Red Wing considers incinerator shut down

Red Wing’s garbage incinerator runs in the red and may be too expensive to keep going. So public works director Rick Moskwa told the Red Wing City Council last night that as much as he hated to suggest it, likely the only way the city council could really save money on the city’s 23-year-old garbage burner would be to de-commission it and send specially prepped trash to Xcel Energy for burning.

The incinerator, which Moskwa considers the city’s greatest contribution to sustainability, was a big ticket item but only one among a variety of strategies to raise money and cut services that Red Wing officials took up Wednesday. Like cities across Minnesota, Red Wing is trying to prepare for an austere 2011.

The only thing that kept the city council from signing on to the idea of abandoning the garbage incinerator and rid the city of the $500,000 per year loss was the lack of definitive agreements from Xcel and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to go ahead. But the council was interested enough to tell Red Wing staff to keep pursuing the deal.

City staff members presented a number of options for the city council to either cut local government services or raise revenue or both. And the council tentatively approved a menu of cuts, tax and fee increases to cut $1.2 million from its 2011 budget. That’s an amount equal to most of the state aid Red Wing is scheduled to receive. But the amount the state has scheduled is considered not reliable because of the state’s budget squeeze.

Also on the table was the closing of the Colvill Aquatic Center which costs $225,000 a year in taxpayer money. After talking it over briefly, the council decided the pool was too popular to close despite the slim possibility of it ever paying for itself.

As for the property tax levy, the council tentatively OKed a 2 percent increase. But council admininstrator Kay Kuhlmann was asked to find other cuts to keep the levy flat.

Fees that seemed most acceptable were two new franchise fees. An electric fee would amount to a residential base rate of one dollar per household to raise $135,000 and a gas fee of 75 cents per household to raise $75,000. A majority of the council said they hated to see an increase in the newly implemented stormwater utility fee. Even though the utility operates at a loss, many Red Wing payers have told council people they hate the fee.

The session lasted 4 and a half hours. Few members of the public attended the meeting in Red Wing’s city hall.

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