By Lynda Jensen
COKATO, MN Juvenile crime in Cokato rose sharply in 2008, but is on track for fewer offenses this year, according to a report from Wright County Court Services, heard by the Cokato City Council last Monday evening.
“We’ve been seeing a spike of activity out here,” reported juvenile probation supervisor Abe Abrahamson of Wright County Court Services (the probation department), referring to Cokato.
Of the 42 juvenile delinquents currently in the system who are serviced inside an area shared by Annandale, Maple Lake, and Cokato, 22 are from Cokato, which is a high ratio, he said.
Despite the bad news, Abrahamson underlined positive sentiments. “We firmly believe that young people can change,” he added, saying that they are different from adults in that they aren’t set in their ways yet.
Wright County offers good resources, and there are a variety of ways to deal with the problem as well. He added that the word probation means to “prove yourself.”
Nevertheless, of the 1,000 students in grades seven-12 with Cokato addresses who attend Dassel-Cokato School District, 6 percent are on active supervision in his department, which is high, he noted. However, this means 940 kids are making good choices, he added.
Abrahamson encouraged a council member to attend the next Safe Schools Initiative meeting, which is where school officials, concerned people, and law enforcement meet to talk about community-wide issues. All 10 districts in Wright County meet on a regular basis as part of this program, he added.
The next meeting for DC is at 10:30 a.m., Wednesday, May 20 at the PAC. The meetings lapse for the summer and then begin again in the fall.
After Abrahamson spoke, Sgt. Scott Halonen of the Wright County Sheriff’s Department added comments about both adult and juvenile crime in Cokato, as well. “The year 2008 was a very active year criminally in Cokato,” Halonen said. Burglaries were up, as well as other property crimes; all of which were “astronomically high,” he said. There were numerous arrests, as well. “It was a tough year for crimes and a good year for arrests,” he said.
“There were quite a few adult felony crimes,” Halonen said. “We are hoping 2009 will be better, and so far, this has been the case.”
Both Halonen and Abrahamson previously visited with the Police Advisory Commission, and returned to revisit concerns raised there about these issues.
Library expansion committee formed
Mary Ackerman and Librarian Sheila Reike attended the meeting to talk about library expansion. The following committee was appointed by the council: Reike, Ackerman (as a member of Friends of the Library), Mike Worcester of the museum, which shares that building; Chuck Miller of the EDA, Mayor Bruce Johnson, and resident Bob Gasch.
Gordy Erickson noted that it wasn’t good timing to expand the library, with the public safety building being looked at. Others made suggestions such as removing walls from the Centennial Room and similar ideas. Reike said that grants can be obtained for expansion.
During its last meeting, the Friends of the Library convened at the old Ben Franklin building, next to Keaveny Drug, which has been the subject of interest by many for a possible new home for the library. Resident Tom Keaveny spoke, asking the council how it felt about that location, since he owns it.
Parking was brought up, with Keaveny saying the city owns that lot already. What happens when library patrons fill up the lot? he was asked. State Bank has six or seven stalls in the back available for Keaveny Drug, he answered.
It was thought that this spot might not be good for children. “Some don’t want to see the library in the heart of the city,” Johnson said.
To put up a new building would be $1.2 million, Keaveny pointed out. “I have a building feasible for them right downtown, with good parking,” he said.
“We have to keep the downtown solid,” Keaveny said.
It was decided to have the newly formed committee research the issue and bring back options.
Feral cats at large
The council was visited by resident Christine Lawyer, who reported a disturbing increase in the number of feral cats that are near her property.
She has degrees in zoology and related fields, and enjoys nature. When she and her husband originally bought their property years ago, they built an area conducive to wild birds and small wildlife on their property.
She used to set out a trap once in a while, whenever she sighted loose cats, to prevent them from preying on her birds.
But recently, she has found the need to set the trap out every day, with her recent catch being nine cats since January, of which seven were feral. The feral cats are filthy and full of fleas, mangy, and obviously without a homeowner.
She asked the council to enact an ordinance that addressed cats. The cats transmit disease and use flower beds and children’s sandboxes to urinate. This spreads disease. In addition, she felt that an ordinance would dissuade people from leaving their cats run loose.
Council Member Butch Amundsen pointed out that feral cats won’t dissuade a homeowner that doesn’t exist. She answered that if they were controlled, eventually they would become fewer in number. This subject will be revisited in the future.
