City looks back on productive year with hopeful eye on 2021 by John McLoone “2020. Enough said. Right?” Those works of City of Hastings Parks and Recreation Director Chris Jenkins in the Hastings …
City looks back on productive year with hopeful eye on 2021
by John McLoone
“2020. Enough said. Right?”
Those works of City of Hastings Parks and Recreation Director Chris Jenkins in the Hastings State of the City virtual presentation last Wednesday certainly ring true. But the city had a lot to celebrate on the day and ambitious plans for 2021.
Mayor Mary Fasbender kicked off the half-hour program with remarks.
“The theme of this year’s address is responsiveness and resilience to the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. “This has been a very difficult year for our community, for our schools, employees, employers, families and service organizations as we have had to pull together to respond to the realties, executive orders and needs of the community.”
It all came down to this for Hastings and every community: “We’ve had to pull together,” said Fasbender.
She credited city council members including Joe Balsanek who finished his term in office after 12 years on the council.
“He was part of many projects throughout the community,” she said.
She thanked the organizations the city worked closely with, elected officials U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, State Sen. Karla Bigham and State Rep. Tony Jurgens for pulling together with Hastings. She gave credit for partnerships with Dakota County and community organizations like the Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce “for working with our in support of our community.”
“Last but not least, thank you to our staff,” she said. “Every department in the city re-engineered and reimagined the way it provided its services to the Hastings community.”
To staff, Fasbender said, “You are all to be commended for your service.”
And while there were challenges, there were “bright spots.”
“Families decorated their doors and garages with hearts, store fronts were filled with positive messages and sidewalks were decorated with chalk art. School buses delivered lunches to kids at home. Restaurants got creative with take out menus. Many of our businesses and organizations pulled together on food and donation drives,” the mayor continued. “Our staff innovated to develop online park programming…Our firefighters brought fire safety to elementary schools outdoors. We looked for creative ways to share important ant messages, like partnering with the Chamber of Commerce with an advertising campaign with a masked Raider to encourage safe shopping. We engaged with the Unit- ed Way to get the word out about funds for non-profit organizations that were impacted by COVID-19.”
Events were held, such as a holiday light map and countless other events.
“Many of you participated in these events that brought our community together,” said Fasbender.
So, it was a tough year, but Fasbender pointed out the positives that came from the adversity.
“I choose to look at the good I see throughout the community. Bravo Hastings. Give yourself a pat on the back for stepping up to help those in need,” she said, turning the presentation over to City Administrator Dan Wietecha, who echoed sentiments about the hard work of city staff.
Wietecha started in Hastings about a year ago, he said.
“Although this hasn’t been what I expected, much of it has been very good. I’ve been awed by our city staff and their efforts this year. See Bravo Hastings page 5
Mayor Mary Fasbender gave her remarks in the Hastings State of the City Address Bravo Hastings
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“They had to figure out new ways to approach their work, to adapt and to adapt yet again. They showed creativity and an ‘I can do that’ approach that never failed,” he said. “I am proud of our people and their service everyday.”
The city made changes to its services, with plexiglass, sanitizer and personal protective equipment. The city council moved to Zoom online meetings.
“A significant amount of time was also devoted to administering election duties and to ensuring city residents could vote in a safe and timely manner,” he said.
Wietecha credited Julie Flaten, city administrative coordinator, with her hard work this year, overseeing elections and city departments affected by COVID-19.
The pandemic certainly had an affect on city finances.
“COVID-19 injected a great deal of uncertainty in the city finances. We instituted a hiring freeze over the summer and clamped down on spending in 2020,” he said. “When budgeting for 2021, the city adopted a hold-the-line budget, focusing on painting existing service levels.”
This year, the city has important capital projects planned, and will utilize state bonding for the city hall dome renovation project and the Hwy. 316 rebuild.
The city administered $1.7 million in federal CARES Act funding that covered city expenses incurred because of COVID-19 and provided economic relief for businesses and community organizations.
Here are highlights from remarks of other key staff department heads.
John Hinzman, Community Development Director “Assisting our local businesses with the operational challenging of COVID-19 was our top priority of 2020,” he said, noting that the Hastings Economic Development and Redevelopment Authority worked closely with businesses and organizations to help where it was needed.
“In spring, HEDRA provided $185,000 in funding to over 60 businesses. In the fall, another $250,000 was provided to 25 businesses. Outstanding HEDRA loan payments were deferred for the entire year resulting in the savings of over $40,000 to local businesses. HEDRA worked closely with the Hastings Downtown Business Association and the Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce to install barricades to allow expanded outdoor restaurant seating and for the closure of Second Street during the weekends,” he said. “Despite challenges of COVID-19, four new restaurants are currently renovating space and planning on opening in 2021.”
This year will also bring many new residences to the city, noting that there are 300 new housing units underway.
“2021 should be a busy construction year for new housing,” Hinzman said.
Police Chief Bryan Schafer “2020 was a challenging year for all. Our police officers were faced with adversity like never before with the onset of COVID-19 and civic unrest. Our staff adapted admirably wit little interruption in service to our citizens,” said Schafer.
While some patrols were scaled back, police also made their presence known in a positive way.
“By participating in birthday parades, the Hastings High School Teacher Appreciation, high school graduation and the city’s light parade with our decorated mobile command vehicle, we did our best to show our support,” said Schafer. “Despite the obstacles faced, our daily work, training, hiring and retiring didn’t cease. Officers still responded to 23,000 calls for service, participated in over 1,600 hours of training, processed 3,300 cases and welcomed new body-warn camera technology.”
In 2021, the department is preparing for unrest with the trials slated for Minneapolis officers in the death of George Floyd.
“We are preparing for the possibility of civil unrest,” said Schafer.
He concluded: “I applaud the citizen of Hastings for their patience, respectfulness and overwhelming support in 2020. Your support empowers our officers to go out every day and do great work under difficult circumstances. I couldn’t be more proud of our department. Regardless of what 2021 brings, we vote to make this community safe.”
Fire Chief John Townsend Townsend reported that the city still had 2,238 EMS calls and 448 fire calls this past year.
A new fire truck will be purchased this year and radio systems will be upgraded.
“We will be saying goodbye and thank you to our Medical Director Larry Erickson, who will be retiring after 40 years,” said Townsend.
He submitted his resignation in January, and the city will utilize Allina Health for its medical director position.
“We will continue to evaluate our department in order to provide the best service to our community,” he said, as staffing levels and response times are studied.
Parks and Recreation Director Chris Jenkins.
“It certainly was a challenging year for everyone, and the Parks and Recreation Department was no different,” he said. “I’m proud of each and every member of our staff, and it is my pleasure to work with these fine folks everyday.”
The city had to make the tough decision not to open the popular Hastings Family Aquatic Center because of the pandemic, but worked in other ways to provide family activities.
He’s hopeful for the aquatic center opening this year.
“We hope to see their smiling faces in 2021,” he said.
The department also worked to manage Levee park summer events with social distancing protocols in place.
Public Works Director Nick Egger Egger said the Hwy. 316 project will start within months.
“Work on this transformative project is expected to begin in the late spring,” he said.
Work on rebuilding 15th Street was a big project last year, and reconstruction this year will take place on parts Westview Drive, Southview Drive. W. Firth Street and Old Mill Court.
Fasbender concluded the program with a look toward a better 2021.
“I truly look forward to a brighter 2021 and continuing to serve as your mayor,” she said. “I encourage you to remain vigilant and hopeful as we continue with this pandemic. Please don’t hesitate to contact staff, myself or our city council members with the needs you have.”