City worries about demo process

FAIRMONT – In the future, Fairmont City Council wants residents and businesses to go through a more stringent application process to receive assistance with demolitions.

In a 3-2 vote Monday, the council approved a request from Roger and Steve Geiger for the city to pay up to 50 percent of demolition costs, up to $5,000, so the Geigers can tear down a house they purchased through tax forfeiture at 780 Shoreacres Drive.

The house has been vacant for several years and is uninhabitable, but the lot is large and well suited for redevelopment, according to city staff.

In the past, the council has approved several similar requests to help tear down blighted buildings, but unease has grown as the requests have increased in frequency.

“I have to question our entire policy. Is this the way we as a council have chosen to go?” said Councilman Wes Clerc.

His concern lies in part with who has the power over the $42,000 the city designates each year for demolition of blighted buildings: residents or the council? He also worried about the appearance of favoritism due to the informal way the council has approved and denied requests for demo funds.

His council colleagues and city staff agreed.

“This keeps coming up, and it makes me uncomfortable,” said Councilman Terry Anderson.

City administrator Mike Humpal suggested the city create a program application: “We need a formal policy for people to go through.”

One benefit of the current setup, as noted by Mayor Randy Quiring, is that citizens have been taking the initiative to tear down dilapidated housing.

“It’s kind of a win/win, but we’re shooting from the hip,” Quiring said.

Dissenting on the funding request from the Geigers were Councilman Chad Askeland and Clerc.

In other business, the council:

o Approved the sale of a vacant, unbuildable lot at 725 E. Seventh St. to Dave Daugherty Jr., for $500 or $1,000. The city had purchased the property and demolished a blighted house the summer of 2013. The lot has been vacant since.

o Approved a permit for the Borderline Cruisers Car Club to barricade several downtown streets for its annual car show on June 14.

o Approved Wes Clerc to be the mayor pro tem, the Sentinel to be the city’s official newspaper, the city clerk to serve as council secretary, and Bank Midwest to be the depository of city funds.

o Approved the Fairmont Fire Department’s elections in December. Doug Borchardt is chief; Brandon Scott is deputy chief; Bryan Kastning is captain; Tom Hilpipre is first lieutenant; Jeff Miller is second lieutenant; and Chris Toomer is secretary.

o Approved the mayor’s new appointments of Ed Willett and Scott Unke to the Planning Commission, and Jody Whitmore and Kent Unke to the Board of Zoning Appeals.

o Approved the mayor’s reappointments of Wendy Emler to the Planning Commission and Bob Bartingale to the Fairmont Economic Development Authority.

The vote was 3-2, with Anderson and Clerc dissenting. Anderson was concerned that Bartingale is administrator at Mayo Clinic Health System in Fairmont, and the FEDA board could have difficulties discussing recruitment possibilities with other health care providers with Bartingale present.

o Set a hearing for Feb. 10 to hear public comment and take action on a rental housing ordinance. The council is considering dates for a special meeting to welcome public input on the ordinance, sometime before the meeting in February. The date of the forum will be advertised. The meeting will be televised and open to the public.

o Tabled a decision on terminating a farm land lease with Terry Nielson.

Nielson signed a three-year lease in January 2013 for 87.5 acres on the Day Farm at a rate of $417.50 per acre. He just informed the city he has retired from farming and will not be able to rent the land for the next two years.

The council is deciding whether to hold Nielson to his contract, to charge him the difference between what he bid in 2013 and what the future renter pays, or to terminate the contract as requested.