Follow-up discussion took place about the recent Bike Path meeting, with Amundsen noting that Dassel was on board, but Cokato has not discussed the issue enough, and doesn’t have firm numbers, in order to take a stand yet on the issue.
Tentatively, it looks like each entity would pay about $15,000 each, if the consortium of cities, townships, and school decided to go with the five-way split.
“One of the townships doesn’t trust engineers,” he observed. It was noted that Collinwood Township is willing to contribute toward the path, despite is lack of frontage.
Nevertheless, “the enthusiasm is there,” Amundsen said. The issue will be discussed again at the next joint meeting.
Johnson expressed a bit of frustration with a handful of properties that were out of compliance with the blight ordinance.
“We have helped some of them do so much, and then the next year, it’s just the same,” Johnson said. When there’s grease all over the floor and people are dismantling television sets in their driveway, it’s a big problem, he noted. “It’s just simply not Cokato,” he added.
A final notice was sent to 290 Fourth St. SE, for a property owned by Tom Harpole, who has been ordered to “remove serious health and safety issues no later than noon Friday, May 15.”
The next step is court action. “That might be the only thing they understand,” Johnson said.
Pool fees to increase
The council enacted pool fee increases for the following: daily passes will go from $2 to $4, 10-punch bonus passes will go from $18 to $20, single passes will go from $40 to $50, and family passes will go from $80 to $100.
It was noted that it has been about six or seven years since the city raised its rates, and that the increases still won’t balance the books for the budget.
The council hired life guards for the pending season, but noted it was still without a pool manager.
Odds and ends:
In other business, the council:
• heard from Ken Bakke of public works, who noted that there are 10 areas that need patching, of which two are fairly large; in front of the school, and at Second Street where there was a sewer break.
“I’m holding off on doing anything,” Bakke noted, due to the economy. However, he observed that last year, the roads took a beating. “They broke up pretty bad,” he said. “This year, not so much.”
• were notified by Burlington Northern Sante Fe railroad that its trains will be increasing speed as they move through town.
• heard from Council Member Wayne Murphy, who recognized Bakke for a recent award given by the PCA for excellent wastewater treatment operation.
• granted two temporary on-sale liquor licenses to Iron Horse. The first is for a motorcycle run Saturday, July 25 from 2 p.m. to midnight. The second is for a gathering Saturday, Aug. 8 for the same time frame. Amundsen quizzed co-owner Stacey Determan about how many licenses she needed, since he felt that the bar was “spilling out onto the street and parking lot.” He asked if this was going to be a monthly thing. She said no, and pointed out that she had only asked for two temporary licenses last year. The requests were approved.
• approved a joint resolution for orderly annexation with Cokato Township on behalf of David and Jeanne Mages, at 610 East Cokato St. The agreement was originally approved in 1993, but it was discovered an incorrect legal description was used. Cokato Township is in full agreement and was expected to approve the contract that night, the council was told.
• appointed the following people: Debbie Hendrickson to the park board, Jesse Bunker to the police advisory commission, and Chris Schultz to the Economic Development Authority. Hendrickson was picked over Sue Keskey and Paul Keskey, who also applied for the park board.
• hired Herald Journal Publishing for $3,800 in web work that would serve several city entities as well as the Cokato Chamber. Kurt Dahlin spent a fair amount of time researching the options and the newspaper had the best price and services. “Herald Journal does an excellent job,” Amundsen said.
• heard that Museum Director Mike Worcester was able to obtain a grant for $1,950 from the Minnesota Historical Society to be used toward the Akerlund Studio.
• approved a low-interest loan from the county for installation and purchase of radios for the public works department as part of the countywide upgrade to 800 mgh radios. The switchover can be done as soon as June or July, but will likely happen in October when the rest of the county converts over. The loan is for about $35,000 over three years for 3.75 percent. To this end, the city approved bids from Granite Electronics for new radios and to do installation.
• approved a request by Dennis Hendrickson to support National Night Out, which will be Aug. 4 this year. Sue Keskey is again coordinating the event this year, but it will be the last time she does this. It was decided to send her a letter of appreciation.
• refined an existing ordinance to list more clearly who will be dealing with new businesses interested in locating to Cokato. Three will work on this: the mayor, a representative from EDA, and the planning and zoning chair.