Council member refers to the city as a "slumlord"

by April Scheinoha
The Thief River Falls Curling Club building has joined the list of city-owned buildings that will soon be studied by CIMCO Refrigeration. At its meeting Tuesday, March 20, the Thief River Falls City Council approved a $2,504 agreement with CIMCO to evaluate the Curling Club building and its ice plant.
CIMCO is already planning to study REA and HOMCC as part of a $49,565 study approved by the council in January.
At the March 20 meeting, a lengthy discussion ensued about repairs needed at the Curling Club building as well as who would pay for the study. The city owns the building, which the Curling Club leases at a cost of $1,000 per year.
“The building needs repairs, and there’s no doubt about that,” said Council Member Don Sollom.
Tony Gilbert, representing the Curling Club, said the roof has been leaking since January 2017. The city was notified, but nothing has been done. Gilbert noted that the Curling Club has replaced ceiling tiles and paid for rubber to be installed on the peak of the roof. He added that other needs include a fire barrier, new electrical wiring and new insulation.
“As a landlord, that should have been taken care of in my opinion,” replied Council Member Josh Hagen.
Fellow Council Member Rachel Prudhomme didn’t realize until recently that the city owned the Curling Club building. “The harsh reality that we’re slumlords hit me,” she said in reference to a recent visit there.
Repairs are expected to be further discussed at an upcoming Budget Committee meeting.
Further complicating matters is the vague lease signed by both entities. It indicates that the Curling Club is responsible for internal items and the city is responsible for external items. “We need to look at the lease,” said Council Member Steve Narverud.
City leaders had also initially suggested that the Curling Club pay for a portion of the $2,504 survey. “For something as minor as $2,000, we should be responsible landlords and take care of this,” said Prudhomme, who noted that the Thief River Falls Amateur Hockey Association and Thief River Falls School District haven’t been asked to contribute to similar studies.
The Curling Club doesn’t have much money to provide for such a study. “We’re really close to being in the negative, especially if we don’t do our fundraising.,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert indicated that the Curling Club receives about $13,000 in dues from its 100 members and pays about $11,000 in electricity for the building. It also pays for water and heat.
The Curling Club isn’t the only group that uses the building. The Pennington County Fair Board uses the building during the fair, and the building is also used for auctions.
Sollom questioned why the city continues to own the building. He noted that the city can’t store equipment there since the building is used all of the time.
As part of its consent agenda, the council approved paying council members a per diem of $32.50 per meeting for meetings approved by the council. The per diem starts after Jan. 1, 2019. No more than two per-diem meeting payments shall be approved for a calendar day. Thirty-two meetings are eligible for the per diem, including city committee meetings. Council meetings aren’t eligible for the per diem. In a memorandum to the council, it was noted that Pennington County Board members are paid double that amount for their approved meetings.
Mayor Brian Holmer has sent a letter to Gov. Mark Dayton, seeking an increase in the budget amount for the Flood Damage Reduction Grant Assistance Program in the next biennium. Holmer is seeking an increase from $20 million to $22 million to help fund the Thief River Falls Westside Flood Damage Reduction Project. If funding were available, the project will divert water away from areas adjacent to Arctic Cat, Digi-Key, and land slated for industrial and high-density residential growth. The city hopes that the project will coincide with a project to reconstruct the intersection of Highways 1 and 59 in 2020. The Minnesota Department of Transportation is undertaking the latter project.
Vice Mayor Jerald Brown signed a proclamation declaring April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The proclamation noted that “sexual assault and domestic violence are still far too common in our communities.” It referred to the work of the Violence Intervention Project, which provides crisis call response, advocacy support, safety planning, emergency housing and support groups to victims.
The next council meeting is scheduled Tuesday, April 3 at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.