The city of St. Charles hopes Winona County will give it a discounted $1 million loan and a $100,000 contribution for a proposed fire station expansion. On Tuesday, the Winona County Board will consider the deal.
The project would move the ambulance service from city hall to the existing fire station, expand the current fire station with larger garages to accommodate big new fire trucks and added training space, and renovate the ambulance service offices at city hall into an expanded police department wing. The new police department wing would also be equipped to serve as a backup dispatch and emergency command center for Winona County in the event a disaster ever disabled the Law Enforcement Center in Winona.
In November, St. Charles will seek voter approval for $1.8 million in bonds for the project. Originally, the borrowing project would have only required approval by three-fifths of the City Council; however, citizens protested the cost and filed a petition forcing the issue to be decided in a referendum.
Last week, city staff sent a letter requesting that Winona County purchase $1 million of the city's bonds for the project at a below-market interest rates — a fixed rate of 1.5 percent over 20 years — and allocate $100,000 for the project.
According to city representatives, St. Charles currently holds a AA- bond rating. Per state law, local governments can purchase debt from other local governments that have an A rating or better.
If the city can secure discounted financing for the project and a contribution from the county, it will ease the cost to St. Charles property owners. "The city is fighting for every penny to ensure a successful passage of the referendum," wrote the city's financial consultant Mike Bubany in a letter to the county.
This project would help the whole county by providing better fire and emergency services to the rural areas surrounding St. Charles and by providing a backup to the county's emergency operations, said Mayor Bill Spitzer, who will retire at the end of the year and is a candidate for Winona County Sheriff. Spitzer said that a few years ago, the county's emergency manager had asked if St. Charles would be willing to host such a backup dispatch and command center, but at the time the resources to establish one were not available.
Sheriff Dave Brand said that weighing the costs and benefits of this particular proposal would be up to the County Board, but that the county has been interested in a backup dispatch station.
In his letter to the county, Bubany asked that the County Board consider and respond to the requests as soon as possible because the city needs to begin promoting the referendum before the November election.