Rushford council ponders tobacco ordinance, approves engineering studies

By : 
Scott Bestul
Tri-County Record

No citizens appeared at the public hearing scheduled for the Rushford City Council meeting Monday, January 28. That turned out to be a good thing, as the hearing was meant to address revisions and updates to the city’s 21-year old tobacco ordinance.

But after hearing input and updates on vaping and e-cigarettes, the council decided to scrap those ordinance revisions and completely rework the document. That decision bumped the public hearing back even further, probably into March.

Tobacco ordinance updates

The council welcomed Brenda Pohlman, Fillmore County Public Health Educator, who presented information on e-cigarettes and other electronic nicotine delivery systems. Young people are using these devices with greater frequency, and Pohlman showed council members several examples of these products, which are both legal and locally available. “Many of these devices are so small, they can be fixed to the string of a hoodie and inhaled by the user in a very discrete manner,” Pohlman said.

The products also contain high amounts of nicotine, with some containing the same nicotine amount found in one pack of cigarettes in one very small device, which can be charged by plugging into the USB port of any laptop.

Pohlman also noted that makers of these devices can target younger users by infusing flavors such as fruit and mint into them, and while cigarette/tobacco companies are often prohibited from using these flavors, e-cigarette and vaping companies are not. “We view these devices as a slippery slope that can lead to long-term tobacco use,” Pohlman said. “They are not approved by the FDA.”

Pohlman’s presentation was supported by Rushford-Peterson middle/high-school principal Jake Timm, who appeared to inform the council that use of these electronic nicotine devices “is an epidemic that’s sweeping the nation. I’ve caught 10 students using them this year, and I know there are more that I’m not getting. All the principals and administrators I talk to tell me they’re having the same problems.”

Timm and Pohlman urged the council to adopt an ordinance that would work in conjunction with school policy to limit the use of these devices, especially among young people. “We think that, with a combination of regulation enforcement and education, we can make a difference in limiting use of these products,” said Timm, who noted that students as young as 4th grade are already aware of the devices and terminology associated with electronic nicotine devices, which are already part of the county’s DARE program

After thanking the pair for their presentation, the council discussed the proposed updates to the 1997 tobacco ordinance. Pohlman noted that the Public Health Law Center has templates of ordinances available for cities like Rushford to adopt. Clerk Kathy Zacher said, “I just tried to make revisions to the existing document, but maybe we need to contact the Law Center and adopt a new policy, rather than just reworking the old one.” Councilor O’Donnell agreed, noting,  “I recommend we back off and let Kathy do more research. Let’s take our time and get this right.” Pohlman felt the Law Center could produce a proposed ordinance within a month for the council to consider.

The council agreed, passing a motion that would give Clerk Zacher time to work with the Public Health Law Center to come up with a document that could be reviewed by the council by the second council meeting in February. The public hearing would follow one month later.

Street and utility improvements

Derek Olinger, engineer for Bolton & Menk, outlined plans for the council to proceed with the 2019 Street and Utility Improvement Project that would address issues on E. Grove St., Walnut St., N. Burr Oak St., and Lamplighters Lane. Also included in Olinger’s report were issues associated with a ponding area west of S. Burr Oak St. Corps of Engineers codes have required reconstruction of this project, which can be included in the project if the council approves. After some discussion, the council moved to adopt a resolution approving Bolton & Menk’s plans and specifications, and to proceed with advertising for bids on the project.

Engineering studies

Olinger also discussed with the council proposed engineering studies that would a) reduce the speed limit in the vicinity of Highway 43 and Pine Meadows Lane; and b) construct a trail connecting the Root River Trail with the parking lot of R-P schools.

Several council members expressed frustration that the community would have to pay for a speed-reduction study, including Mayor Hallum, who noted, “It really bothers me that we have to spend money to drop this speed limit so that kids can cross the street safely.” Councilor O’Donnell echoed those sentiments, saying that, “MNDot has their own engineers. Why do we have to pay an outside firm to do the same work they can?”

Olinger acknowledged these frustrations, but noted that such an engineering study is required by state law. The council did note that the costs of the (estimated) $7,000 study would be shared by the R-P school district, and moved to approve spending up to 50 percent of this cost.

Olinger updated the council on the project to link the Root River Trail with the R-P school. Grant money from the DNR is available for this project, which would connect the trail from near the Brooklyn bridge, parallel Eiken Drive behind the housing there, and likely end in the R-P parking lot. R-P schools had already approved sharing 50 percent of the cost of the $110,000 not covered by the DNR grant. After some discussion, the council voted to approve the $55,000 expenditure.

Shed addition

Public Works Director Roger Knutson presented proposed plans for the construction of an addition to the existing storage shed on the city property. Knutson’s detailed report included estimated costs of building materials, concrete, construction labor, and electrical install, which resulted in a total cost of $42,261.

The proposed shed would be used for storage, which would allow the main garage to be used for maintenance and repair work. The council voted unanimously to approve this project. Knutson said he would contact Howe Construction to schedule construction (site prep would be completed by public works employees), which he estimated would be completed sometime early summer.

Other business

In other business, the council approved raising the cost of the annual fee for the city’s composting site from $5 annually to $10. This fee had not been raised since 1998.

The council adopted a resolution thanking the Norm Ebner family for donating $1,500 to the Rushford Fire Department for equipment purchases.

The council voted to extend 2 a.m. liquor licenses to Kitchens Ent./Nordic Lanes, Stumpy’s Restaurant, and Shawnee’s Bar & Grill.

Schedule

The next meeting of the City of Rushford City Council will be Monday, Feb. 11, at 6:30 pm. All members of the public are encouraged to attend.