Historical perspective – 25 years ago
St. Joseph eyes
for water tower
by Stuart Goldschen
A St. Joseph campaign to secure federal funds for a new city water storage tower is officially underway this weekend with city officials conspicuously on the front lines.
Beginning tomorrow, March 16 (1991), members of the St. Joseph City Council and City Planning Commission will personally walk door-to-door to the city’s 600 residences with an appeal for help. They will continue to canvass the community through March 22.
The officials will ask residents to fill out a short community-needs survey questionnaire that is deemed vital for the success of the city’s bid for a $600,000 grant to build the tower.
The money, administered by the state through the Small Cities Development Grant Program, would pay for about half of the estimated $1.2 million, 500,000-gallon tower. A new tower will replace the existing 50,000-gallon structure, which was built in 1949 and is now considered insufficient for the growing needs of the city.
City officials say the storage capacity of the current tower is so low there would not be enough water available at any given time to put out a large fire. They say there have been instances in the high-use summer months when house taps ran dry.
The survey questionnaire was prepared by Denise Beigbeder, a professional St. Paul grant writer whom the city is hiring to write the grant and facilitate its passage through official channels, Beigbeder wrote the original rules for the state grant process and has been a member of the state panel reviewing grant applications.
The city council met with Beigbeder in a special session on Feb. 29 to discuss the details of submitting an application for the grant. Beigbeder said the city has a good chance of getting the money if the application contains a needs-survey study of the community in addition to other convincing arguments for the project.
The questionnaire contains five questions, which officials say will take only two or three minutes to answer in writing. Resident anonymity will be respected, and the survey forms will be treated like secret election ballots, according to a city spokesman.
City officials hope to receive a response rate of at least 50 percent. They will return to households where they received no response initially.
The survey asks for 1) the number of people in the household by age group, 2) ownership or rental status, 3) total household income in 1990 in one of 11 different brackets, 4) a short description of water service to the household, and 5) a list of felt needs for community development improvements.
Beigbeder said the survey is important to establish statistically the percentage of “low-to-moderate-income” residents in the city whom the grant money is intended to benefit. She said 51 percent must be in that category to qualify for the grant. An estimated 80 percent of residents in the greater St. Cloud area (including St. Joseph), she said, are believed to be in that category.
According to state standards, a low-to-moderate income is $26,700 for a household of four persons and $18,700 for a single-person household, Beigbeder said.
The city also must prove a legitimate need for the money, she said, to support its application in the face of heavy competition for the federal funds. She said six to 10 applications are usually approved each year.
Beigbeder said she hopes to complete the grant application by July 15 for preliminary review before submitting it officially on Sept. 1. She said grants will be awarded in February and project construction could begin the following spring or summer.
Beigbeder helped initiate a similar application for the St. Joseph water tower in 1989. It was unsuccessful, she said, because there was not enough time then to prepare a well-documented supporting brief.
The tower, if funding is approved, will be located adjacent to the railroad tracks near the intersection of College Avenue and Elm Street, north of Highway 75. Water transmission lines to service the increased city population will also be part of the project.
City officials are undecided about the means of paying for the estimated $600,000 costs of the tower project that will not be covered by the grant. One suggestion being considered is a raise in water rates to spread the burden equally throughout the community.
Those low-to-moderate-income households for whom the grant money is available are exempt from direct assessments for the project, Beigbeder said.
The city will base its case for a water tower grant on the growth of the community and the need to provide adequate fire protection at all times, according to city officials.
Councilman Leo Sadlo said the current tower must be filled four times a day during the summer and the available water is often insufficient to fight larger fires.
“If adequate water is not available for dousing fires, your insurance policy is dead,” he said. “It took every drop of water to extinguish the (St. Joseph) meat market fire (last year).”
City Engineer Joe Bettendorf said the three city water wells now have to be pumped 20 hours per day to keep up with water needs in the summer.
“I’m not trying to be an alarmist, but there’s a high risk factor in the summer in being able to fight fires,” he said. “There have been instances where we’ve run out of water and our fire-fighting capability is down to zero.”
Which led Mayor Steve Dehler to conclude, “if any project shows a need in St. Joseph, it’s this one.”