City deals with two thorny issues

The public could see action on weedy lots in the valley, but the situation with traffic at 21st Avenue and 16th Street Northwest remained up in the air following discussion at the Minot City Council meeting Monday.

Mayor Curt Zimbelman told the council that he has reached out to the North Dakota Petroleum Council for volunteer assistance from the industry in addressing weed overgrowth on abandoned properties in the valley, which flooded in 2011.

“They may have some of the equipment that might be needed in order to handle some of these weeds,” Zimbelman said. He and the petroleum council have sent letters to oilfield companies, inquiring about any help that they might be able to provide.

Zimbelman said he also is reaching out to service clubs and residents. A program is being developed that would provide an avenue for volunteers to come in and assist in cutting overgrown yards in the valley, he said. Zimbelman said he would like to have the public works department pull in its workers from street cleaning and patching to spend a week addressing weeds and getting a number of properties cut down enough so volunteers can come in and finish them.

“It’s a health hazard in the valley so we need to take care of it and we need to take care of it as soon as we can,” he said.

Public works director Dan Jonasson told the council’s Public Works and Safety Committee Wednesday that complaints about abandoned yards have doubled this year. At that time, the city had recorded more than 270 complaints. The city increased its mowing staff from two to four people to maintain 80 lots acquired by the city for flood protection and 23 miles of levee and various boulevards as well as mow abandoned yards both in the valley and on the hills. Property owners of abandoned lots are assessed for work done by the city.

On another issue that’s also been of concern to the public, the council voted 7-6 to accept bids on a sewer and traffic signal project on 21st Avenue Northwest. The council’s Finance and Improvements Committee had recommended rejecting the bids, which came in 31 percent over the engineer’s estimate, and rebidding in the fall.

After Monday’s meeting, city manager David Waind and assistant city attorney Kelly Hendershot reviewed the council’s action and determined that the vote failed due to lack of a majority, which is eight votes from the 14-member council. Council member Dave Lehner was absent. Hendershot was to issue a formal opinion today regarding ordinance requirements on motions to spend money. Waind said the council could vote again at a special meeting planned for later this month.

With the opening of MarketPlace Foods near the 21st Avenue and 16th Street intersection, the city erected temporary stop signs that it wants to replace with traffic signals. Council member Dean Frantsvog argued that the signals need to be installed for public safety now, noting that there’s no guarantee that bids will come in lower in the fall.

One bid was received from Metro Construction, Inc. for $2.26 million. The federal Economic Development Administration will provide 80 percent of the cost, up to $1.6 million. The city could be faced with an extra $550,000 to proceed with the existing bid, once engineering and contingency costs are included, finance director Cindy Hemphill told the council.

Where that money would come from is uncertain. Hemphill said the sewer costs would be paid through water and sewer rates and the remaining costs would have to come from property taxes. Frantsvog suggested that there might be personnel savings in the current budget to cover some of the cost. Due to the extended time that it is taking to fill jobs, the city currently has 10 budgeted positions for which money isn’t being spent, he said.

Hemphill said the city continues to hire and has hired above entry level to get positions filled. She added that the city has not met revenue projections, particularly with the sales tax, which is 20 percent below forecast.

“The city is not rolling in cash right now,” she said.

In other business, the council approved a $400,000 grant and $400,000 forgivable loan from the MAGIC Fund to United Poly Systems to establish a pipeline manufacturing operation in the agricultural park.