By Lynda Jensen
DASSEL, MN Cracked and disjointed sidewalks were the focus of attention for the Dassel City Council during its regular meeting last Monday.
An inspection done recently by council members Jason Benzing and Pat Haapala revealed numerous sidewalks that are in disrepair, along with some sidewalks that lead to nowhere or are simply disappearing.
To address this issue, the council will be calling a public hearing in the near future to review its assessment policy, which will be used to assess costs against property owners with sidewalks on their property if work is decided to be done there.
During the meeting, Council Member Jason Benzing reported on the recent findings, along with a map of where problem areas were.
“There is a lot of federal funding and grants available,” Benzing said, especially for exercise trails, and trails that go to schools and ballparks.
Benzing noted that if a sidewalk had a drop of three-fourths of an inch, it was flagged. Pitting, irregular patching and other problems were also noted.
“They’ve been a problem for a long time,” Mayor Mike Scanlon observed. He indicated that a consistent assessment rate should be set soon in order to address the sidewalks.
He also mentioned that a recent article in the League of Minnesota Cities magazine advised cities to replace sidewalks with asphalt, since there is more money available for trail-type pathways, or to remove the sidewalks entirely.
Benzing said it didn’t make sense to have sidewalks on both sides of the street.
A hearing will be set to address this subject in the future.
Anyone with comments about the sidewalks should contact Benzing: e-mail - firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: twitter.com/JasonBenzing (he has started tweeting all of his Dassel-related tasks), Facebook: www.facebook.com/Dassel.Jason (his tweets post there, too.), or call (320) 275-9939 (leave a voice mail).
Good news for LGA
Turning to other subjects, the council heard that its cut from Local Government Aid would be $31,000 instead of $72,000, as expected. This was hailed as good news.
More good news included the reduction in cost of radio upgrades from $72,000 to $18,170; primarily for the fire department to use 800 mHz frequencies.
This was the result of grants received by Meeker County. “That was very nice to hear,” Scanlon said.
Serious cuts looked at, including contracting for public works
Before Monday’s meeting, the budget looked grim, with McGrath noting that the city was looking at a shortfall of $224,000 within a two-year period.
This would have been in excess of 10 percent of the city’s annual budget when averaged over two years. “The decreases in LGA are most likely going to be permanent,” McGrath noted.
To formulate a cure for this, the city looked at all aspects of city services for serious cuts during a work session last month, such as eliminating up to 80 percent of public works and replacing it with contract services.
This would have meant plowing and mowing would be contracted out.
This idea was tabled at the meeting last Monday, with McGrath saying he needed more specific details about what the council wanted in order to come up with savings estimates, as he was instructed to do.
The cutbacks also cast a shadow upon the Dassel History Center.
During her monthly report, Museum Director Carolyn Holje urgently reminded the council of Dassel’s positive points, saying the DAHS was working on a marketing strategy. She went door-to-door to each business, asking for their support to promote the community.
She said that Dassel needs to be a destination and it should be a priority to fix up main street and keep the city clean. Niche stores are important, too.
The economy should not close down the community, she said. Everyone should discuss and evaluate where the community should go, she added.
Scanlon asked her if the chamber was aware of her endeavors, and she answered no.
“Usually that would be the chamber’s function,’ Scanlon noted.
Council member does not accept pay
Benzing will not be accepting council member’s pay, which amounts to $387.50 quarterly.
“The city council salary isn’t very large, and I could sure use the extra money,” Benzing noted. “But, I didn’t ask to become a member of the council as a part-time job. With the current budget situation, I feel that giving up the salary while working even harder to overcome the issues we are facing, without losing quality in the services we provide or raising taxes, is simply the right thing to do,” he added.
Odds and ends
In other subjects, the council:
• directed McGrath to prepare a draft ordinance regarding charging $250 for fire department responses. He will consult with other cities for this.
• approved a street dance request to the Dassel Fire Department for Saturday, June 19 from noon to 1 a.m. in front of Thirsty’s on Atlantic. “They are well done and well run,” Scanlon said.
• noted that the convention for the League of Minnesota Cities will be Wednesday through Friday, June 23-25 at St. Cloud, and that there was much to talk about, such as cuts to LGA. McGrath and Scanlon plan to attend.
• tabled a request by the fire department to change its bylaws regarding the hiring process for the department and a section regarding physicals.
The department wishes to open up the process year-round instead of just January and July, McGrath noted. It also wanted to not force members to pay for physicals every year to recertify, which is an uneccessary cost. Benzing said he thought this might be perceived as playing favorites without consistency to everyone.
The language was ambiguous, and Scanlon said it should be sent back to the department for changes.
• observed that the school was having a meeting with parents that night to discuss picking up children alongside the elementary building.
During her report, deputy Sara Miller said she had to warn one parent who stopped in the middle of the traffic lane to pick up a student, but otherwise cars didn’t stop in the active lane of traffic and everything went smoothly.
• talked about installing garbage cans downtown so that people walking could dispose of unwanted items. This was broached by Benzing, who noticed the lack of trash receptacles while walking there recently.
• set the city-wide cleanup day as Saturday, May 22.
• will meet with the EDA this week to discuss how to promote and lease the empty portion of the city’s liquor store building. A real estate representative will likely be secured.
• noted that a quorum might be present during a program hosted by Augustana Thursday evening.
• heard that the public works department was honored with an award by the MPCA. This is the tenth award received from the MPCA.