FL Council wants no part of Sports Center operation

Clint Riese
Staff Writer

A chance to get into the game presented itself, but the city of Forest Lake seems perfectly comfortable watching from the bench when it comes to the future of the Forest Lake Area Athletic Association Sports Center. The city council, mayor and city administrator were respectful but emphatic in their denial of a request from Independent School District 831 to discuss possible city participation in acquiring the three-year-old athletic facility.

FLAAA approached school officials in December regarding the possibility of transferring the complex to the school district. The district’s subsequent feasibility study forecasted deficit projections of between $146,417 and $227,985 accumulating by the end of 2015-16, assuming a $4.93 million capital lease.

Having iced plans for immediate discussion, the school board reached out to the city to examine the idea of collaborating on the acquisition or operation of the facility. Informal talks indicate the Sports Center would be sold for the outstanding balance of about $4.5 million on the existing bank loan.

Such a collaboration appears a long shot, though, given the sentiment expressed at this Monday’s council meeting. City Administrator Aaron Parish outlined a three-prong rationale for the city to remain uninvolved.

City rationale

First, he said that operational models for such facilities vary greatly, and that municipal ownership is rare.

“There’s maybe some perception that this is something that is relegated exclusively to the domain of the city and cities in general and really that isn’t the case,” Parrish said. “Ice arenas are kind of a fickle operation. There are a number of operating models out there.”

Second, he noted that a large percentage of the FLAAA Sports Center’s customers hail from beyond the city boundaries.

“It really is a regional facility and I think that needs to be brought to the table when looking at operating models for this,” Parrish said.

Finally, he felt the city was not in position financially to make such a significant purchase.

Council members Mike Freer, Jim DuFour and Jackie McNamara each voiced agreement with Parrish. Councilwoman Susan Young was not present.

Freer pointed out that the city supported construction of the facility by building the infrastructure and leasing the land for $1.

“I want to be careful how it is being relayed,” he said. “The city is participating, but I don’t think we want to participate by spending more money on it at this point.”

Financial report

Finance director Ellen Paulseth said she was pleased with the findings of the summary financial report for the year ending Dec. 31, 2011. Total revenues came in at 99.42 percent of what was budgeted, a variance of only $53,601. Total expenditures were 97.89 percent of what was budgeted, a variance of $194,107.

Highlights Paulseth presented included:

• a $255,814 shortfall in property tax revenue due to the unallotment of the state Homestead Credit

• a $78,306 shortfall in licenses and permits  revenue due to building permits coming in lower than projected for a seventh consecutive year

• a $199,237 savings in public safety expenditures due to temporary vacancies and a reorganization of the police department.

Overall, the general fund’s unassigned reserves equal 47 percent of total expenditures, and that mark is considered healthy, Paulseth said.

She also noted that water and sewer operations saw an operating loss of $489,335, marking a fourth straight year in the red. The recent 10 percent hike in water and sewer fees will resolve that issue going forward.

Lake Association request granted

The city will create new, one-year positions for workers to fulfill over 800 hours of boat inspections to prevent the spread of invasive species. That action came via a unanimous vote approving the request from the Forest Lake Lake Association (FLLA).

That group has partnered with the Comfort Lake-Forest Lake Watershed District in recent years to win matching grants from the Department of Natural Resources. The DNR had less funds available for that grant this year, but a separate grant the city received from the DNR makes it possible to fund the temporary positions. The Comfort Lake-Forest Lake Watershed District is expected to have the capability to fund the inspections beginning next year.

“I think it makes sense,” said Mayor Chris Johnson. “We all recognize the importance of it, and essentially, thanks to that grant it is money we already budgeted for the lake.”

Park Board change

Johnson announced an appointment to the park board. Diane Rueb has resigned. The open spot will be filled by Paulette Smith.