By Solomon Gustavo
DASSEL, COKATO, MN - The Dassel-Cokato Regional Trail Board met Sept. 24 at Cokato City Hall to discuss a joint powers agreement for the trail that stretches along the north side of US Highway 12 between Dassel and Cokato.
The agreement, once approved, will establish the trail board as the governing body for the trail, set each voting entity’s claim liability, and maintenance funding formula. The entities, five in total, are the DC School Board and the cities and townships of Dassel and Cokato.
A joint powers agreement is necessary to reliably fund and execute maintenance and make legal liability clear to all parties.
Before approving a joint powers agreement, the board had to answer some basic questions first. “Who are the official members of this committee?” Cokato City Administrator Annita Smythe asked.
Organizing the committee
Before the last meeting, the board structure was loosely outlined without any documentation, according to Smythe. “There is nothing that formally organizes and designates who’s doing what and who has authority to make spending decisions, what designates the school as fiscal agent and says this is an appropriate use of dollars,” said Smythe.
The board approved a structure under which each of the five entities will appoint voting representatives. Smythe and Dassel City Clerk Terri Boese, who also was in attendance, are trail board staff without a vote.
Last meetings’ quorum, which consisted of Dassel Mayor Jeff Putnam, Cokato Mayor Gordon Erickson, DC School Board vice chair Irene Bender, and Cokato Township Supervisor Dan Bravinder, discussed who would fill board roles of chair, vice chair, secretary and treasurer.
Bravinder, one of three Cokato supervisors, said he felt the full board should be present to vote on board roles. Putnam has been acting chair, Erickson vice chair, following the tradition of having the Dassel and Cokato mayors assume those respective roles.
The board agreed that the DC school district should be the fiscal agent because high school students principally use the trail. The fiscal agent would ultimately “have the authority to spend taxpayer money,” said Meeker County Commissioner Mike Housman, who was present in an unofficial capacity.
The trail board has “authority to make recommendations to the school district,” said Housman. The school board will carry out the trail board’s recommendation because the trail board exists to make such considerations, said Housman.
Boese suggested that the trail and school board draft something in writing that insures trail funds cannot be used for anything else by the school board. Bender said she can “assure [the trail board] that won’t happen.”
Continuing the theme of formal, explicit organizing, Putnam suggested the trail board function like a subsidiary of a city council, like an EDA board, with bylaws, so the trail won’t deteriorate even further from it’s current sub-standard state.
Trail maintenance plan and funding
Putnam said that the trail is depleted. “Anyone that’s been down a decent trail knows this trail is failing,” Putnam said.
Bender said she doesn’t believe it’s failing, that the recent resurfacing of all but 1.4 miles of the 4.8 mile trail has left it in appropriate shape.
Housman noted that, even though the trail has been newly resurfaced, there has been “no crack filling, no seal- coating,” laid and that “weeds are allowed to come up” in the cracks and on the sides.
The lack of trail board and maintenance plan structure has lead to a pattern of what Putnam called “Band-Aid” trail upkeep. Resting on individual projects sporadically done “is all leading to this big expense later,” Putnam said.
Regardless of the exact state of the trail, the board agreed that a maintenance plan is necessary, but the way it is to be funded is still up in the air.
The board discussed a proportional funding formula based on the amount of students from each city and township who attend DC High School. The board discussed the various ways they could determine such numbers and kept the door wide open for other reasonable cost-sharing formulas.
Boese and Smythe introduced having each entity pay $5,000 annually for maintenance.
They accompanied their suggestion with annual maintenance estimates put together by Dassel City Engineer Chuck DeWolf that forecasts costs as far out as 2036. The $25,000 budget “would cover everything except overlay reconstruction,” said Smythe. The estimate includes both yearly and reoccurring maintenance costs.
Plowing ($500), mowing and spraying for weeds ($500), and sweeping ($500) are all to be done yearly. Crack filling is done every two to three years, sealcoating every five to seven years and reconstruction every 20 years said Boese, who noted she received the information from Meeker County Highway Engineer Ron Mortensen.
