The City of Rushford is in the early stages of researching the potential benefits and ramifications of allowing the use of certain recreational vehicles within the city limits. Currently, Class 1 all-terrain vehicles and Class 2 utility task vehicles are not allowed on Minnesota State Highways, three of which converge in Rushford. Additionally, the state DNR law does not allow the vehicles on county roads in Fillmore County. Ordinances governing their usage is currently in place in Winona County and is in the works in Houston County, according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Officer Mitch Boyum. Where city or county ordinances do not spell out permitted usage, state law governs, including highway guidelines.
At the November 25 meeting, the city council discussed current traffic and vehicle regulations imposed by state law, as well as possible rules and regulations the city could enact via ordinance. Welcoming Boyum, Rushford Police Chief Adam Boyum, and Fillmore County Sheriff John DeGeorge to the discussion, City Administrator Tony Chladek noted questions of enforcement and access in and out of town come up frequently.
Eide noted there are exemptions for highway usage including crossing at a 90 degree angle while on a designated trail, using bridges to get around wetland areas, agricultural, and access into towns for the purpose of doing business, but only on specific vehicles.
“We don’t have a county ordinance,” added DeGeorge. “We don’t deal with these things every day. As a whole, our office rarely deals with situations involving them.” It was also noted that Spring Valley, Harmony, and Mabel have their own ordinances. “Ordinances can be more restrictive, not more permissive,” continued DeGeorge. “If you don’t have an ordinance, it will be that ‘how do you get into town’ issue, but surrounding the city would fall under state statute.”
The main concerns the council discussed were noise, safety, age of drivers, and enforcement. While law requires anyone operating to use any safety equipment provided and all minors must wear a helmet at all times, some ordinances dictate no minor without a valid driver’s license may operate the vehicles. Minnesota Statute 84.922 requires that, “all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), off road vehicles (ORVs) and off highway motorcycles (OHMs) owned by Minnesota residents must be registered unless exempt. A public use ATV, ORV or OHM registration is valid for three years from the year of issuance.” While insurance is not required, it is encouraged.
“If we get around to having ordinance, we will bounce these concerns off our attorney. They’re all details we would iron out,” said Chladek. The city may require permitting in order to operate such vehicles, but the details of that would also be set out at a later time. Two sample ordinances from the League of Minnesota Cities were presented, one regulating recreational vehicles and one regulating special vehicles, including golf carts. It’s possible the city could blend the two should it move forward with the issue.
“It’s a considerable amount of work to manage this program. You have to have everything in place to grant permits and to enforce,” noted DeGeorge. “I want to make sure we have the ability to follow through.”
“The number one concern is access,” reminded Mayor Chris Hallum.
“There’s a push to open the law up and revisit it,” added Boyum. “The state department of transportation doesn’t want any part of it.”
“It’s not really the lynch pin to this whole thing,” said DeGeorge, referencing enforcement of a possible city ordinance. “It’s the people in town; it’s getting from point A to point B.” The city will continue to research the issue. No decision to hold any kind of public hearing was made.
In other news, the city has scheduled a special meeting, for the purpose of further discussing the proposed Tobacco Ordinance with Fillmore County Public Health, for Monday, December 16, at 6:30 p.m., at city hall. It was standing room only at the public hearing for the topic November 12. While it’s not another public hearing, the public may attend the special meeting.
“We wanted to address vaping, but we’re roping in other things,” cautioned Hallum. While it was clear at the last meeting that the council is largely in favor of banning vaping products, Fillmore County Public Health Educator Brenda Pohlman has since suggested the banning of a legal product may create legal challenges.
According to City Clerk Kathy Zacher, the city can push purchasing age limit and flavor portions of it. “We’re not stopping the sale of the vaping product, but limiting the other things.”
“I feel like we should go back where we started, so vaping stays under tobacco policy, and changing the age to 21,” added Councilor Sally Ryman. While it’s been argued the policy should come from the state level first, Ryman noted having 53 cities passing ordinances could be enough forward momentum for the state to start addressing the issues.
Other agenda items included the city entering into a mutual agreement with Minnesota Energy Resources for the use of two city electric poles for attachment of automated metering infrastructure equipment. Two potential sites were specified, but an additional site was identified by Public Works Director Roger Knutson. According to city information, MN Energy will be responsible for all installation, maintenance, electrical, insurance, and permitting.
Library Board member Brenda Bergan was unanimously reappointed for a second, three-year term. All other board member terms are in place until the end of 2020 and 2021.
The council reviewed an evaluation form, job description, and related documents for the upcoming performance evaluation for Administrator Chladek. Reviews are due to the mayor by December 9 and will be addressed at that time. Chladek has filled the role since 2016.
The next regularly scheduled council meeting is Monday, December 9, at 6:30 p.m., at city hall. The public is encouraged to attend.