The Spring Grove City Council had an exceptionally full agenda for their first meeting of the new year. The January 17 meeting began with a short public hearing, during which the council moved to approve the subdivision of a property held by the Richard and Julie Amundson Trust, and to formally repeal (effective July 1) the ordinance which had established the municipal liquor store. No members of the public spoke on either topic. The public hearing was then closed, and the board moved into discussion of old business.
New Houston County sheriff Brain Swedberg introduced himself and gave some stats on the department’s work in the city from September through December. There were 172 calls, 122 of which occurred while a deputy was working in Spring Grove. Nine citations were given during that time frame.
Discussion then moved to the ongoing process of closing the liquor store. An inventory of the equipment and other items was done – a lot of it is not in great shape. Realtors Stephanie Gulbranson and Kelly Meyer gave their respective pitches for taking on the sale of the store. Each presented their strategy for marketing the property, and their view on its potential value. Council member Chad Rohland remarked that the council should attempt to get the best possible price for the taxpayers of Spring Grove. Councilor Trent Turner agreed but pointed out that getting the sale done quickly in order to bring a new business to town also had its advantages. Turner brought up the possibility of adding a temporary non-compete clause for the off-sale portion of the store, to help entice someone to take the plunge on purchasing the business. Mayor Saundra Solum concluded discussion of the topic noting “we want a retail business in there.” With the store remaining open until July 1, there is still more time to consider the options.
The ongoing issue of the alley by the Farmer’s Co-op proved to be the most contentious subject of the evening. The alley’s current location is different than what is shown in an old survey, though the city has maintained it in its present location for a as long as anyone can remember. Resident John Sylling had requested it be moved to the location shown on the survey, to give him more space to safely back out of his garage. Because he owns the land on both sides of the alley, there would be no net gain or loss of land for the city. The city had agreed to move forward with that a few years ago but it did not get done, and in that time another property owner, Russell Gerard, has become concerned about the implications of the decision and how it was reached. Gerard addressed the council with his concerns, including his belief that Sylling had moved the footprint of his garage closer to the alley when he rebuilt it. Accusations became heated for a time. Ultimately, the council moved to proceed with their previously agreed upon course of action, having run everything by their attorney again to double check. The project will be lumped in with a resurfacing project occurring nearby in 2024.
Courtney Bergey Swanson gave a report from the EDA. She described the various tax incentives they are looking into that could be utilized to help rebuild the hardware store. They are also working with a developer who is proposing to build 10 housing units in the city. There is a state grant which could help with the project – the application deadline is February 1. There are still a great many details that need to be worked out; Swanson indicated they at least need to show the state they are serious about moving forward.
Following those discussions, the council turned to new business. There was a long list of appointments for various liaisons and committees, including EDA, housing, parks, planning, fire, swimming pool, public works, police, and union negotiations. Nominations for all positions were approved. Councilmember Rohland was especially excited to participate on the parks committee.
Amanda Myhre, who handles animal control for the city, addressed the council on issues relating to feral cats – and stray animals generally – in Spring Grove. She described changes she has experienced since the city began contracting with Houston County for police services. The county officers are more limited in what they can do to help enforce the city’s ordinances, and Amanda is stretched thin in her ability to handle the situation on her own. She performs animal control for several cities as well as working other jobs, and feels the current situation is untenable. Residents are feeding feral cats and releasing them from traps that have been set, and many people do not keep sufficient control of their own animals. She asked the council to take some action to get the situation to a more manageable level. Mayor Solum suggested the city should notify residents in their next bill that they plan to take action, but that that the issue will take time to solve.
Focus then shifted to technology issues. The city is unhappy with their current IT provider, Pantheon. Two entities have submitted proposals to take over provision of those services, including local company Spring Grove Communications. After considering their options, the council felt SGC could provide better service – and everyone was pleased to be able to offer business to a local company. The council moved to notify Pantheon of their intent to discontinue service.
In its easiest decision of the night, the council moved to waive Fest Building fees for the “Relief, Recover, Rebuild” event, which will commemorate all those who helped during the town’s recent fire.
Nearing the end of the agenda, councilors proceeded to discuss a bicycle rally that would like to make a stop in Spring Grove. The rally would involve about 300 people, who would spend about a day in town, and camp for the night behind the Fest building. It was described as being similar to the Ragbrai event that takes place across Iowa. The council was receptive to the idea, provided the group follows all ordinances related to noise.
The final item of the open session was a review of the city’s electric rates. A 10% increase in the usage rate was proposed by the city’s advisors, which amounts to about 1 cent/kwh of electricity used. Council members voiced their hesitation to increase any costs, but ultimately felt it was crucial to keep the electric fund solvent. The increase was approved.
Having worked through its regular agenda, the board moved into closed session at 8:12, to discuss personnel issues. Their next meeting will be on February 21, at 6 p.m. All are welcome to attend.