BY GABE LICHT
DELANO, MN It has been a snowy winter, which means property owners have had plenty of shoveling to do.
Delano city officials are concerned with how many property owners have not kept up on the task.
“We’ve had an increasing level of concern and complaints about property owners not removing snow from sidewalks around town,” City Administrator Phil Kern said.
The Spirit of Community Commission has discussed the topic on more than one occasion, and recommended that the city council consider it as well, which it did during a workshop Monday.
Leading up to the conversation, city staff spot-checked areas of town following two snow events in December and February. After one snow event, 10 percent of properties did not have cleared sidewalks within two days, while that number was 15 percent following the other snow event.
That contrasts against city ordinance that requires sidewalks to be cleared within 24 hours of a snow event.
Kern stressed the importance of clearing sidewalks.
“It’s a safety concern to have people walking in the street because someone didn’t clear a sidewalk,” Kern said. “It creates a safety risk for seniors and disabled individuals who cannot trudge through snow or, if they have to walk into the street, we’re creating a public safety issue.”
Kern said there are concerns about the cost to the city related to inspecting properties, sending notices to property owners, following up on those notices, and clearing snow if property owners fail to take action.
Even so, the council has directed staff to “be more aggressive with inspection and enforcement of clearing snow and provide notices when property owners haven’t cleared it and have the work done if it’s not being cleared.”
When the latter happens, the property owner must foot the bill.
That will be the case for owners of 18 properties that were not cleared despite being given notice. Initially, city staff had sent out 26 notices.
Those kinds of efforts will continue.
“We’re going to ramp back up, commit the staff time, and get everyone to understand it takes everyone doing their part to make this work,” Kern said. “We want to avoid the long-term public cost. Hopefully, through increased enforcement and property owner compliance, we can accomplish that.”
Kern noted that increased public education regarding snow clearing will accompany the increased enforcement.
Talks regarding a hockey and ice-skating facility at Central Park continue.
Wenck, the city’s engineering firm, has developed a concept plan for the facility.
It includes a covered outdoor skating rink with refrigeration underneath it, an open skating area without boards, and a warming house with bathrooms and storage.
“The critical work over the next 30 to 60 days is finding out whether the project budget can handle that or do we need to pare it down?” Kern said. “ . . . We’ve reserved $350,000 in park-dedication funds. I know refrigeration alone is over $1 million. That’s something we’ve been working with the hockey association that would ultimately be a major financial partner with anything we do.”
Another component is whether or not the city will renew its lease for the outdoor ice rink on school property, which expires in 2020.
The topic will be on the agenda for the March workshop. Kern said there is a possibility of beginning construction following the 4th of July, with a goal of completion before winter.
Sanitary sewer service lines
In early February, a sanitary sewer service line failed, requiring a street to be dug up to repair it. Under city policy, the costs for that repair fell on the property owner. That property owner contacted a council member, who asked for more discussion on the topic, which occurred Monday.
Property owners have been responsible for the maintenance and replacement of service lines to the connection with the main since 1977.
City staff is not recommending a change to that policy, which will be on the agenda for the March 17 city council meeting.
Crow River Villa
For years, city staff has managed Crow River Villa, which the city built in the early ‘70s, and the publicly owned Ridge Manor.
In December, Ridge Manor ownership notified the city that it would be assuming management of the facility as of Jan. 1.
With that change, the position that manages public housing will undergo some cuts. Currently, the employee who manages public housing is doing so part time, while working in another city department part time, which Kern said is not a long-term solution.
The US Department of Housing and Urban Development provides funding for public housing. In the city’s case, it is reimbursed for the cost to operate it. HUD also has a program to operate such properties under Section 8.
“If we wanted, HUD would take the building over and operate it under that program,” Kern said.
How the city will proceed is up in the air.
Council members asked Kern a number of questions that will take time to answer.
According to Kern, the questions were:
“If we did elect to stop operating it and turn it over to HUD, could we reverse it? What are the financial implications? Does it change who can rent the units? Is there an option to sell the building and turn it over to a private entity?”
“I don’t anticipate anything happening in the near future,” Kern said.
He mentioned that the facility prioritizes seniors and disabled individuals.
“The council wanted to make sure those priorities didn’t change with whatever happens,” Kern said.
In April and May, the city will offer a citizen academy.
“It’s a six-week program where people can get an inside look at all the different public activities and functions inside their community,” Kern said. “They’ll see what goes into providing utilities, see what goes into parks and recreation, and get a behind-the-scenes look at planning and development, what’s coming to town.”
There is no cost for participation and currently no cap on the number of participants. Contact Delano City Hall at 763-972-0550 for more information.