By John McLoone The Hastings State of the City address turned to the virtual format for the second year in a row, but COVID isn’t keeping the city down. Mayor Mary Fasbender and city staff gave a …
By John McLoone
The Hastings State of the City address turned to the virtual format for the second year in a row, but COVID isn’t keeping the city down. Mayor Mary Fasbender and city staff gave a 40-minute glimpse into accomplishments of the past year and big things coming in the production put together by the talented folks at Hastings Community TV.
“What a year it’s been as our community worked to return to a new normal, while also focusing on future growth,” said Fasbender in her introductory remarks. “It’s amazing how much we have collectively accomplished this past year.”
With multiple housing developments surrounding town and the promise of The Confluence development opening in 2022, there was plenty to talk about.
“We saw record growth in our number of housing units, as we added housing options for residents at all stages of life. We welcomed new businesses, even as some businesses unfortunately had to close. We secured a new tenant for the old Target retail space and look forward to welcoming Fleet Farm this coming fall. We also developed and strengthened partnerships with local businesses and community groups and supported our families and businesses through the pandemic.”
Fasbender stressed that the city has plenty of partners.
“We did all of this together. The City of Hastings has always been known for community. As a lifelong resident and business owner for more than 35 years, I have seen the unity in our community. We take care of one another. We sometimes experience challenges and setbacks,” Fasbender said.
She credited the work of the city council and city staff.
“We worked hard this year to outline a set of strategic priorities that will guide our work over the next couple years,” she said.
“I also want to thank the many volunteers who service on our city commissions and committees. In an age when civic engagement is waning, it’s hopeful to see so many using their time and talents to better our city,” said Fasbender.
She also pointed out partnerships with state and Dakota County officials.
“I also thank our elected officials, Rep. Angie Crag, Sen. Karla Bigham and Rep. Tony Jurgens for their efforts on behalf of Hastings this year. We are delighted to have their support on a number of projects, including Hwy. 316 improvements and the Capitol bonding request for updates at the Hastings Civic Arena. Thank you to our Dakota County Commissioners, including Mike Slavic for working with us on a number of initiatives that support our county, including vaccination clinics and testing sites, our local libraries, parks and trails.”
She pointed out the work of the business community and the Hastings Area chamber of Commerce on bringing tourism and industry to Hastings, as well as visitors to local festivals and events, including “the reimagined Rivertown Days.”
“Along with the support for our current economic development projects, like the new senior housing at Schoolhouse Square and the incoming Confluence Project will transform our city for current and future residents,” said Fasbender.
Here’s some highlights from city departments looking back on the past year and the big things to come.
City Administrator Dan Wietecha
“This has been a year of finding focus, and we are focusing on the future,” he said. “I’ve spoken before about how the reality of working in the pandemic has been different, and I am so proud that we have hardly missed a beat in providing city services to our residents and businesses over the past two years.”
He said the city worked on strategic planning last year.
“City council and the management team developed a set of strategic initiatives to help guide efforts and resources over the next couple of years,” said Wietecha. “The city council established four strategic priorities with initiatives for each priority.”
The priorities encompass all city departments and look to improve city services and community offerings.
He said that work start this spring on historic preservation of City Hall, and a rate study will be conducted to insure the future stability of the city utilities.
“I appreciate all of our employees for their dedication and effort every day. They are amazing,” said Wietecha.
Assistant City Administrator Kelly Murtagh Murtagh also oversees human resources and said an initiative is to enhance the diversity of city staff.
She also highlighted the mural painted downtown that paid tribute to the growing diversity in the Hastings community. The awarded proposal was by Daniela Bianchini and Pablo Diego Perez Riesco (aka Kalaka). The mosaic mural embraces the theme “Our Growing Diversity, Welcoming the Future,” according to the city website. A dedication event to welcome the mural was held in September.
Chris Eitemiller, Finance Manager
Eitemiller said federal American Rescue Plan Act Funds of $2.4 million were allocated to Hastings and will help offset budgetary losses as a result of the pandemic.
