City officials from St. Michael, Albertville and surrounding communities gathered with local business leaders Tuesday for an overview of last year, and a look at what's ahead.
Officials and business leaders in attendance of the annual I-94 West Chamber of Commerce "State of the Cities" event, held at St. Michael City Hall, included those from St. Michael, Albertville, Otsego, Hanover, Rogers and Dayton.
"The Annual event is an opportunity to bring civic and business leaders together to hear how each city progressed through the past year; the successes and challenges they’ve experienced and then hear firsthand what’s ahead for the city, businesses and residents that live and work here and those that own and operate businesses here," said Rhonda Baack, president of the I-94 West Chamber of Commerce.
The housing market and business climate were main themes many city leaders discussed.
St. Michael Community Development Director Marc Weigle explained the city updated its comprehensive plan in 2012 — the 2005 version of the plan focused on controlling housing growth, which was at the rate of 400 new homes each year.
"I don't think that's been a problem these last few years," Weigle said. "We modified it to better reflect today's conditions."
St. Michael has a low number of lots ready for housing — there's less than a two-year supply at the current pace, he said.
"It's one thing that's holding us back," Weigle said, adding that city has about 50 to 70 lots left. "And with two builders in control of all of those lots, there's no opportunity for independent builders."
One of the city's priorities remains progress on economic development.
"Our goal is making sure existing businesses are happy and successful, and doing what we can to help them grow," Weigle said.
In 2013, St. Michael is looking at streamlining its zoning ordinances, extending the trail system, supporting the I-94 corridor expansion, and facing the slow residential demand.
Hanover is looking at establishing its first senior housing project — an assisted living facility of 10 to 12 units, said Bob Derus, interim city administrator.
"It may not sound like a big deal, but we need more senior housing," Derus said. "Every community needs a variety of housing."
Hanover faces some of the same challenges as neighboring cities when it comes to housing and development, Derus said.
"One thing I want to point out — and it's probably true at a lot of our cities — we're still not at market condition for housing," he said. "We still have bank-owned lots sold at deep discounts."
Derus, who was formerly St. Michael's city administrator before he retired in July, joked, "So if St. Michael is running out of lots, we still have them in Hanover, so come on down."
Albertville City Engineer Adam Nafstad highlighted the city's completion of the first phase of its Interstate 94 west expansion project, for which the city used some of St. Michael's engineering services. Shared city services was something many of the cities included in their 2013 goals to reduce costs.
Albertville also conducted a city vision study that resulted in a new land-use map. Goals for 2013 gathered from the study include community development, making sure housing options are meeting the life cycle needs of all residents, and maintaining the small-town atmosphere, Nafstad said.
"The underlying theme that we heard from people is they like the small-town atmosphere, yet (Albertville) has offerings of that bigger city," he said.
This year, Albertville will focus on phase two of the I-94 corridor project, adding direct access from I-94 east to County Road 19.
"So far, 2013 is off to a good start," Nafstad said, adding that Fraser Steel Company's expansion is set to break ground this spring.
The city also has a few parties interested in developing senior housing, he said.
"It's been on the city's list for many years," Nafstad said. "We hope that becomes a reality in 2013."
Dayton Mayor Tim McNeil said the city is looking to expand its economic development authority and work on its budget. Looking ahead, in 11 years, the city would need 200 new homes per year built in Dayton, with all property taxes going to debt service to meet the projected $2 million in debt service the city would owe.
"It's definitely going to be a challenge," McNeil said.
The city of Otsego is looking at moving city hall to a new place, and entering into a partnership with Albertville for fire department services, said Lori Johnson, Otsego city administrator.
"It's great to share services and keep taxes low," Johnson said.
For the first time ever, the city adopted a strategic plan in 2012, and Otsego started a business group, similar to Shop St. Michael.
The past year has been one of the busiest years Rogers has seen, said City Administrator Steve Stahmer. The year saw significant commercial development, a successful merger with Hassan Township, and a declining tax rate.
He pointed out that Rogers is the only city in Wright County that is negatively affected by a state fiscal disbursement program, in which 16 to 20 percent of the city's tax capacity is distributed to other cities in Minnesota.
Stahmer announced that Rogers was named No. 1 place in Minnesota to raise kids by Businessweek.
"It says a lot about our region and other surrounding communities who also ranked highly," he said. "It's an exciting designation."
This year, Rogers is launching its commerical fire inspection program, that will offer inspections to businesses for fire safety.
Rogers is also in talks with Dayton and St. Michael about sharing services and large city equipment to save money.
"In 2013, we have new businesses coming to town that we're really excited about," said Rogers Mayor Pro Tem Rick Ihli. "I look forward to the next couple years tremendously."