Mayor Jim Schott remembers when the city first entered into an agreement with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for cost-sharing related to the trailhead facilities, in particular the restroom. The city’s been vocal about having not received any supplies or funding for them and just recently the council suggested the seeking of reimbursement for some of the costs. At the September 2 council meeting, DNR representatives Jessica Althoff and Kent Skaar were on hand to discuss the arrangement and issues with the site.
According to the department, the restroom facility is not compliant with Americans with Disability Act rules. The agreement between the city and the department was made long before the act came into play, but as the site is now non-compliant, department guidelines preclude it from providing funding or assisting with it.
“Reimbursement is possible, but it’s not ADA compliant. Therein lies the challenge,” said Skaar. “It’s something we really have no control over.” The department is looking at broader improvements however, that would bring it into compliance. “In the short term, are the improvements we can make significant enough to offset the cost to the community? The lack of compliance, right now, prohibits our assistance,” he continued. The department is looking at 2022 as the earliest for improvements. “ADA compliance is at the top of our list. This is an easy way to demonstrate that.”
Councilor Terry Hanson questioned why the DNR didn’t discuss the matter with the city sooner. Skaar explained that there are a number of facilities across the state and that it’s a slow process. “We have these everywhere,” he added.
“Looking at services city provides, it’s not just the restroom, but the shelter, too. We’re also looking at the parking lot in a larger component. It should be ADA parking, with designated spots,” noted Skaar. “The restroom structure itself might be one of the easier things to look at.”
It was also noted by the council that another restroom facility near Chatfield is receiving department assistance. “We are having a hard time keeping up with that one,” admitted Althoff. “It’s not good and I understand that, but we have an annual appropriation to take care of the Chatfield one.” Althoff also noted that requests to provide assistance would need to go through operational channels at the department and prior or within budget cycles. The DNR budget cycles are biennial with each fiscal year beginning in July and ending the following June.
“Everything through next June is already in place for each individual property that we manage. We’re already seeing funding shortfalls this year,” responded Althoff. “Anything outside of typical costs are not being appropriated, especially right now. It would be extremely challenging for us.”
Skaar confirmed that the DNR isn’t looking for the city to put money into ADA compliance modifications, but stressed it’s unlikely the department can financially assist with current needs.
“I would like to see you reimburse us somewhat,” noted Schott again. “I’m sure the city would love to have compliance; that’s a necessity. But, we’re small. Our budget… it’s small. That was the concern. It’s been a while and no one has ever come up and said, ‘We’ll help you.’ That was part of the deal — they were going to supply us. We understand how that works, but I would appreciate it if you would put it in there and help us. It would be in everybody’s best interest.”
“Because it’s not compliant, it presents a challenge, even with the agreement,” said Skaar. “It’s that weird place between acknowledging the department’s responsibility and not being able to do anything now that it’s not compliant.” The department plans to send representatives back to the council next year to discuss what the reconstruction might look like.
In other news, City Engineer Craig Britton, of Widseth Smith Nolting, provided the council with an update of reviews at the wastewater treatment plant. Britton is part of a contingent that will be meeting September 15, to discuss issues and improvements at the plant. It also includes Public Works Director John Hanson and Michael Morris, of MMS Environmental, with home the city has contracted to assist with the plant.
“With the plans that we have, we can piece some things together to figure out how to best optimize the plant,” noted Britton. “It’s in compliance. We’re just optimizing functions and working to keep the budget down.” He also stated he’d been reviewing previous Minnesota Pollution Control Agency correspondence. “There’s nothing that’s out of compliance, but we’re getting some swings that we shouldn’t be having,” he clarified.
The city received an update from Preston Police Chief Blaise Sass. The department has been monitoring speeding on Cedar Street as part if its contract with the city. The area has been a sore spot for the city as speeding issues continue to escalate there. Schott stated that Sass has reported the majority of drivers at 30 miles per hour or less during times of monitoring.
Undeterred, Councilor Ron Reisner again called for the city to order and install a set of three 12-foot long, six-inch high temporary speed bumps on the street. “It’s just to get their attention. We have the money in the account. Let’s get three and see if it helps. It’s something to keep people aware.” The council approved his motion unanimously.
An update on the multi-municipality, cooperatively-purchased speed sign was also given. Previously, it was noted that the sign hadn’t been ordered by the county because one of the municipalities hadn’t paid its portion yet. The funds have now all been received and the order completed. However, the shipping status is now unknown. Additionally, Fillmore County Public Health was not successful in securing a grant for its own portable speed bump, which was to be shared by cities within the county.
Lastly, the council approved a preliminary tax levy for 2021 of $210,992. This includes a general levy of $102,992, $65,000 for the sewer fund, $35,000 for capital improvements, and $8,000 for equipment. The final budget and levy will be set later this year.
The next regularly scheduled council meeting is Wednesday, October 7, at 7 p.m., at the community center.