By Jennifer Kotila
HOWARD LAKE, MN Howard Lake City Council determined some of their top priorities for the year will be better communication between the city council and city staff and residents, amending and enforcing policies to correlate with current city practice, and enhancing and improving downtown.
Although the work plan established by the council was set to be reviewed and approved at Tuesday’s meeting, the council decided to table it to allow additional time for review.
The council and City Administrator Nick Haggenmiller spent several hours in workshop sessions determining priorities and projects for 2013 and into 2014.
“There are a lot of different topics, and once the council looks at them, certain ones may become more or less important,” Haggenmiller said.
He noted council members may be more passionate about some topics than others, especially if they are on a committee or commission connected to the topic.
“Keep up on those and talk to me about them,” Haggenmiller said. “In general, this is just a really good way for you as a council to indoctrinate your plans over the next year.”
Haggenmiller noted that this is the first time that the council has done something like this, and this first plan is kind of an experiment.
Additionally, it was an important step to be taken with new city staff, a new mayor, and new council member, he added.
“Thank you, Nick, for preparing this getting everyone nailed down and participating. Overall, I think it went really good,” said Mayor Pete Zimmerman.
The work plan is broken into nine different goals, with several topics under each goal.
For each topic, the council and Haggenmiller established the responsible committee and department or staff member, as well as the first two steps for implementation.
Overview of proposed goals
Improving policies to guide decision-making by the council and staff is one of the goals established by Haggenmiller and the council.
Some of the issues to be addressed with this goal are policy enforcement, current policies not correlating with current practice, and addressing issues with which the city has been dealing.
Some changes which will directly affect the residents of Howard Lake relate to tree trimming and removal, sidewalk replacement, and water shut-offs.
With the goal being to work with homeowners in order to create a pedestrian-friendly community, the city will complete a survey of trees and sidewalks to determine needs, and then draft a policy for dealing with tree trimming and sidewalks.
For water shut-offs, there are no policy changes, but the city will begin enforcing the policy consistently, with a set water shut-off day monthly for those delinquent with their utilities bills.
Improving communication between the city council and community and city staff, as well as communication between city staff is another goal.
The city will do this through an updated website, enhancing PACT 10, establishing a social media presence, and continuing the council and staff weekly information letter.
The council agreed that updating the city’s website is a high priority, and a committee or task force will be established to determine the best route to take.
As for PACT 10, the council directed staff to improve service and increase efficiencies for the cable department.
This will be done by encouraging more public participation, and cross training staff so they are comfortable working with the equipment.
Additionally, the council will present the “state of the city” around the time budget discussions for 2014 start so residents are aware of the city’s goals, and progress that has been made to date.
Another goal of the council is to establish Howard Lake as a neigborhood-oriented community, specifically through the creation of a community enhancement program, which will include annual city inspections and enforced regulations.
During the inspections, the city will identify sidewalks that need repair and replacement, trees that need trimming, city facilities that need maintenance, temporary or illegal signs that need removal, and properties that need attention in regards to weed and garbage removal.
The city will also look into redevelopment grants in an attempt to take care of blighted properties in the city’s commercial district.
Enhancing Howard Lake’s downtown is another goal set by the council, and various committees and civic organizations, such as Howard Lake Thrive and Howard Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, are already working towards that goal.
Because the various groups have to work with the council as far as timing, budget constraints, and permitting, the council has requested a collaborative meeting with those entities.
One option the council is considering is utilizing the city’s revolving loan fund to create a storefront program to assist business owners in updating and improving their storefronts.
Using the revolving loan fund would allow the city to give grants for 10 projects valued at $5,000 each, for which business owners would have to apply.
To create a better downtown, the council decided it would focus on code enforcement, storefront programming, and the adopt-a-pot program.
In 2014, it will establish a bigger downtown plan, focusing on a larger project to take place in 2015 that addresses pedestrian safety, a possible stoplight, and a promenade behind the municipal liquor store.
With another goal of the committee being attracting and retaining business in order to maintain a diversified tax base, one priority established by the council is to have a better relationship and overall understanding of the business community.
Local businesses will be identified, and council members will take the time to visit them over the upcoming year.
As the year progresses, the council will be updated quarterly as to the progress that has been made on the work plan, Haggenmiller noted.
Those interested in learning more about the work plan should contact Haggenmiller at (320) 543-3670.
Odds and ends
In other business, the council:
• approved setting the spring cleanup day for May 4. The fee for major appliances and electronics has been reduced from $10 to $5.
Sellable books will be accepted for the Howard Lake Library Project.
Middleville and Victor township residents are welcome to participate.
Elderly or handicapped residents may call the city of Howard Lake at (320) 543-3670 to arrange for free pickup.
• approved the extension of the preliminary plat and planned unit development agreement for the proposed assisted living facility.
• was informed a public hearing for the planning commission will take place Tuesday, April 9 at 7 p.m. regarding a conditional use permit to place LP tanks at the Sinclair station.