Although 2020 was a difficult year, in dealing with both COVID-19 and restrictions on businesses, it was also a year of growth and improvements for both communities of Kenyon and Wanamingo.
One community has seen new homes and commercial buildings, while the other has accomplished one road construction project with the start of another project expected to bring in new growth to the area.
In Wanamingo, the city has seen growth and improvements throughout the community in new commercial buildings and a number of both new homes and infrastructure improvements, that will carry them into the new year on a high note.
City Administrator Michael Boulton says three new commercial building were or are currently being built: Jeff’s Welding warehouse, Jason Grant’s trucking shop, and Concast’s building expansion. Jeff’s Welding building has a permit value of $190,000, while Jason Grant’s trucking has a permit value of $200,000 and Concast’s building addition has a permit value of $960,000.
In the residential side of things, the city issued 15 new home building permits in 2020 with a collective permit valuation of $2,621,000. There were also three new downtown apartment and one new mobile home building permits issued last year. Boulton says the 19 units are the most ever built in one year in Wanamingo. In addition, numerous new garage and home improvement permits were given.
Along with the commercial and residential growth, Boulton said there were numerous infrastructure improvements throughout Wanamingo. The Minnesota Department of Transportation installed a roundabout at the Hwy. 60 and 57 intersection. The roundabout total project costs were over $2 million. The city of Wanamingo also completed the 2020 Roadway Improvements project which included work on Fourth and Third streets, the alley between Railroad Street and Second Avenue, and street patching and repairs around town. The projects cost were $581,000.
The second phase of the Veterans Memorial was complete. Over $44,000 was privately raised and spent on the memorial improvements. The city also worked with Zumbro Valley Landscaping to rebuild the block wall on the south Community Center patio. The city replaced the brick wall with limestone cubes. The project costs were roughly $11,500.
Xcel Energy is also in the middle of replacing 55 electric poles around the community, as a number of older poles were in rough shape and could have suffered damage with severe storms. The city has also been working on new branding and logo applications. The logo has been or will be utilized on the city website updates, social media (Facebook), promotional stickers, stationary (business cards, letterhead paper, envelopes), staff apparel, vehicle decal graphics, City Hall signage, new light pole banners, Hwy. 60/57 Roundabout Signage and other various uses.
Sustainability of the community
Looking ahead, Boulton said 2021 does not appear to be slowing down. City staff are working on a commercial project with Jason Grant Trucking for a warehouse and office. Jason Grant is working on architectural drawings. He has purchase two vacant lots from Brian Growth in the Industrial Park. Grant has a request to purchase the remaining EDA-owned lot in the industrial park.
City staff are also working on a small home project with Barney Nesseth. Nesseth is working on final architectural drawings for the development. After completed, Boulton said the City Council and Nesseth will be working on a development agreement and possible zoning variances on the odd-shaped lot. City staff have been working with other business owners on commercial expansions that may occur in 2021. Boulton said there continues to be interest in residential single-family dwellings.
Bigelow Homes has said tit has plans with purchase agreements for two more homes in which future building permits will be coming in the next month. City Staff anticipates no immediate slowdown of construction in 2021 leading to additional homes.
Some other projects include working toward a new water tower, well houses, and additional water lines loops. Boulton predicts this project could start at the end of 2021 or 2022. The city is in discussions with Zumbrota, Pine Island, Goodhue and Mazeppa regarding a regional wastewater treatment facility.
The current wastewater treatment facility is at the end of its life and will need to be replaced within the decade. The city could choose to be part of a regional facility or construct their own facility. Having capacity and reliability in the water and wastewater treatment are keys to allowing for future growth and current sustainability of the community.
A solid foundation
The city of Kenyon moves into the new year with two new council members, Mary Bailey and Molly Ryan, taking office. Also elected were incumbent Mayor Doug Henke and Council member Tom Gard.
Henke has said he’s looking forward to hearing more about Bailey and Ryan’s concerns/priorities, and anticipates the completion of the business park and working out some of the issues in the community.
Ryan says she’s anxious to get up to speed on the current projects and the progress being made. She hopes to expand her knowledge of the city’s budget and the details that go into it to have a good perspective of where the city is at financially.
