Like many area cities, Fountain has recently found their streets dwarfed by mountains of snow. This has led to a surge in workload for Public Works and complaints by residents of unclear sidewalks. At the March 6 meeting, the council debated where to go with the snow and how best to remedy the situation.
Councilor Dave Gudmundson noted he’d been receiving calls. “Do we go around and see who’s doing them? The sidewalks are blocked and people are having to walk on the street.”
“We got a lot of snow… what else are we going to do?” asked Mayor Jim Schott.
“Where are we supposed to go with it?” chimed in Councilor Terry Hanson.
Councilor Chad Wangen noted that city ordinances specify that sidewalks are to be clear within 24 hours. “The ordinance is that it must be removed. It should be hauled out of here. It’s a safety issue,” he stressed.
A suggestion of hauling from city streets to the ballfield was made, but was soon countered by the fact that there’s no truck to haul it with unless the sander is removed from the current truck.
“This has been an exceptional year,” said Hanson. “We haven’t had a year like this in a long time. We’ve got no place to put it. What are you going to do?”
Again Wangen maintained the snow needs to be hauled out, while City Clerk Rhonda Flattum noted there must be a specific plan for Public Works.
“It’s kind of a pain,” added Councilor Ron Reisner. “We’re trying to keep the roads clean, the parking lots clean, and as much of the sidewalks clean. I know it’s the law, but sometimes you have to let it go.”
Further discussion included whether it was feasible to hire removal and additional spots for dumping the massive mounds of snow. In the end, it was decided city staff will discuss options and come up with a plan. Flattum noted she would not contact residents with uncleared sidewalks, via letter, until a plan was in place.
At the meeting, the city also received a clean audit report. Andrew Forliti, of Smith Schafer & Associates, was on hand to present the findings.
The General Fund remains healthy with an unreserved/unassigned balance at 141% of annual general fund expenditures in 2018. This amount is up 6% from the previous year. This percentage has steadily climbed since 2016. The fund increased reserves by $18,271. The difference of budget to actual expenditures was $1,747 over budget. “This is pretty close to right on target,” added Forliti. The overages were largely in unallocated and general government expenditures, as opposed to public safety, public works, or culture and recreation.
The 2018 levy was $184,760, which accounts for 36.4% of governmental revenues (excluding sewer tax levy). Additional revenue for the city includes $71,880 in Local Government Aid (LGA); 21.9% of revenues in 2018. “It’s been relatively flat the last few years,” noted Forliti. Fountain’s LGA will increase to $72,021 in 2019.
On the expenditure side, general governmental spending for 2018 was $67,616. This also is a minor change from recent years, being just $1,034 more than the previous year and a $948 reduction when compared to 2016.
Public Safety, which includes police, fire, and ambulance, saw a large decrease of $30,512 for the year. This was attributed to lower policing costs and less capital outlay in the fire department.
Public Works expenditures were $57,694 in 2018, a $13,070 annual increase. Higher wages, utilities, repairs and maintenance were noted as the cause or the increase.
The Fire, Capital Improvement, and Equipment Reserve Funds all saw healthy increases for 2018. They sit at $141,343, $61,627, and $32,315 respectively.
Debt and general obligation bonding for the city remains limited to a Minnesota Public Facilities Authority Clean Water Revolving Loan. It was issued in 2009 for sewer system improvements. Payments on the loan have reduced it to $580,430.
The Sewer Fund, while being supported by ratepayers, is not making profit enough to set aside funds for future projects. “It’s pretty much breaking even there,” noted Forliti. The city increased sewer rates last year to make up the lack of fund sustainability. Just $985 in surplus was generated in 2018. “We’re breaking even, but not necessarily putting money aside for future purposes,” added Flattum.
Schott noted the city did not have sufficient data on the Sewer Fund without a full year with the change. “We don’t really have a full picture of what the new fund will do,” he stated.
Flattum countered that the current situation doesn’t allow for any improvements. “It’s strictly a break even.” Forliti suggested the city could divert levied dollars into the fund in the future if needed.
In all funds, overall cash was up $80,000. The Capital Improvement Fund has a balance of $61,627 available for future projects, while the Equipment replacement fund has a balance of $32,315.
In other news, the council approved a contract with Frederick Schuler for City Attorney. Schuler noted he has done municipal work for cities of various sizes for many years, in addition to 25 years as public defender in the area. “I have no great expectations,” said Schuler. “I’m kind of excited to represent a smaller city. I’ll do as much or as little as you want me to.”
Two Planning and Zoning items were briefly discussed. The first, is the construction of a 60’ x 88’ building, by Peter and Melinda Swartzentruber, between what was described as Clements and Willie’s. The issue was discussed by zoning at a public meeting February 19. At that time, the two adjacent property owners were present, but no concerns were brought forth. The council approved the zoning recommendation.
The second item, noted by Mayor Schott as in the preliminary stages, is a subdivision and shed construction by Simon Hershberger. At the zoning meeting, the plan called for 12 lots, with six houses on each side. In the northeast corner of the property, Hershberger requested to construct a 60’ x 192’ warehouse shed. The area is currently zoned as a conservation district and would need to be rezoned to allow plans to move forward.
Hershberger will have the property surveyed for rezoning, according to Schott. “I told him we’ll make sure we do it right so there’s no mistakes.”
The next regularly scheduled council meeting is Wednesday, April 3, at 7:30 p.m., at city hall. The public is encouraged to attend.