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Council holds public hearing on potential cable franchise

The Austin City Council held a public hearing on a cable franchise application from CMN-RUS, Inc., doing business as MetroNet, during its regular meeting Monday evening.

Charter Communications, doing business as Spectrum, is currently the only cable provider in Austin. Approval of the franchise application would mean increased competition in the area.

MetroNet currently operates in seven states and serves approximately 16 communities in Minnesota.

The council will vote on whether or not to approve the application during its next regular meeting on Monday, June 21.

The council unanimously awarded Doyle Conner Company a street improvement bid for work to be done at the Fourth Street and Third Avenue Northwest intersection. Doyle Conner Company’s bid came in at the lowest price at $457,406.15.

The street improvements will include the removal of signal lights at the intersection, pedestrian crossing improvements between Austin High School and Pacelli, and the closure and removal of Third Avenue Northwest between Fourth Street and Fifth Street Northwest.

The council unanimously approved a change to the city ordinance to allow for bow fishing within city limits under certain circumstances. Under the change, bow fishing is only permitted from a boat at Eastside Lake from Interstate 90 to the spillway, Mill Pond, and the Cedar River north of Mill Pond where it flows within the city limits.

Bow fishing is not allowed from shore nor is it allowed within 100 feet of pedestrians and/or 150 feet from residences.

The council also unanimously approved a bonding bill request of $13 million to go toward upgrades on the Wastewater Treatment Plant. Last year, the state awarded $7.45 million to the City in the bonding bill for WWTP upgrades.

The estimated total cost to upgrade the WWTP to meet the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s standards is about $77 million.

The council began preliminary discussions on the 2022 fiscal year budget during its work session on Monday evening. Administrative Services Director Tom Dankert said the City is expecting to receive Local Government Aid in the amount of $8,661,967 for 2021, though the certified amount will not be known until Aug. 1. He also noted that the City is preliminarily scheduled to receive $2.87 million over a two-year period from the American Rescue Plan Act.

With the continued implementation of the compensation and classification study for city employees, the City is looking at a possible wage/benefit increase of $825,000, which would warrant a tax levy increase of 11-12%. To keep the levy increase at no more than 4% last year, the council opted to eliminate 4.5 full-time equivalent positions that were vacated in 2020 (the estimated cost for each full-time equivalent employee is about $80,000). More retirements and vacating of positions is expected this year, but some council members expressed reluctance to keep those positions empty. The council agreed to hear from the heads of city departments as to what worked and what did not work with reduced staff while determining the tax levy.

The council also agreed that it would be unwise to use the ARPA funds to pay down the tax levy. Because the ARPA funds are only available this one time, using it to pay down the tax levy now could mean a significant tax levy increase in the future once their availability runs out.

The council also unanimously approved a $1,000 donation to the third annual 4th Avenue Fest, which will be held on June 16.

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