Bailey is also excited to learn more about the council and getting things done. As an owner of a downtown business, her top priority is to get a little more accomplished in the downtown area to preserve what the city already has.
Tom Gard, who ran in a special election for a two-year term aimed to be open to the ideas and suggestions of the citizens of Kenyon and bring those needs and ideas to the council for further discussion.
The Police Department begins 2021 in its new location after several months of improvements and modifications to the former ambulance building. Years in the making, the project set out to create a more inviting, accessible and professional space for Kenyon Police officers to operate out of. Among other things, Police Chief Lee Sjolander looks forward to the more modern, better workflow with better security measures. As well as something the city is proud of and is user friendly and efficient.
Some major capital purchase items for Public Works include replacement of the riding lawn mower, a roof replacement in Depot Park, seal coating and chip sealing of some streets and other miscellaneous items.
FEMA flood repairs and improvements
Residents who enjoy the Riverside Park area can also expect to see some improvements in that neck of the woods this year. After a year of working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on funding for flood repairs and improvements to the park, city officials announced that grants have been approved.
Grant funds are expected to cover costs for the stabilization of the riverbank and storm sewer repair and east access road repair. Along with riverbank and road improvements and culvert replacements, in areas not damaged by the flood, but are failing and recommended for replacement.
About 5 feet of riverbank appeared to be washed out because of rains and flood in March-April 2019, and other areas saw some erosion, according to a report from Olinger at the 2019 October Council meeting. Some storm drain pipes have also been damaged and are plugged up with silt and sand. And there’s additional damage, including wash outs, to the access road on the eastern end of the road.
Construction is anticipated to begin in spring/early summer.
Kenyon Business Park
After at least four years of planning, Kenyon officials held a groundbreaking ceremony Oct. 7, 2020 to usher in a project they hope will spark community growth.
The Kenyon Economic Development Authority developed an approximate 30-acre area on the southeast corner of the city along County Road 12, for new light industrial, warehouses and related types of businesses. The site will be served by all utilities including three-phase electric, gas, sewer, water and high speed broadband.
This project has been the EDA’s main focus for numerous meetings, topics and work to get up to this point.
The final layout chosen features nine industrial lots with a dedicated area for the storm water pond in the southwest corner of the property. The future east-west road within the development is proposed to be constructed at a later date, outside of phase 1 construction.
Initial development includes the three southernmost lots, construction of a block of roadway and a right-turn lane off County Road 12, extension of sanitary sewer and water to the sites and early stage development of the park’s stormwater system. Final completion of the project is tentatively scheduled for June.
Healthcare providers in the community
With Mayo Clinic Health System permanently closing its part-time clinic in Kenyon at the end of 2020, more discussions will need to be held to figure out the future of healthcare in the community.
Mayo representatives attended a work session with the city council to open the door to other healthcare options. Mayo said the closures are part of a system-wide review and it desires to continue serving rural Minnesota communities.
The city was going to discuss other options with healthcare providers in the area like Northfield Hospital + Clinics with locations in Faribault and Northfield; Olmsted Medical Center in Wanamingo, Cannon Falls, Pine Island and Rochester, as well as Allina Health, with locations in Faribault, Northfield and Owatonna. Mayo Clinic continues to offer services at other locations that include Owatonna, Faribault, Austin, Cannon Falls and Zumbrota.
Health care providers across the nation have suffered significant losses due to the pandemic. A large portion of surgeries and other medical procedures have been canceled since March and patients have been hesitant about in-person treatment.
At the Council’s December meeting, Kenyon Senior Living Managing Agent Chris Knoll said Kenyon Senior Living’s goal is to have a new provider move into that space. Knowing that the city has that same goal, he feels confident between both entities they would be able to accomplish that.
COVID-19 vaccines are being administered throughout Goodhue County! This is a moment for celebration and gratitude. This moment of hope also brings many questions about the COVID-19 vaccines.
One of the important questions about the vaccines is, “Are they safe?” Having a safe and effective vaccine is the top priority. The requirements for COVID-19 vaccine are the same as all other vaccines.
With any vaccine, studies must confirm that the vaccine is safe and effective before it is approved for public use. This data is closely reviewed by several scientific groups at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and other groups look at available information about a vaccine and make informed decisions about the risks and benefits of using it.
