by Dennis Dalman
The long, cold winter, which (according to the calendar, anyway) ended with the first day of spring, March 20, was a very expensive one for the City of Sartell.
Sartell Mayor Joe Perske noted that fact when he presented his annual “State of the City” address March 11 at a meeting of the Sartell Chamber of Commerce at city hall.
Every time there is a heavy snowfall, it costs the city $9,000 just to clear the streets. If snow plows and street workers have to go onto streets on weekends or holidays, it costs an additional $9,000, Perske said. And that’s not the only cost. So far, this past season, more than 2,200 tons of salt were laid down on streets, which is three times more than during an average winter.
In his speech, Perske presented noteworthy, ongoing and future developments within the city:
Most Sartell residents should not see a rise in property taxes this year. City staff, department heads and the council worked hard to keep the budget flat. In addition, Sartell was given an AA credit rating by the rating agency of Standard and Poor’s last year. The rating is one of the highest ratings possible, shared by only a few cities. One of the major criteria for such a high rating is fiscal responsibility of a city. The AA rating translates into favorable interest rates, saving the city thousands of dollars every year.
The local economy continues to improve, as reflected in developments within Sartell. There was an increase of 71 more single-family homes in the city last year, which accounted for 40 percent of single homes built in the area. Some lots that had been foreclosed were purchased by developers and now have homes on them. More lots, through foreclosure, will become available this year.
New commercial developments in 2013 include a major expansion at Country Manor and new projects such as Madison Crossing Apartments, East Side Convenience Store and Little Caesar’s Pizza. The diverging-diamond interchange was completed at Hwy. 15 and CR 120 near Epic Center, and motorists took to its new configurations easily, with no serious accident reported.
Pinecone Central Park officially opened last year. Its baseball complex had plenty of use, including four tournaments that attracted dozens of out-of-town teams. More fields, all-purpose ones and soccer ones, will open this summer. Also last year, Sartell purchased 38 acres of land on the north side of the park for a price of about $6,000 per acre. Plans for a dog park at Pinecone Central are in process.
Sartell also purchased 44 acres for future development of Sauk River Regional Park at the scenic edge of the city next to St. Cloud. State Legacy funds paid $1.5 million for the land purchase, with another $1.5 million that will be available to develop the park, which will mean no extra tax liability for residents.
The Sartell city budget is $5.7 million, and just about half of that is spent for public safety in all of its aspects, including police work. Last year, the department responded to 11,618 calls or other requests for assistance. Police Chief Jim Hughes oversees a staff of 17 officers and 12 reserve officers.
In 2013, the Sartell-LeSauk Fire Department responded to 144 emergency calls. Fire Chief Ken Heim heads the department, with 30 volunteer firefighters. Their average call-response time is six minutes. Heim is currently trying to recruit more firefighters, mainly those who can respond easily during day-time hours.
The paper-mill site remains a question mark, with hopes for some kind of commercial use on the grounds of the historic plant, which shut down almost two years ago after a fire and explosion there that killed one worker and made the business no longer viable. Perske called finding a use for the site “Sartell’s biggest challenge.” He went on to say, “The mill has meant a lot to this community, and I hope to see a development plan come forward in the next month.” The paper-mill plant is currently under demolition by a company that will recycle almost all of the materials.
Input from residents is needed as the city develops a comprehensive plan for the next 10 to 20 years. The city will make sure citizens have adequate input on how to spend future revenue from the regional half-cent sales-tax. It can be used for such things as land acquisition, park development, roads and – as in the plans now – for a branch library and senior center, possibly both within a community center. Sale-tax revenue in the coming decade or so could bring in as much as $70 million.
Perske said he and many others hope there will be a road extension built soon from the police station south to the roundabout at Roberts Road and Heritage Drive. Some federal funds should be available for that project.
In the next general election, Nov. 4, voters will decide a new mayor for Sartell, as well as two city-council seats. Anyone who wants to file to run for office can do so at Sartell City Hall. The filing fee is $5.
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.