The Granite Falls City Council on Monday evening, received an update on recent Highway 23 Coalition activities from coalition representative Aaron Backman. He stated that the group had been disappointed by the state’s Corridors of Commerce project announcement in May which saw over $400 million going to four projects all within 50 miles of the Twin Cities metro area.
However, the Coalition forged ahead with advocacy for their main goal of turning the two-lane segments on Highway 23 on either side of Paynesville into four-lane, and when Coalition member Kelly Morrel served as Governor Dayton’s fishing guide during the Governor’s Fishing Opener on Green Lake in Spicer, he used that opportunity to talk with him about the problems with getting funding for Hwy 23. That led to new legislative initiatives which eventually wound their way through the legislature and received the Governor’s signature at the end of the session. The state’s bond funding for those two segments will mean the work will get underway in 2021.
Council member Scott Peterson expressed concern and frustration about how the Coalition didn't have plans beyond the two planned four-lane expansions, and how the problem areas of Hwy. 23 have been known for a long time. His other concern was that after the two sections north of Willmar get built, will the needs of our area and the areas to our south be forgotten. Mayor Dave Smiglewski discussed the state’s continual funding shortage for highway projects and how other states seem to find ways to fund their highway improvements. He pointed out how the city of Huron, South Dakota was connected to I-90 via a four-lane highway and that all other major cities in South Dakota also have that same level of connection. They discussed how South Dakota was able to do that despite only having a population that is one sixth of Minnesota’s, and yet "In Minnesota, our leaders say we can't afford it." Smiglewski also discussed the political minefield of funding and raising taxes for transportation projects. At the end of the discussion, the council agreed to renew the city’s membership in the Hwy. 23 Coalition for the coming year.
Ashley Hanson discussed with the council her application to the "Our Town" grant. The broad goal of the grant is to look for projects that foster systemic changes and integration of arts culture. The grant will be used towards the Artist in Residency program. The Granite council will have to be the primary applicant, since Hanson got her non-profit status in July 2018 and the primary applicant has to have three years of financial background. Basically, the city will serve as the fiscal agent if the funding is received. The council approved being the primary applicant. They will find out if they get the funding in July 2019.
City Engineer Mike Amborn came to the council to discuss bids for the Barber Circle/Daniels Drive street and utility project. Back in March, the estimate for the project was $490,000. The prices have changed, and his updated estimate was $656,000. Quam Construction of Willmar submitted the lowest bid at a price of $635,549.70 Hjerpe Contracting of Hutchinson bid $643,613.65 and Duininck Inc. of Prinsburg bid $687,956.00.
Amborn hypothesized that delaying the project to try to lump it in with something bigger wouldn't result in significant cost savings. The council stated they gleaned more than 50 percent approval for the project from the property owners. After discussing a number of options, the council accepted the low bid from Quam, and decided to hold the assessments in line with what had been previously estimated with the remainder of the increased expense of the project being paid for by the entire city. That means that assessment cost to the landowners will stay at about the levels previously estimated. Council member Steve Nordaune voted nay. Granite Falls EDA Director Cathy Anderson mentioned that the EDA is considering the idea of acquiring lots in the project area that some landowners may not want. The idea will be further discussed in the next EDA meeting.
In other news:
Local artist and YME art teacher Tamara Isfeld presented the city council with rough representations of possible designs for the elevated manhole in the lower area of Lende Plaza. The concrete cylinder currently has a base layer, and she plans to work with her art camp students to paint it. The designs will be in the spirit of the patterns presented, and still match the existing mural’s color schemes. The design will emphasize repeating patterns. Council member Joe Fagnano suggested a “realism” style, giving an example of a merry-go-’round with animals. The council approved the general designs presented, with Fagnano voting nay.
Justin Nelson from the city’s auditing firm Abdo, Eick, & Meyers, LLP, gave a report on the 2017 city audit. They issued a “clean audit opinion,” which is the highest the city could get. The way they assess is to test random transactions. One issue he raised, which he clarified was common for cities the size of Granite Falls and a small city staff , was the preparation and review of financial transactions and statements.
The city had no problems with legal compliance or timely payment of bills. The city’s General Fund balance was at 45 percent of the future year’s projected budget and expenses, right in the middle of the recommended 40 to 50 percent. The electric fund has been similarly steady. The sewer fund has been on an upward trend, building reserves for upcoming repairs and renovations. The water fund is on a little downward trend and low on funds needed for long term bond retirement in regard to the new water treatment plant. His advice was to monitor the water fund and make sure the city’s water rates keep up and are able to help build cash reserves for that fund.
The council discussed adding an RV and trailer dump station to the Memorial Park campsite, to be included along with the Phase One project that is currently underway. A quote from current contractor Edman Builders came in higher than expected. City Engineer Amborn estimated the cost to be $4,000 to $5,000 with help from the public works department. The quote was for just under $9,000. The council put a cap of $8,000, and will use the public works department to purchase materials and assist to help reduce costs. They also decided to keep the current station located at the city’s wastewater plant, behind Dallas II.
EDA Director Cathy Anderson also explained how she applied for a re-development grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) for the Granite Falls EDA-owned building on 646 Prentice Street, which formerly housed Cutting Edge Technology and Marr Machines before that. The grant application would fund demolition of the existing buildings on the site with $35,000 coming from DEED and a matching amount of $35,000 coming in equal amounts from the EDA and Edman Builders, the proposed developer of the site. The plan would be for Edman Builders to construct and own a multi-purpose three story mixed use building at the site. The ground floor will have space for commercial activity and businesses, and the two upper floors will be residential units. Anderson described the current building as a blight, and said that the building has a very limited use possibility.
The council approved signs for the library, Walking Path signage, and signage for the Talk Read and Sing program. They discussed at some length a letter received from several residents requesting stop signs on 7th Ave at the intersection with 3rd St. due to complaints of speeding. In the end the council decided to hold off on the stop signs and defer to the police department on more police patroling in the area, investigating the situation further and reporting back to the council.
The council approved a change order for the KCC’s replacement waterslide, adding a loop to the design. It is expected to be installed in September.
The council amended the nuisance ordinance for lawn grass to be changed from 12" to 7" for notification, and kept the seven day time window for mowing.