By Jennifer Kotila
HOWARD LAKE, MN After several residents addressed Howard Lake City Council at Tuesday’s meeting to say they do not want a sidewalk in front of their homes, the council decided to eliminate many of the new sidewalks in the street and utility improvement project.
The concerns that the residents have is the added snow removal in the winter, saying they could barely get their driveways cleared, let alone a sidewalk running the length of their property.
Some were also concerned with how much of their front yard would be taken with a new sidewalk.
“All the proposed sidewalks are within the city’s right-of-way,” said city engineer Barry Glienke of Bolton & Menk.
The residents said that walking on the street, as people have been doing, is fine because the streets are wide enough where the sidewalks are proposed.
“It’s a safety issue. Are we supposed to wait for someone to die before we add sidewalks? I think it’s important to have sidewalks there for safety,” said Council Member Pete Zimmerman.
Mayor Rick Lammers noted the council cannot put a price tag on safety, agreeing with Zimerman about the safety issue, saying adding sidewalks was money well-spent.
“We are trying to create a network to be able to get from one area of town to another safely,” said City Administrator Kelly Hinnenkamp. “When we looked at the main pathways, we looked at people getting to Memorial Park.”
With the resistance the council and city staff have been receiving from residents about the sidewalks, it has been brought before the council to reconsider the walking paths to see where they should go, Hinnenkamp added.
“The issue becomes larger if we say to eliminate the sidewalks in front of 20 homeowners, we have to look at the network,” Hinnenkamp said.
Some of the residents kept telling the council that nobody in Howard Lake wants sidewalks, and nobody would use them anyway.
“I understand your personal reasons for not wanting the sidewalks, and, honestly, I don’t care anymore. I think they’re valuable,” Zimmerman said.
“I’m frustrated because we have been talking about the plan for a long time and now you come forward after the project has started. To say that no one’s going to use the sidewalks is a pretty grand statement, I think is false,” Zimmerman added.
With pressure from the residents at the council meeting, the council decided to eliminate many of the new sidewalks proposed in the plan.
In the original plan, new sidewalks would have been constructed on both sides of Ninth Street from Eighth Avenue to 10th Avenue, and on the south side of Ninth Street from 10th Avenue to 11th Avenue.
New sidewalks were also planned to be constructed on both sides of Ninth Avenue from Ninth Street to Security State Bank; on both sides of 10th Avenue from Ninth Street to Seventh Street; and on both sides of Seventh Street from Eighth Avenue to 10th Avenue.
The new plan will eliminate all the new sidewalks along 10th Avenue; all the sidewalks on the west side of Ninth Avenue between Ninth Street and Seventh Street; and all the sidewalks on the south side of Ninth Avenue west of Yager Field.
The council directed Glienke to create a change order for the street and utility improvement project eliminating the sidewalks.
Further investigation to take place for HL liquor store thefts
The council approved city staff to further investigate the thefts that took place at the Howard Lake Municipal Liquor Store by former manager Aaron DeMarais.
Howard Lake carries bond coverage for all city employees, which includes recovery for proven losses by employee theft, Hinnenkamp said at Tuesday’s meeting.
According to the Howard Lake Police report, the police department’s investigation found approximatley $600 in fake sales during a three-week time period, approximately $3,500 in adjustments between 2 and 4:30 p.m. over a six-month period, and approximately $21,000 in adjustments from 2 to 4:30 p.m. since December 2007.
The options for the council were to do no further investigation and submit the police findings to its bond coverage; have city staff do further investigation to account for product purchased and sold to determine loss; or have the city’s auditors investigate the losses.
If the council decided to do no further investigation and simply submitted the police findings, it would not take into account any theft done outside of the two-and-one-half-hour time period the police used in their investigation and may not be solid enough for bond coverage to reimburse the city, Hinnenkamp said.
Using the city’s auditors to further investigate would cost the city additional money, some of which could be claimed with the bond coverage or in restitution, but it would give the city the best analysis of the money stolen.
Although it would take considerable time on the city staff’s part, Hinnenkamp told the council they were more than capable of looking into the financial records of the liquor store to determine the cost.
The cost of the staff time used could be requested as restitution before DeMarais’ sentencing hearing, which is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 20, Hinnenkamp said.
The council decided to allow the city staff to further investigate the theft, with the option of using the auditors later if the city staff found it to be too difficult.
Park plan approved at emergency meeting
The council approved the park plan at Tuesday’s meeting in a three-to-one vote, with Council Member Jan Gilmer opposed to the plan, Council Member Tom Kutz absent, and Council Members Allen Munson, Zimmerman, and Lammers approving of it.
However, City Planner Nate Sparks informed Hinnenkamp that the council needed at least a four-fifths vote in order to submit the plan and seek grants to implement it.
Therefore, the council called an emergency meeting Wednesday evening to reconsider the park plan. It passed four-to-one, with Gilmer again voting against it, and Zimmerman, Kutz, Lammers, and Munson in favor.
The park commission has worked since January to develop a park plan with funding from the Live Wright grant, which is made possible by the statewide health improvement program (SHIP).
The goal of the program is to increase physical activity in communities, said City Planner Nate Sparks.
Howard Lake received an $18,000 grant from Live Wright to prepare a park plan that was cost-effective, set ideal characteristics for community parks, and have goals for current parks and future parks as the city continues to grow.
Odds and ends
In other business, the council:
• approved a resolution to allow police officer Sean Taggert to be accepted as a member of the Public Employees Police and Fire Plan to receive the benefits that plan offers.
• heard the city staff has started preparing the 2010 budget and will bring it back to the council at the meeting July 19.
• approved the hiring of part-time liquor store staff, Tonya Gregoire.