A town hall style meeting organized by new Fergus Falls City Council Ward Three member Al Kremeier, held at the council chambers on Mar. 15, drew a large vocal crowd that included council members and city officials answering questions and having dialogue.
The meeting started with a presentation from the President of the Fergus Falls Area Chamber of Commerce Lisa Workman, discussing how their organization was helping coordinate their over 330 member organization in bringing positive developments to Fergus Falls.
“One of our priorities is to drive economic growth and we see that with businesses expanding and new businesses opening up. In fact, in 2022 we had 69 celebrations and ribbon cuttings, groundbreakings, anniversary celebrations, including a 100 year anniversary celebration for the Minnesota Motor Company,” said Workman.
Workman also detailed various successful promotions and campaigns and their commitment as an organization to support local business as well as a constant mission to attract new businesses to Fergus Falls. She also highlighted how they are focused on attracting new families to move to the city, increasing the workforce pool and how there are a lot of positive things going on in the community despite the economy and the challenges coming out of the pandemic.
Kremeier then began reading questions from the audience.
“I said it in a radio interview this morning, listening is one thing, but understanding is more important,” said Kremeier.
The first question was about Fergus Falls becoming newly certified as the first Prairie City USA in late 2022 and whether there was any expense or any ongoing expenses to do this and why the issue wasn’t brought to voters.
Klara Beck, community development manager, explained that the city had long been looking to reclaim some of the native prairie grass areas in the city and working in partnership with the United Prairie Foundation and Wildlife Forever they were able to get the designation.
City Administrator Andrew Bremseth later said there was no expense to the city and stated that in essence the city was actually saving money by having the organizations assisting with the maintenance of the prairie grass areas.
There was then discussion about the condition of Lake Alice and how it had degraded in the last several years and residents stated that they felt frustrated and that the city had just given up.
Council member Anthony Hicks explained that a new device from a company called Water Quality 3D will promote beneficial shifts in the equilibrium of a body of water, without the addition of chemicals and that this may be utilized on Lake Alice with the goal to improve overall water quality. That project is pending as the state legislature needs to approve the bonding bill which includes an amendment for the funding.
Another question was about the proposed upcoming Stanton Avenue road project and what that would entail. Some residents questioned if the work was being proposed because of the upcoming Red River Mill project.
Bremseth confirmed that the project had been proposed long before the mill project was announced.
Another question from a member of the public asked if the city had revolving loan funds for just new businesses. Workman answered that question replying that there were loans for any business, not just new ones.
According to the city’s website: “The city of Fergus Falls has the following loan pools designed to promote the growth, expansion and development of business concerns and interests within the Fergus Falls area: the Minnesota Investment Fund, the Intermediary Relending Program and the Community Development Block Grant/HUD (Fund 264), which houses the Economic Development, Facade and LED loan programs. The revolving funds are public funds that may be used for loan purposes with approval by the Fergus Falls City Council.”
Other residents, like Mike Streeter, brought up another important issue about possibly lowering the speed limit by the new Hillcrest Academy lower elementary school housed in the former Eisenhower Elementary at 805 East Channing Avenue.
Streeter also wanted to know why Mayor Ben Schierer was not in attendance. Council member Scott Rachels said Schierer had told him earlier that he had a previously scheduled event and could not attend.
Another continuing discussion between many in the town hall was about why the new voter-approved aquatic center being built was going to be located in Roosevelt Park. The concerns ranged from having to get rid of the hundred year old oak trees to impacted residents in the area in regards to the anticipated noise level being created.
Some residents asked if it was possible to start a petition drive to get it moved to another location. Bremseth said because voters approved the project, it would be highly unlikely that a petition would have any impact whatsoever.
Many in attendance said that they definitely wanted the aquatic center, but questioned why it couldn’t be located somewhere else.
Some even said they didn't realize that it was going to be located in Roosevelt Park, but the ballot question clearly stated that it would be located there.
The actual ballot question asked, “Shall the City of Fergus Falls impose a sales and use tax of one-half of one percent (0.50%) until December 31, 2037, or until $10,800,000, plus an amount equal to interest and the costs of issuance of any bonds, is collected to finance an aquatics center in Roosevelt Park? The total sales and use tax approved by voters at this election to finance this project and any other project will not exceed one-half of one percent (0.50%).”
At the end of the town hall, Kremeier asked if the assembled crowd would be interested in meeting regularly with monthly or quarterly town hall meetings and the majority overwhelmingly felt that it would be beneficial. However, no date was specified for a future meeting.