The Petersburg Humane Association and Petersburg Childrens Center have new long-term leases of city land, following votes by the city council Monday. The council also advanced rate increases for water, sewer and garbage service.

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The Humane Association has been leasing three acres of city land at the site of the former Tent City campgrounds, near Sandy Beach. The organization has been working to build a new animal shelter and dog park there but wants a lease longer than the original five year agreement from 2010.
Don Koenigs thought the term of the proposed lease was too long. “You’re looking at 55 years. And that’s so far out when you’re tying up city property that who knows what 55 years from now is going to be needed, or going on within the community?” Koenigs wondered.

The association asked for the longer lease to help with fund raising for a permanent shelter the volunteers want to build on the site. John Hoag, a local attorney volunteering with the association, thought the longer term lease would help. “Considering where that property is and how little it seems to be on anybody’s agenda for the future that perhaps the longer term as originally done would I think have some, although you could certainly sell a 30-year one, but the 55 especially if it’s standard to the city would be of benefit to the association for finishing their fundraising project.”

KFSK file photo

The association says its raised $16,500 on the project so far and spent $5,000 on improvements. They hope to seek grant funding for a shelter building in the future. Koenigs proposed an amendment for a 30-year agreement. That failed with the rest of council voting against the change. Councilors then unanimously approved the 55-year lease instead.

Meanwhile, the council approved a shorter term lease for city land that could one day be the site of a community child learning center. The four lots at the corner of Dolphin and Fifth streets had been leased to an organization specifically formed to fund raise and build that facility. Petersburg Childrens Center executive director Terri Falter told the council that the learning center organization has disbanded and the childrens center wanted to take on the project. “And we received just a little under $2,000 from them that they had in a savings account for capital improvement and then they chose to sign over this property if the council approves it,” Falter said. “And for the childrens center it’s a great opportunity and it gives us a long-term visual and especially now that we’re in a situation that we can start writing grants now.”

The lease for the child learning center is for a 20 year term. City clerk Kathy O’Rear explained that this agreement was different than other city leases. “That 20-year term that is specified on the agenda is actually giving them 20 years in which to accumulate their funds and build their structure. If they do that in this 20 year period, the city will give them that land outright. We do not do that with any of our other leases but this one, because they are building a building on it and its for a public cause, the prior city council that gave the initial lease said alright if you fulfill your commitment you can have the land. They’re using the land to seek grant funds and be kindof a backer.” The council unanimously approved that agreement.

The council approved the second reading of rate hikes for water sewer and garbage service, all by votes of 5-1 with Koenigs opposing the changes. As proposed, rates will go up two percent a year for water and garbage services, each year through 2018. Sewer service will increase four and a half percent a year during that time.

There was no further discussion of the rate hikes Monday and no comments during public hearings for the ordinance changes. At a council meeting earlier this month, Koenigs said he could support the rate hikes over a shorter term, but not the seven years as proposed. During a radio call in show Monday councilor Sue Flint, a member of the council’s finance committee, said the increases are needed to fund replacement infrastructure for the utilities. “In order to cover those costs we do need to increase a little bit, which I think for the average family that just uses the basic minimum stuff its only a couple dollars on each one so hopefully it won’t be too painful,” Flint said. The rate hikes need one more approval by the council before they take effect.

In other decisions from Monday’s meeting, the council unanimously approved reduction of bond debt for construction of the new public library. The cost of the new structure to local property tax payers will be $1.3 million, instead of $1.5 million. Community development director Leo Luczak explained the reduction was possible with the site work nearly complete. “We asked for a larger contingency just because of the unknowns of muskeg. You know you never know, it was probed and estimated the depth but sometimes you’ll find a big hole or things come up but now that the foundations been excavated and mostly filled I’m comfortable that things are looking good and that was the biggest unknown,” Luczak said. Utility connections and concrete work for the new building are expected to start up this summer.