TRF prepares for construction season

by April Scheinoha

    The Thief River Falls City Council was looking forward to the summer construction season at its meeting Tuesday, Jan. 19. At that time, the council approved the feasibility report for the 2016 Streets and Utilities Improvement Project. Council Member Jerald Brown abstained from voting since he lives along Conley Avenue and will be affected by the project.
    As part of the resolution, the council also approved holding a public hearing about the project Wednesday, Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. at City Hall.
    Estimated to cost more than $3 million, the project includes the following proposed improvements:
    • The realignment of the two sections of Greenwood Street with Highway 59. One section is directly in line with Greenwood Crossing. The other section is located south of the property where The Lantern once stood. They will be merged at the latter intersection.
    • Construction of Greenwood Street East and Nadine Street to facilitate the development of 26 single-family homes
    • Edge mill and overlay of Atlantic Avenue from 11th Street to Main Avenue
    • Mill and overlay of Davis Avenue
    • Edge mill and overlay of Oakland Park Road from Greenwood Street to Highway 32
    • Edge mill and overlay of First Street from Highway 59 to Sherwood Avenue
    • Construction of a multi-use trail along Pennington Avenue from Eastwood Drive to Evergreen Street and then along Evergreen Street to Challenger Elementary School
    • Water main replacements underneath portions of Conley, St. Paul and Markley avenues
    • Street and utilities improvements on Jefferson Avenue to facilitate the construction of a proposed 68-unit hotel and a proposed 40-unit apartment building near Sanford Health
    • Miscellaneous sanitary sewer cured-in-place lining
    Council Member Curt Howe provided information on a planned digital sign outside of Ralph Engelstad Arena and the Huck Olson Memorial Civic Center. He said the city is seeking donations for the sign, which would list upcoming events.
    The council approved certifying unpaid grass/weed mowing charges to property owners’ 2016 property taxes. Council Members Josh Hagen and Rachel Prudhomme voted in opposition.
    The issue was included on the council’s consent agenda, but Hagen asked to remove it for the council to further discuss it. He raised concerns about the amount of money charged to some property owners for the city contractor to mow their properties. The certified amounts ranged from $61 to $529.66.
    Hagen said the council needs to further discuss the issue as there is no consistency with regard to how fees are assessed. Council Member Don Sollom agreed, noting that he had toured an affected property with Hagen.
    Hagen said that a small business owner had received an $80 bill for the mowing of grass and weeds. Meanwhile, across the street, several businesses and the city were delinquent in mowing their properties.
    City ordinance states that grass and weeds can be no longer than six inches on privately-owned property. Property owners are sent one violation notice during the season. At that time, they have seven days to mow the property. Otherwise, the city’s contractor will mow the property at the homeowner’s expense. No further notices will be sent if the property were determined to be out of compliance other times during the season.
    The matter is expected to be discussed further by the Public Works Committee.
    City Council approved the city bills and disbursements. The matter was initially included on the consent agenda; however, Brown asked to discuss the matter further. He referred to two cell phones, an iPhone 6 and an iPhone 6 Plus.
    Brown further noted that former City Administrator Larry Kruse purchased a new cell phone before resigning. Interim City Administrator Angie Philipp noted that extra phone is sitting in her office in the event another cell phone goes kaput.
    Prudhomme also raised concerns, questioning why a council committee wasn’t notified that Kruse planned to spend almost $500 on a new cell phone.
    Mayor Brian Holmer replied that the council will more closely watch those purchases in the future.
    Brown, Prudhomme, Hagen and Howe all stated concerns with employees’ cell phone data usage. “I personally think the cell phone thing is totally out of control,” said Hagen, who noted he was shocked that some particular employees had city cell phones.
    Philipp earlier noted that the city has a plan with unlimited data.
    Holmer suggested that all city committees look at the city cell phone policy. Howe took it a step further, asking those committees to look at the issue before the next Committee of the Whole meeting. Howe said the issue would then be discussed at that meeting.
    The council approved calling for a public hearing to consider a final application for a Small Cities Development Program grant. The public hearing will be held at the Tuesday, Feb. 16 council meeting.
    Last summer, the city approved a pre-application. At that time, the target area for renovations to single-family owner-occupied homes was the downtown area; Conley, St. Paul and Markley avenues; and Red Lake Boulevard. Community Services Director Mark Borseth said there weren’t enough homeowners who answered the letters in the downtown area. As a result, the city may proceed with the other target area.
    Facilitator Faye Auchenpaugh presented her report on the Multi-Events Center Joint Powers Board. She provided information about the formation of the board and gave recommendations for the board moving forward. The board oversees the Multi-Events Center, which is located east of Northland Community and Technical College.
    The board initially included the city, the Thief River Falls School District, Pennington County and what is now known as NCTC. Pennington County has since withdrawn from the board. Over the years, there have been some communication issues, and the board hasn’t met on a regular basis. Auchenpaugh encouraged the board to at least meet on a quarterly basis. Among other things, she encouraged the board to think big. She noted interviewees told her that the board should think of ways the MEC can stand alone and be self-supporting.
    City Council approved a temporary intoxicating liquor license for the Pennington County Fair Association for the fair. Howe abstained from voting since he is the president of the Fair Board.
    The next council meeting is scheduled Tuesday, Feb. 2 at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.