Marquette delves further into tourism, economic development matters

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By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

The Marquette council approved the city’s fiscal year 2016 budget of $2,612,459 at its Feb. 11 meeting.

The estimated local tax levy rate per $1,000 valuation on regular property is $6.24, up 35 cents from this year, meaning a $100,000 home will be assessed $624 for the city’s share of property taxes.

The fiscal year 2016 budget, which will run from July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016, is down from the estimated end balance for the current fiscal year, which is projected at $3,156,088. At $1,295,000, capital projects are the city’s biggest expenditure. 

One project slated to begin this year, the overlook to be constructed at the end of Emma Big Bear Trail, at the old bridge approach, was re-bid Feb. 17 after the $623,000 project came in well over the estimated cost. City Manager Dean Hilgerson said the project cost estimate has been revised to $932,000, in keeping with recent DOT projects. The start date was  moved from July to September in hopes of attracting more bidders. Work can also be spread out over 75 working days, allowing construction to begin in the fall and recommence in the spring when the weather is nicer.

Tax incremental finance (TIF) funds will cover the part of the project not covered by a $332,800 Scenic Byways grant, Hilgerson said. He reassured that it will not be put “on the backs of taxpayers.”

He said the project, when paired with the construction of a boardwalk, will mean increased tourism, which will, in turn, support Marquette businesses.

“Economic activity creates jobs, makes people want to live here, strengthens the school district and increases the tax base,” Hilgerson said. “I can’t come up with a rationale as to why anyone would not support [this project]. It’s fiscally responsible and makes sense. This is for the welfare of the city.”

Hilgerson welcomed anyone with financing questions to contact him. 

The council plans to hold a special meeting Wednesday, Feb. 25 to discuss the outcome of the re-bid.

Tying into that line of discussion, the council also further reviewed its tourism and economic development plans. $77,100 is slated to go toward community and economic development in fiscal year 2016. $144,151 will go toward culture and recreation. Hilgerson said an additional $10,000 for advertising and a $50,000 incentive for business development will also be included.

“What else can we do besides advertise and get our name out there?” questioned Hilgerson regarding the city’s tourism needs. “Promotion is Katrina [Moyna, at the Wetlands Centre].”

Councilman John Ries said he believed advertising was a different facet.

“Does the Wetlands Centre not come under tourism and promotion?” queried councilwoman Rinda Ferguson. “It’s all the same.”

Mayor Norma Mason encouraged the council to again consider making Moyna, the Wetlands Centre director, a full-time employee, giving her time to also cover Marquette’s business and economic development needs. She’s largely been doing both on just a part-time basis.

“It’s just amazing what she’s doing. Winter may be slow, but there have been activities every week. There has been planning for bus tours and Tom Sawyer adventures [with Maiden Voyage Tours],” Mason said. “If she was full-time, she could go to the businesses and ask what they want.”

Concerns have been raised about the necessity of keeping the Wetlands Centre open throughout the winter. Councilman Galen McShane suggested the city consider installing Moyna at city hall occasionally, which he said would save on heating costs at the Wetlands Centre and also put Moyna closer to the downtown businesses.

Mason, Hilgerson and Ries will meet this week to further discuss tourism and economic development plans. Hilgerson also stated he’d like the council to discuss capital project plans at its March meeting.

Casino contract

Mason said Lady Luck Casino representatives were meeting with city officials Feb. 12 to begin preliminary contract talks. They were not yet ready for a public meeting, she added.

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