Blue Earth OKs 3 percent hike

BLUE EARTH – Blue Earth City Council approved setting the tax levy at 3 percent Tuesday, knowing the amount can be lowered but not raised.

“This is not what we’re going to end up with,” noted Councilman Glenn Gaylord.

The council set Nov. 18 for the budgeting communication time, formerly known as Truth-in-Taxation, when the public is encouraged to voice opinions on the budget and levy.

The council has set Dec. 2 as the date for final approval of the levy, since the deadline for certification is Dec. 15.

In old business, the council discussed how to get homeowners to clean up nuisance properties. They looked at a system used by the city of Stillwater and talked about alternative options.

“I don’t want to live in a city that doesn’t take care of problem properties,” said Councilman John Huisman. “Everyone on this council can point to problem properties. What are we doing about it?”

The process Stillwater uses can take a while to implement, said Kathy Bailey, Blue Earth City Administrator, and involves going through the court system.

A nuisance property would have to be reported to the police department and substantiated, Bailey said. The report would have to be made by a person who had witnessed the problem, such as a barking dog or excessive garbage in the yard.

“The court doesn’t allow for it to be anonymous anymore,” Bailey said.

Mayor Rick Scholtes wants to designate someone to purposely patrol the town and monitor properties objectively, rather than cite only the properties that receive complaints. He also wants a system to keep track of all the complaints, especially how many times each property is in violation.

“Stillwater does have a full-time officer to do that,” Bailey said.

“If you hire someone to do nothing but this, you’re adding a good chunk to the payroll,” said Councilman John Gartzke.

“Could we look at the possibility of having someone do it part-time?” Scholtes asked Bailey.

The police patrol every day, Councilman Russ Erichsrud pointed out. Scholtes suggested the officers could check out the condition of the properties as part of their routine process.

Bailey was instructed to talk to Police Chief Tom Fletcher about that option.

In another matter, City Engineer Wes Brown said the state had presented the city with a bill for cleaning up the contaminated soils found during the Highway 169 construction. The city’s share is $43,589 and the state’s share is $3,504.

Brown pointed out most of the city’s share is due to the sewer part of the project.

“Had we not reconstructed that sewer, we wouldn’t have had to pay,” he said.

In another matter of old business, the council discussed bonding options for the renovations to the Faribault County Fitness Center, but made no decision.

The council had debated general obligation bonds or gross revenue recreation bonds in a previous meeting. Bailey introduced another option on Tuesday: the EDA takes ownership of the Fitness Center and leases it back to the city.

The calculated annual payment for the general obligation bond is $58,607; the EDA, $67,006; and the revenue bond, $69,370.

Bailey suggested waiting and combining the Fitness Center bonds with other projects.

“Do we have cash on hand to fund the project until next year?” Scholtes asked, anticipating interest rates will change by then.

Bailey said the city does.

In other business, the Council:

o Instructed Bailey to have the contractor working on Highway 169 double-stripe East Street from Seventh Street to County Road 44. There is no striping now and Huisman said when drivers take the curves, they are all over the road.

o Approved a low bid from Lawn Solutions in Fairmont for $6,843 to re-seed the street improvements. The only other bid was from Weerts Construction of Winnebago for $18,750.

o Received an update from Brown that the contractor for the Highland Drive construction project has agreed to have the road open by 3 p.m. every day so the buses can drop off the school kids. The buses had been having trouble accessing that street due to the roadwork.