Water tower work progresses, but---

 A construction worker is dwarfed by the size of the concrete base for Barron’s new, $2 million water tower, now under construction near the intersection of North Mill Street and Olson Drive on the north edge of the city. Curved wooden pieces stacked at right were used as forms when the concrete base was poured earlier this summer. The image was taken Friday, Sept. 13, 2019. Photo by Bob Zientara

Delays in government funding will hold up a pair of large-scale public improvement projects in the city of Barron, according to information shared at the regular monthly meeting of the Barron City Council on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019.

Council members looked at several plans to postpone and/or accelerate an estimated $6 million, six-year reconstruction of La Salle Avenue.

When complete, the work will replace century-old water mains, storm and sanitary sewers, curbs, gutters, sidewalks and street pavement along the entire length of La Salle Avenue, from the Yellow River bridge on the east to Rolling Oaks Golf Course on the west.

The project was due to start in spring of 2020, but the city was informed earlier this summer that it had not been approved for a federal grant that would have picked up half a million dollars in construction costs on the first phase of the project.

The city has already invested in a downtown revitalization and beautification study to go along with the reconstruction work. Now in its final phase, the study proposes new streetlights, park benches and other enhancements to the downtown area.

While La Salle Avenue planning continues, the city is also awaiting completion of its new, 400,000-gallon water tower on the north end of town. A $500,000 grant has been obtained to help with the estimated cost of over $2 million, but the city missed a time window last year to apply for another $500,000 “Clean Water Fund” grant which had been counted on to lessen the local cost burden on taxpayers.

Most of the underground work on the water tower is complete as the 2019 construction season nears an end, council members learned. The rest of the project will be completed in 2020.

At the Sept. 10 meeting, council members asked Teresa Anderson, city engineer, about different scheduling and spending scenarios.

Anderson represents MSA Professional Services, which was also involved in applying for the now-delayed government grant for La Salle Avenue.

She said her company will work free of charge to help Dave Hanson, Barron street superintendent continue to pursue funding for the downtown project.

Anderson said that if the city prefers to wait a year, it could apply in May 2020 for another $500,000 federal “community development block grant,” or $1 million altogether.

Another option would be to keep on schedule, do the work with city resources (such as long-term borrowing), and repay the debt after the city secures federal funding, Anderson added.

Council members had varying reactions to Anderson’s proposals.

“I don’t want to see this drag on for several years,” council member Rod Nordby said.

“I can’t forget the (possibility of a) $1 million grant,” Pete Olson, council member, said. “And considering how limited our resources are, I would defer (construction on La Salle Avenue) to 2021 and try again (for funding).”

“I hate to spend the money first” (and then seek funding later), council member Mike Dietrich said. Trying to get a grant to repay city debt “is the future, and I don’t have a crystal ball.”

“If we pay for (the start of the project) ourselves, we may have to reduce (spending) and not do these other grandiose (extra projects),” Kevin Haller, council member, said.

The council ultimately decided to put off the first phase of La Salle Avenue to the 2021 construction season, and to use the extra time to apply for $1 million in government funding.