The next crack sealing is due 2018, the cost estimated at $3,000. The next sealcoating will need to be in 2020, priced at $45,000. The trail is due for an overlay reconstruction in 2016, at an estimated cost of $850,000.
In order to fund reconstruction, the trail board is “going to have to tax the residents of the cities and townships,” Erickson said. “Granted, it won’t be a lot of tax,” he added. The board also discussed pursuing state grants and figuring out what the trail is eligible for.
The budget estimate “assumes everyone gives $5,000,” said Smythe, who recalled that township residents from the meeting before last were not eager about that amount.
The proposed budget also included an insurance line-item estimate of $300 for 2016.
Options for the JPA
A joint powers agreement draft was disseminated by Boese. The portion of note, highlighted in the copy by Smythe, is language borrowed from the joint powers agreement of the Paynesville Area Joint Trails Board on liability claims. The claims portion states that “any claims arising out of the public use of the trail . . . shall be handled by the party responsible for the particular area of the trail,” and each party indemnifies the other.
Smythe noted that “about 80 percent of the [DC] trail is in Cokato Township,” and that the board should consider adjusting the language to acknowledge this. The language is borrowed from the joint agreement for the Lake Koronis Trail in Meeker County. Paynesville City Administrator Renee Eckerly told the Enterprise-Dispatch that the Koronis Trial liability insurance cost $794 for 2015 .
There is still 1.4 miles of the DC trail that missed out on the last overlay. The trail board presently has a budget of $28,527 with $8,000 earmarked for general maintenance by Bender.
Dassel Township has contributed an additional $10,000 for the overlay cost, but will send the money directly to the contractor, giving the trail board $30,527 for the remaining overlay.
The board discussed recent bids, different companies that could provide the service, and finishing the rest of the trail by the end of this year.
Putnam and Erickson stressed that it needed to be done quickly, before the first October frosts, but that it should be done. The board agreed, approving the soonest appropriate overlay bid as long as it is under $30,000. The vote was 3 to 1. Bravinder dissented, saying he didn’t feel comfortable approving anything because he hadn’t been to recent meetings.
The end of the joint agreement includes a page for each board member to sign, including two other potential parties; Stockholm Township and Collinwood Township.
Extending the trail to Collinwood was the last topic the board discussed. Putnam said he has spoken to one of three Collinwood supervisors, Randy Holm. “He’s receptive,” Putnam said.
Smythe said that “Stockholm sounded like they wanted to be a part of the conversation and look at it.”
One of five Stockholm Township Supervisors, Larry DeRosier, in speaking with the Enterprise-Dispatch, said that the Stockholm board has yet to directly discuss any DC trail extension or contribution, that the idea has only been “floating around.” DeRosier said that any financial requirement for participation would “definitely” impact his thinking and that he wouldn’t support using any of the township’s “road and avenue money to work on the trail.”
“It wouldn’t make a hill of beans of difference if we participated or not,” said DeRosier.
Collinwood Supervisor David Prieve said that, though he recalls the township donating money to the DC trail because they “felt some of their people might use that trail,” he has “never heard of it coming into” his township, that, for the Collinwood Township board, the topic hasn’t “really come across our minds yet.”
“It’s not a priority,” said Prieve. “That’s for sure.”
The DC trail board agreed to wait until each member has had time to study the joint powers agreement draft. The board is expected to go over the draft in more detail at the next meeting. The next DC Regional Trail Board meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 8 at 5 p.m. at the Dassel History Center.
More on Koronis trail
The Koronis Trail spans 18 miles, a “quarter-mile” of which is in the City of Paynesville and “the rest” in Paynesville Township, Paynesville City Aministrator Renee Eckerly said. The Paynesville trail board joint powers agreement splits maintenance costs between city and township, Eckerly said.
A fresh sealcoating and fog sealer were applied last year, Eckerly said, costing a total of $60,000. Paynesville city budgets trail maintenance into their $2,000,000 annual budget to avoid any “big hit to the community for maintenance” costs, Eckerly said. The Paynesville trail board also put together an extended maintenance cost forecast, spanning 20 years, to “make sure to have that money budgeted,” Eckerly said.