Building has limited life

Debt restructuring in the 2021 budget is setting the stage for the redevelopment of the former Family Dollar building (also known as the Farmer Store) property, at the corner of East La Salle Avenue and Fifth Street, into a new Barron municipal center. Other city improvements are also planned, including a new city garage on property now used for the city’s brush dump. Building has limited life—Debt restructuring in the 2021 budget is setting the stage for the redevelopment of the former Family Dollar building (also known as the Farmer Store) property, at the corner of East La Salle Avenue and Fifth Street, into a new Barron municipal center. Other city improvements are also planned, including a new city garage on property now used for the city’s brush dump.

Barron City Council approved Nov. 10, 2021, a municipal budget that calls for about $2.4 million in spending for city operations, a decrease from the 2020 budget.

Estimated property tax revenues available for city operations are down more than $100,000 due t0 funds shifted to debt restructuring, contributing to a 4% drop in total city expenditures for operations.

The money designated for debt restructuring (about $1.35 million) is more than 7% higher than 2020. Overall spending will increase by about 2%.

“We want to pay down as much debt as we can as fast as we can,” said Liz Jacobson, city administrator.

Jacobson said that by paying off debt, the City is in a good position to take advantage of current low municipal bond rates to fund future projects, such as major upgrades along La Salle Avenue.

The Council made one change to the proposed budget, reallocating $50,000 from the library’s 2021 budget to a different fund for the purpose of upgrading the building’s HVAC—it’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

Jacobson said COVID-19 hasn’t had a major impact on the city budget as a whole, but it has caused the library to reduce hours and services, therefore creating a 2020 budget surplus.

This made the 2021 reallocation possible because the library is expected to carry a large surplus through 2020.

The City funds some but not all of the budget for the Library, which is overseen by its own board.

“The 2021 budget will reflect a negative fund balance, but you’re saving this year in your cash to carry that budget deficit next year,” said city administrator Liz Jacobson.

Jacobson said she and library director Lisa Kuebli will have to watch the library budget through the end of 2020, and adjust the one-time funding change in 2021 as needed.

Jacobson said there is no timetable set for the HVAC upgrade, but she is starting to get bids, which have been in the ballpark of $150,000.

The budget also includes a 2% cost of living adjustment for City employees. Some major expenditures in 2021 include 50% of the cost of a new fire truck, a new Dodge charger squad car and a dump truck.

Debt restructure

With the help of Milwaukee-based Robert W. Baird & Co., the city is restructuring its long-term debt to allow for the borrowing of an estimated $3.5 million in 2022.

Jacobson said the City secured bonds from Madison-based Banker’s Bank through Baird at an opportune time. She said at the meeting, “Baird literally came through for us at the right time, because as of this week things are already changing.”

In the pandemic economy, the municipal bond market has been popular with wealthier investors in large part because interest on the bonds is tax exempt.

The borrowed funds will help the City finance a new municipal center proposed for the former Family Dollar (also known as the Farmer Store) property, at the corner of East La Salle Avenue and Fifth Street.

The city has already agreed to sell its existing City Hall site (the former home of Barron Electric Cooperative) to La Crosse-based Kwik Trip for just over $1 million.

The City Council approved a rezoning from Light Industrial to Commercial at its Nov. 10 meeting as a step toward the Kwik Trip redevelopment.

Combined with long-term debt restructuring, a $1 million federal grant, and the expected long-term borrowing package, the city expects to set the stage for construction of the municipal center, a municipal garage near 14th Street and Woodland Avenue, and reconstruction on a four-block stretch of La Salle Avenue, from the intersection with Memorial Drive (on the east) to Seventh Street on the west.

The project is the first phase of a multi-year city effort to replace century-old underground utilities on La Salle Avenue through much of downtown Barron.

At Council meeting, Cedar Corp. engineer Sarah Hinz, said bids for the projects will be put out in late January or early February, with the hope of accepting bids in February.

Theresa Anderson, of MSA Professional Services, also gave an update at the meeting on the La Salle Avenue project and new city water tower.

She said the water tower tank has been filled, and after a minor leak is fixed and final water tests are done, the tower should be ready to go online this week. Anderson said preliminary planning and soil boring is continuing on the La Salle project.

In other business, the City Council declined two applications for bartending licenses at the recommendation of police chief Joe Vierkandt.