COVID-19 vaccine rollout timeline and priority groups
COVID-19 vaccines are being rolled out in phases. Hundreds of millions of people in the United States alone need to be vaccinated, so it will be a long process to make, distribute, and give that many doses of vaccine out. Minnesota Department of Health’s (MDH) and Goodhue County Health and Human Services (GCHHS) urges the public to have patience and continue to be mindful of the practices we can do to slow the spread of COVID-19, practice social distancing, wear a mask, wash your hands and stay home if you are sick.
Goodhue County Health and Human Services (GCHHS) is following the Minnesota Department of Health’s (MDH) priority groups. This week GCHHS started to vaccinate our Phase 1A 1st priority group; Emergency Medical Services (EMS). We held vaccination clinics for our EMS throughout the county in Red Wing, Zumbrota, Kenyon and Cannon Falls. Kenyon Senior Living staff and residents are expected to receive their first doses of the vaccine Jan. 12, followed by the second dose Feb. 9. Other Phase 1a First Priority groups are being vaccinated by the hospital/clinic they work for; Long Term Care facilities by an appointed Pharmacy from the Federal Pharmacy Provider Program.
As of Jan. 7, 2021, 769 residents of Goodhue County have received 1 or more doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
The goal for the first, limited doses of COVID-19 vaccine is to protect those who are exposed to COVID-19 every day because of what they do, who they care for, or where they live. In addition, high rates of severe disease in nursing home residents and other congregate settings where older adults live are being seen. With this in mind, the first doses of COVID-19 vaccine are being given to people working in health care settings and people who live and work in long-term care facilities. They do not have the option of remaining home and separating themselves from others. Other groups that will get the vaccine earlier than the general public include frontline essential workers, adults 65 years and older, people with high-risk medical conditions, and other essential workers.
COVID-19 vaccine scams
The GCHHS COVID-19 Hotline has received calls asking if community members can sign up for their vaccine or be put on a waiting list. It is important to note that, there is NOT a list Minnesotans need to get on to receive COVID-19 vaccine. Early on, people who are able to get vaccine first will be contacted by their employers or the long-term care facility where they live.
We have also heard of scams across the state where people are being called and told to provide credit card information to be put on this list. MDH and health care providers will not contact you and ask for personal information or credit card information in order to get the COVID-19 vaccine. This is a scam, do not provide personal information to these callers. Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and GCHHSS will provide updates when vaccine is available to more people and how they can get it.
FAQ about COVID-19 vaccines and vaccine rollout
Each day, more and more information on the COVID-19 vaccines is being released. We all have many questions and some of those questions may not have answers currently. Here are some helpful resources to help answer questions you may have.
• For information on the COVID -19 vaccines go to: cdc.gov/vaccines/covid-19/index.html
• For more information and FAQ on the Minnesota Statewide vaccine rollout go to: health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/vaccine.html
• To stay informed of local Goodhue County Vaccine information go to: co.goodhue.mn.us/COVID-19
• Goodhue County Health & Human Services COVID-19 Hotline: (651) 385-2000. Hotline is available Monday-Friday 8 a.m. — 4:30 p.m.
Two doses are needed for the two COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna. It is very important that someone gets both vaccine doses, the same product for each dose, and that the doses are given at the correct time apart.
After the second dose, it takes about two weeks for your body to build up immunity, so it’s about six weeks total from the first vaccine dose to when you should be fully protected. It is important to continue to wear a mask, stay 6 feet from others, wash your hands, and follow other public health recommendations. Even after those six weeks, it is known that these vaccines are good at preventing people from getting sick, but there is not enough data yet to say whether someone who was vaccinated may still spread the disease to others if they get infected with COVID-19. At this time, it is also not known if this will be a vaccine that people need to get again, similar to getting a flu shot every year or needing a tetanus shot every 10 years.
With the district’s financial issues in mind, the Kenyon-Wanamingo School Board capped its salary at $14,000 annually for the entire seven-member board.
That’s roughly a $10,000 decrease, depending on the number of meetings held.
