at a resort in Otter Tail County. The goal of the program will be to create a non-partisan space for people interested in public office and other forms of public leadership and equip them with the skills needed to serve their community.
The program is free to attend and Schara said the hope is to give people the resources to serve their community and fill some of those leadership positions in the communities West Central Initiative serves.
Natural gas rates
After discussing an impending increase to its natural gas rates for several meetings, the Henning City Council officially approved an increase to its base and MCF rate.
Henning’s new base rate will be increased from $6 a month to $10 per month, while its usage charge will go from $8.85 per MCF to $10 per MCF.
Henning Mayor Robert Johnson said Henning’s natural gas rate has been under other municipally-owned communities like Battle Lake and Perham for quite some time, and even with the increase, Henning’s rates will be slightly lower than its neighbors.
In the past, Strand has said the increase could generate anywhere from $2,000-12,000 per month in additional revenue, which could help to offset the cost of future projects in the city. He said the rates help to cover the cost of the meters, which have increased dramatically from just $100 apiece to close to $300 apiece.
Earlier this year the city also increased its water, sewer and electric rates as well.
“We have been well under Battle Lake and Perham for quite some time,” said Johnson. “We don’t want to keep raising things all the time, but we can’t afford to go backwards.”
In other news
• Approved setting a work session for August 30 at 5:30 p.m. to discuss the finances at Willow Creek.
• Approved changing the date of the next regularly scheduled city council meeting to Tuesday, Sept. 5 at 5:30 p.m., as opposed to Monday, Sept. 4, which is Labor Day.
• Heard that July was a busy month for the Henning Ambulance Service with 45 calls for service in the month. The ambulance service also has a new EMT as Jenna Clark, who was a driver for the ambulance service, recently passed her EMT certification.
• Heard that Balmoral Ave. will be the likely bypass through town when the Douglas Ave. project closes main street next summer. The expectation is that there will be an additional 800 vehicles per day on the road, but the final details on the detour through town are still being finalized. Strand said MnDOT is working on an alternative truck route through town.
• Heard several power poles will be taken down along Inman St. as work on the phase 1 and phase 2 electrical project continues to develop. Some of the underground wires that were installed years ago are beginning to be utilized, which means the light poles can eventually be taken down.
• Approved $5,800 to complete a natural gas study in Henning. Strand said the study will help the city understand the capabilities of its natural gas lines and develop a model for how it can continue to service customers both big and small. He said the concern is that the city is reaching its capabilities for natural gas and the study will inform the city of whether it can service new customers or if improvements to the city’s infrastructure is needed.
• Approved a $.50 an hour raise for several Willow Creek employees based on a performance bonus.
• Approved the reinstatement of James Nelson as a member of the Henning Fire Department after recently moving back to the community.
• Heard that Otter Tail County is developing a single-sort recycling program for residents who live in a community of 500 people or more. The recycling program would be county-wide and residents would receive a bin like their trash can to collect recyclable material. The cost of the program has not been determined for local residents, but the program would replace some of the large recycling bins in Otter Tail County communities.
• Approved issuing a $250,000 bond for three city utility projects, which include replacing a sewer line that collapsed near Henning School, a utility project at the corner of Hipple Ave. and Highway 108 and a water service project for the new Pro Ag building in the Industrial Park. The bond will be issued at an interest rate of 4.5 percent. Johnson and Hermanson, who are on the finance committee, said the city had the money in reserves to pay for the project,t but issuing a bond would allow the city to keep that money in reserves should it need the money for another project in the future.
• Discussed the new state recreational cannabis law, which will allow for recreational use of cannabis statewide in nonpublic places. Otter Tail County is also discusses how to define public and personal places for consumption of marijuana. The ordinance discussed by the Henning City Council was similar to one already approved in Ottertail, which limited the use of recreational cannabis to nonpublic places.
• Approved a variance request for an 8-foot fence on the property line near the new car wash and convenience store in Henning. According to city ordinances, a variance is required if the height of a fence is above 7 feet.