Tuesday, October 23, 2018

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Eau Claire City Council allocates more money for trains

Funds earmarked for locomotive’s return, safer crossings

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    Train and truck collision at Hogarth Street in Eau Claire on September 5. The Eau Claire City Council is moving to allocate more money toward trains to make crossings safer.

    Staff photo by Dan Reiland
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The city is setting aside more money to bring an old train back to Eau Claire and make active railroad crossings safer.

The City Council made a few changes Tuesday afternoon before approving a plan for capital projects that Eau Claire intends to undertake in the next five years.

Councilman David Strobel assisted by Councilman Jeremy Gragert sponsored an effort to put $100,000 toward the return of a historic train locomotive and tender that the city regained ownership of earlier this year.

“We own a train,” Strobel said. “Bringing it back here was meant to be a public/​private partnership.”

He said the city can help fund transporting Soo Line No. 2719 back to Eau Claire from a Duluth, Minn., railroad museum where it’s been for several years, while a group that’s working on fundraising would work toward a shelter and permanent display site for the train cars.

Allocating money toward transporting the train cars was made possible by delaying the addition of a “lily-pad walk” in Fairfax Park Pool from until 2020 and postponing painting of support beams in Hobbs Ice Center.

Strobel and Gragert’s proposal won in an 8-1 council vote. Councilwoman Emily Berge opposed it, citing constituents who said they don’t support the historic locomotive project.

Train crossings

A $400,000 project slated in 2020 to create a quiet zone at the railroad crossing at Putnam Street has grown into a $1 million effort to improve safety at multiple crossings on the city’s north side.

Councilwomen Emily Berge and Kate Beaton won support of colleagues in a 9-0 vote to amend the city’s long-term projects plan by adding $600,000 in 2021 for safety improvements at more railroad crossings.

“Residents came to me with their concerns and issues about railroad crossings,” said Berge, who represents the city’s north side.

The railroad is under orders for safety improvements at three crossings in Eau Claire already, she said, but there are an additional four that should be addressed, including one that had a recent fatality.

Truck driver Scott Swartz, 35, of Eau Claire died Sept. 5 when a train struck his truck where Hogarth Street crosses the Union Pacific railroad tracks.

New park

Berge and Beaton also got a budget amendment to put $20,000 next year toward planning a new park for Princeton Valley neighborhood residents.

Berge noted that the neighborhood has been seeking a park for decades and land for one was dedicated for the cause this summer as part of an agreement with a developer.

But the request faced added scrutiny because it would come at the expense of delaying a $30,000 project for refurbishing well pump equipment that supplies 1 million gallons of water a day to Half Moon Lake. That pump project went from being funded in 2019 to 2020.

The park planning project was approved in an 8-1 vote with Councilwoman Jill Christopherson voting against it.

After those changes the council voted 9-0 to approve the city’s 2019-2023 Capital Improvement Plan, which has about $47 million in projects that will become part of next year’s budget.

Operations challenges

Following Tuesday’s regular meeting, council members had a work session on the 2019 budget, getting their introduction to city Manager Dale Peters’ proposal for next year’s revenues and spending for day-to-day operations.

“If there is a message here, although we’re doing well and making it work, long-term it’s not sustainable,” Peters told the council.

He said revenues aren’t keeping pace with demand for services in the community, despite its growth. Cities have had the amount of property taxes they collect limited by the state for several years to an amount equal to new construction.

“Essentially net new construction has not kept up with inflation,” Peters said. “It doesn’t provide the resources for the new service demands that comes with that growth.”

Peters’ proposed balanced 2019 budget has no new positions for the city, despite requests from several departments. More details on the budget will be explained to the council during work sessions on Oct. 17 and 23. Next year’s budget will have a public hearing on Nov. 12 before a council vote on Nov. 13.

Contact: 715-833-9204, andrew.dowd@ecpc.com, @ADowd_LT on Twitter


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