Rushford council hears street project update, sets date for flood plain insurance meetings and tobacco ordinance public hearing.

By: 
Scott Bestul

In their Sept. 23 meeting, the last meeting of the month, members of the Rushford City Council voted on a wrap-up to the 2019 street improvement project, entertained no citizens for a public hearing on a contract with MediaCom for cable services, and discussed revisions to the city’s tobacco ordinance.

Street improvement update

Derek Olinger, the Bolton & Menk engineer who’s become a regular at council meetings of late, provided the council with an update on the 2019 Municipal Improvement Project. While Olinger reported that “the project is largely complete, the contractor (Zenke Inc.) incurred some extra costs with dewatering that was needed in the Prairie and Grove St. area. He is requesting reimbursement of $11,500 for these expenses.” Olinger also noted that Zenke was seven days overdue on the project completion date, which would result in Zenke paying the city $8,473 in liquidated damages if the city decided to hold the company to contract stipulations. “You’re not required to pay the costs for dewatering,” he said.”I’m bringing it up because it’s not an unreasonable request. I’m just bringing this up because I’m wanting direction from you guys before we do the next pay estimate breakdown.” Olinger also noted the project has come in under budget and no contingency funds have been used.

In the ensuing discussion, Councilor Benson noted “it’s about a $3,000 wash if you compare the overage expenses to his dewatering costs. I’ve heard that they’ve been very good to work with and have done a nice job. I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize what seems like a good relationship.” Mayor Hallum agreed. “We have a good working relationship,” he said. “We like this guy.” Councilor Ryman noted that Zenke Inc., had also made their equipment available to city workers for other tasks during the course of the project, and that loan was appreciated by Public Works Director Roger Knutson and his crew. “I move that we not execute liquidated damages costs against Zenke Inc. and that we pay the request for the extra dewatering cost.” Ryman said. The council unanimously approved the motion.

Flood plain insurance issues

In their last meeting, council members discussed the city’s role as Rushford homeowners learned their properties might need flood plain insurance, thanks to recently-completed FEMA floodplain mapping updates. In that meeting, the council had asked Olinger to draft letters to affected homeowners that would offer assistance in navigating the new floodplain insurance requirements.

Olinger presented samples of three letters he was prepared to send to landowners. The first was a letter to be sent to homeowners that might benefit from a LOMA (letter of map amendment) application that might remove their property from the floodplain designation by a simple elevation survey. The second was to homeowners who might benefit from a LOMR (letter of map removal) application that could remove a property from floodplain designation through a combination of elevation and hydraulic studies. Finally, Olinger said he’d send letters to  homeowners in what he called “zone x”; all properties in low-lying areas but outside the designated floodplain.

Councilor Benson noted that she’d been in contact with homeowners in some of these affected zones, but as yet no one had reported exorbitant insurance rate quotes. “I’ve seen mortgages from $130,000 down to $50,000, and so far have not seen any [insurance quotes] over $481 per year,” Benson said. “I think our certified levee system and mapping is making a difference in these quotes. There were people panicking that their rate would be $2,000 per year, but at this point we’re simply not seeing that.”

After some discussion, the council set dates for public information meetings regarding flood plain insurance. For Rushford residents in the Nannestad Lane area, the meeting will be held Oct. 10, from 5:30-7:00 p.m. For Rushford residents in other affected areas, the meeting will be held on Oct. 17 from 5:30-7:00 p.m.  Letters specific to property owner designations will be sent to help explain the process.  It was also noted that costs associated with engineering work would be the property owner’s responsibility.

Highway 30 project 

Olinger also updated the council on the status of MnDOT’s Highway 30 improvement project as it affects the highway inside the Rushford city limits. The project, scheduled for 2022, would involve a cooperative agreement between the city, MnDOT and Bolton & Menk, according to Olinger. Discussion was held on a proposed work order to contract with Bolton & Menk for professional services for the first three phases of engineering on this project. “This approval would include preliminary activities that would be completed between now through March 2020,” he explained. After some discussion, the council voted to approve the cooperative agreement, the resolution and the work order as presented.

Tobacco Ordinance

Brenda Pohlman, health educator for the Fillmore County Public Health Dept., addressed possible changes to the city’s tobacco ordinance. While the council has examined the topic in recent meetings, Pohlman noted the problems have intensified, largely due to the increasing popularity of vaping and marketing campaigns designed to attract younger users to the practice. Pohlman informed the council that the dangers of vaping are becoming more obvious. “Minnesota had its first death related to vaping, and there are now 37 cases of lung injury linked to the practice,” she said. Pohlman noted that state law now treats vaping products in the same manner as tobacco, and changes have been made to regulate sales and use. The minimum age to purchase vaping products is now 21, and the minimum age to clerk/sell the products is 18.

Pohlman noted that the state is working on education campaigns that rely on informing people of the dangers of vaping, rather than strict punishment. “Many people just don’t think vaping is that harmful,” she said. “We’re working to educate the general public, as well as retailers. We’d rather reward retailers who are in compliance than punish those who are not. We’ve made training materials available so that retailers are up on the laws.” Pohlman told the council that the best approach to adopting a new tobacco ordinance is to separate the sales of such products from their use; in essence having separate ordinances for each. Pohlman had previously provided draft ordinances from the Public Health Law Center for the council to use as a model. This draft highlighted changes to the existing law, then explained the rationale behind each change. Most of this language was needed because of the increase in vaping materials in recent years.

After some discussion, Pohlman informed the council of the procedure for adopting new tobacco ordinances. First, a public hearing will be held with at least a 30-day period that allows the public and existing vendors to read and review the proposed changes. Finally, assuming the ordinance is adopted following the public hearing, the council must set a date for the ordinance to go into effect.  The council set the date for a public hearing on Nov. 12, 2019, for the consideration of repealing the existing tobacco ordinance, and the adoption of the two new ordinances regulating the sales and use of tobacco products. The proposed changes are available for viewing at city hall.

Property tax levy

The council reviewed a spreadsheet prepared by Clerk Zacher detailing the proposed property tax levy for 2020. Zacher noted that all spending categories were basically unchanged from 2019, except for debt service. The first draft levy, presented early in September, was reduced in the EDA fund, bringing the proposed maximum levy for next year to $973,000.00, a 3.95 percent increase from 2019. “I’ve reviewed proposed levies for many neighboring towns, and their increases are running between five and ten percent,” Zacher noted.

The council passed Resolution 2019-064, which set the public comment period for the proposed levy. The final levy will be adopted by Dec. 30. 2019.

Other business

No citizens appeared for the public hearing regarding the granting of a franchise to Mediacom Minnesota LLC, for the purpose of operating and maintaining a cable television system in the city. The council then voted to adopt the ordinance granting Mediacom that franchise.

The council voted to turn the collection of past due taxes on Parcel 06.0214.000 to the Fillmore County Auditor. The owner of that property was given the opportunity to request a hearing from the city council on the matter and did not submit such a request.

Schedule

The next meeting of the Rushford City Council will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 15 (day change due to Columbus Day holiday on October 14) at 6:30 p.m. All members of the public are encouraged to attend.