“The city has elected to focus on capital and infrastructure needs with this funding in 2022,” he said. “The city will enhance cybersecurity and fiscal management by funding a new accounting system and conduct cybersecurity testing,” he said.
“Looking forward, there are many possible uses for these funds that will help update the city’s infrastructure while saving local taxpayers money,” said Eitemisser.
He also highlighted the Community Investment Fund, a new initiative where the city is looking to partner with community organizations for improvements on city-owned land, such as parks.”
Community Development Director John Hinzman
Hinzman touched on the number of new residential developments underway and planned in Hastings, including apartments for seniors and new units in downtown Hastings.
“Future plans call for approximately 90 units near Third and Bailey Streets,” he said, of an apartment complex planned on the former UBC site downtown.
“Commercial and industrial growth were strong as well,” he said.
He also reported the purchase of buildings by the Hastings Economic Development and Redevelopment Authority along Vermillion Street.
“The block along the west side of Vermillion Street between Fourth and Fifth Street was identified as a priority site for redevelopment,” he said, and the former Country Nights and Rivertown Liquor building were purchased for future development.
Hastings Fire Chief John Townsend
“2021 waws a busy year with a wide variety of important projects,” reported Townsend.
Calls for service to the department were up 12.5 percent from 2020 in what was the busiest year in the department history. He said the department responded to 3,448 EMS calls and 701 fire calls.
He put out a call to the community for interested citizens to consider joining the department.
“We need more firefighters to serve our community and welcome anyone who has an interest to reach out and learn more,” he said.
Police Chief Bryan Schaffer
“2021 was yet another unpredictable and challenging year. Despite the challenges, we forged ahead by providing uninterrupted professional service to our citizens. Our daily work, training, hiring and retirements didn’t cease,” said Schaffer.
He said officers responded to more than 24,000 calls for service, participated in 1,600 hours of training, while processing 2,800 cases.
“Police officer training was taken to a new level as we began utilizing the new HERO center in Cottage Grove, a state-of-the-art immersive training center and the largest in the state of Minnesota,” said Schaffer.
Schaffer leaves the department in May. “Last but not least, I will be retiring on May 29, spending nearly 40 years in law enforcement service, eight-and-a-half of those years as your police chief,” he said. “I leave you with a strong and capable staff prepared to lead you into the future.”
“I applaud the citizens of Hastings for the patience, respectfulness and overwhelming support during my tenure and ask that you continue to support my successor and the men and women of the HPD moving forward.”
Public Works Director Ryan Stempski
It was a busy year of roadwork.
“I’m happy to report that we successfully completed a second phase of a two-year reconstruction program of 15th Street which is a major east-west collector road across town. We now have a new street section with rehabilitated or replaced sewer and water systems along this critical corridor,” he said. “Furthermore, we have increased bike and pedestrian safety by completing the full width sidewalk that is separated from the street with a boulevard and improved critical pedestrian crossing.”
He also touched upon Hwy. 316. “Hwy 316 within the city limits also had a major reconstruction completed in 2021. The partnership project led by MnDOT was the result of listening to concerns from the community along this complex roadway,” said Stempski. “316 carries a high volume of vehicles that conflict with a high number of access points. The corridor also had excessive speeding concerns and a critical crash rate to be addressed. The improvements included a concrete median, now making 316 a divided highway, combined with three compact roundabouts to slow speeds and allow safe access to the corridor.”
MnDOT has some finishing touch projects to complete there this spring.
Parks and Recreation Director Chris Jenkins “2021 certainly had its challenges, and I’m proud to say that our entire Parks and Recreation staff stepped up to the plate and hit some home runs,” he said. “Thankfully, we were able to open the Hastings Family Aquatic Center this year, and it was an awesome season. Residents of Hastings and surrounding communities packed the pool almost every day of the summer season, and we recorded record attendance levels.”
He credited volunteers for helping with park and trail clean-up and thanked those who supported music and other programming in parks throughout the year. He’s hopeful that state funding is provided to help with the major renovation project slated at the Hastings Civic Arena.