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Council sets room tax allocations, rejects Phipps' request for increase

A request from The Phipps Center for the Arts for an additional $1,000 in room-tax funding in 2014 provoked disagreement at the Jan. 13 meeting of the Hudson City Council.

The council ultimately voted 4-2 to keep the appropriation at the 2013 level, but not until alderpersons Randy Morrissette II and John Hoggatt had expressed their support for honoring The Phipps’ request.

Morrissette and Hoggatt argued that The Phipps puts “heads in beds,” and therefore is a worthy recipient of money generated by the 3.5 percent tax on stays in Hudson hotels and inns.

Morrissette also called attention to an anticipated $55,000 surplus in the room tax fund by the end of the year.

But Alderperson Lori Bernard indicated she opposes government funding for the arts, and questioned whether The Phipps is a nonprofit organization. Bernard also said ticket prices make the plays and concerts at The Phipps inaccessible to many Hudson families.

Council President Rich Vanselow and Alderperson Mary Yacoub said they were torn over the issue, but came down on the side of denying the increase.

Vanselow said The Phipps has other sources of funding. Yacoub thought there may be more of a need for the money elsewhere in the city.

While Mayor Alan Burchill didn’t vote on the question, he said there are other community organizations that bring overnight guests to town and don’t receive any room tax money.

“I would venture to say that the hockey association puts way more heads in beds,” Burchill said.

He added that every community organization is a good one.

“The issue is, is that really what we should be doing with this money?” he said.

The Phipps is one of a dozen organizations and programs that have received room tax funding under a category of the allocation termed “city tourism and beautification.”

The art center’s allocation for 2013 was $1,000. It requested an increase to $2,000 in 2014.

The Hudson Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau receives 70 percent of the room tax budget to promote tourism in the city.

The total budget for 2014 is $160,000, of which the Tourism Bureau will receive $112,000.

The budget for city tourism and beautification totals $43,500. The breakdown is:

--$10,000 for the Fourth of July fireworks display,

--$4,500 for downtown holiday lighting,

--$4,200 for the summer Lakefront Park concert series,

--$1,300 for lamppost banners,

--$2,500 for downtown flower baskets,

--$4,000 for the Octagon House museum,

--$8,000 for Willow River Cemetery,

--$2,500 for the Hudson Senior Citizens Center,

--$1,000 for the Veterans of Foreign Wars post,

--$2,500 for the Miss Hudson program,

--$2,000 for the Hudson Hot Air Affair, and

--$1,000 for The Phipps Center for the Arts.

In a later phone call, Finance Officer Neil Soltis said he expects 2013 room tax collections to total between $180,000 and $185,000. He said the final 2013 collections aren’t due until the end of January, and will be reported in February.

The room tax is expected to bring in at least as much money in 2014, barring another economic downturn.

Soltis said the fund has accumulated a surplus because revenues have grown in the past couple of years, while the City Council has kept allocations relatively flat. In addition, the city received a $13,000 refund from Xcel Energy in 2013 after an error in the electricity billing for downtown holiday lighting was discovered.

At the Jan. 13 meeting, Mayor Burchill suggested that the council consider using the $55,000 surplus on city projects that enhance Hudson’s appeal to visitors and residents.

Other action

In other business at its Jan. 13 meeting, the council:

--Renewed a one-year contract with the Animal Humane Society of Woodbury for housing stray and abandoned animals captured in Hudson minus proposed language that would have allowed the society to sterilize cats and return them “to the outdoors to live independently.” The council hasn’t decided yet whether to accept an organization’s proposal to operate a program that would capture, sterilize and release feral cats. Mayor Burchill said a wildlife biologist has asked to address the council on the issue, and will be doing so in February.

The standard stray holding fee per dog or cat for 2014 is $135, a $5 increase from 2013. The charge for other domestic animals not reclaimed by their owners is $41 per animal.

--Rejected PassPort Parking’s request for an increase in the fee the company charges for motorists who pay for parking at metered stalls by smartphone or computer. The company said the processing fee for each transaction was increasing to 30 cents, plus an additional 2.9 percent of the amount paid for parking. It has been a straight 15 cents per transaction.

The council recently approved expanding the program from the Phipps Lot to the entire downtown. But it decided to drop the program instead of going along with the fee increase, which would have cut into the parking revenue collected by the city. The council said PassPort could continue to operate the Phipps Lot pilot program while it tries to find a way around the increased fees charged by a new vendor.

--Approved installing two new streetlights on Industrial Street between Mayer Road and Hanley Road. Public Works Director Tom Zeuli reported that the distance between the streetlights at the two intersections was nearly 1,300 feet, while the normal distance between lighted intersections is 350 to 400 feet. The council also added a streetlight near a walking path to Hudson Middle School on the west side of Carmichael Road.

The cost of installing the two Industrial Street lights is expected to be about $1,800. The estimated cost of the Carmichael Road light is $730.

Mayor Burchill cautioned that each city streetlight uses about $20 worth of electricity per month. People like well-lit streets, he said, but it costs money.

--Disallowed a claim for damages from Gary and Cheryl Edholm, 715 Fourth St. The Edholms say their driveway, garage floor, shop floor and house were damaged by flooding from heavy rain on June 21, 2013. The city has had “actual knowledge” of the continuing problems with flooding on the Edholm property since at least 2011, the Edholms said in their claim. It says the city failed to change the street grade between the alley and Fifth Street to prevent any overflow from Elm Street, as was suggested in a March 2006 feasibility study. Citizens must file a claim against a local government before suing for damages.

--Approved a $93,800 agreement with Foth Infrastructure and Environment for engineering services related to the city’s 2014 street improvement projects. The preliminary field investigation will cost an estimated $12,900 (billed at an hourly rate). The firm is charging $37,800 for the design work, and $43,100 for the construction supervision.

--Approved the appointment of Marian Webber and Heidi Leeson as Democratic election inspectors, and removed Rebecca Bonesteel, Annette DeWitte, Jean Becker and Alyce Ferguson from the list of Democratic inspector nominees. Robert Nelson was removed from the list of Republican election inspector nominees.

--Approved using paper ballots for the Feb. 18 spring primary election, which will consist of one contest for the County Board in Supervisory District 6.

--Heard Police Chief Marty Jensen report that 21 citations for snowplowing event violations were issued for the event called on Dec. 5. Jensen said nine tickets for violating the 24-hour parking limit had been issued since Dec. 5. Six of those vehicles were towed to the city impound lot, Jensen reported.

--Renewed the secondhand jewelry dealer and secondhand article dealer licenses for North Country Gold & Silver and LaCroix Consignment.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

(715) 426-1066