The discussion started during the board’s organizational meeting after Board member Kevin Anderson moved to eliminate the $50 stipend for attending board and committee meetings. The reduction, he reasoned, would demonstrate the board’s willingness to do its part when it comes to budget cuts necessitated after operating levies in 2019 and 2020 failed.
Board member Debb Paquin opposed eliminating the $50 stipend for meetings and looked to compromise in cases where three different meetings were held on one night would count as just one meeting.
“As [Board member] Marilyn [Syverson] can attest to, we went many, many years with just our salaries and our annual amounts. Just four or six years ago the stipend per meeting was added. Looking at other districts boards, it’s not the highest,” said Paquin. “We are the top of the food chain when it comes to salary in our district, our jobs are very valuable and our time and commitment to this position is considerable.”
Board member Tonya Craig agreed, saying there’s a lot of prep work that goes into being a school board member, both before and after meetings.
“Although none of us are doing this to get rich by any means, like Debb said, one stipend is sufficient with more than one meeting a night,” added Craig.
Syverson, who supported both notions, looked to come up with a deal that fit for both sides. While understanding why some favored doing what they can to aid the district’s current financial situation, Syverson didn’t want to making sweeping changes to policy. This led her to suggest capping salaries but leaving the language as is.
“We spent 10 years without any kind of raise/compensation,” said Syverson. “…I think with our operating levies, we do have to make a gesture of our spending on our own. I’m also in complete agreement with the way its setup because the board earns it’s keep, but the gesture is also necessary to turn the money back.”
Pleased with the discussion, Anderson withdrew his motion and looked for a new one to be brought on the table.
“We’re on the right track, we have to do something. We’re not in the best financial situation. I’m willing to work to compromise,” added Anderson.
Following some discussion about salary caps, Paquin put forth a motion to keep board salaries at $1,000, the $50 stipend for each board member for each night of board meetings attended, annual stipend of $250 for Negotiations Committee members and add a salary cap of $14,000 for the entire board. This would give each board member their $1,000 stipend and pay for roughly 10-11 meetings.
The salaries of board officers were also up for discussion, and the board opted to combine the roles of vice chair and treasurer. The chairperson’s salary stayed at $300, clerk remained at $200 and the vice chairperson and treasurer was switched to $150. Previously, the board combined the position of treasurer and clerk at a total of $200, with $150 allotted for the vice chair.
In comparison to surrounding districts, Faribault Public Schools offers a salary for School Board Directors of $275 per month, with the Board Chair receiving $300 per month. Similar to Faribault, Northfield Public Schools provides $275 a month for directors, though it offers $325 a month for the Board Chair. For seven-member boards, this equates to $23,400 in Faribault and $23,700 for Northfield. Before adding the salary cap, K-W’s Board members could earn anywhere between $2,200 and $4,550 each depending on the amount of regular/committee meetings held each month, and if they hold a position on the Board. This ranges from roughly $15,400 on the low-end, by attending two meetings a month to $31,850 on the high-end, based on five meetings a month, serving as board chair and on the negotiations committee.
Standard to the board’s organizational meeting each year is selecting committee members for 2021. This year, board members had to fill the places of departing members Rod Woock and James Jarvis. Their places were filled by AJ Lindell and Ben Bakken following the election last fall. Along with Lindell and Bakken, re-elected member Jamie Sommer was sworn in at the beginning of the board’s meeting.
Set to talk about the annual review of the minimum unrestricted fund balance — or the amount of reserves left after determining both non-spendable and restricted net resources — at the meeting, the board agreed to discuss it at a later date once facts and figures are available to make a concrete decision of what goal is attainable for the district.
Superintendent Bryan Boysen said the district’s current number is at 6%, something he considers pretty high. He recommended the board bump that number down to give school officials something to go after moving forward in this fiscal year, potentially something around 3-4%.
Similar to previous years, regular board meetings are slated to be held this year at 7 p.m. on the fourth Monday of each month. When in-person gatherings are allowed, meetings are held in Wanamingo on odd months and in Kenyon on even months. Until then, they will remain in a virtual format. Work sessions were moved to 5:30 p.m. on the second Monday of the month, as needed. Similar to regular meetings, they would meet in-person at Wanamingo during odd months and spend even months in Kenyon.