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Park Rapids rental code passes first reading

A rental code addressing life, health and safety concerns passed a first reading at the Park Rapids Council meeting Tuesday night, but the ordinance isn't likely to go into effect for several months.

City planner Mike Strodtman updated the council on decisions made since September when the council asked the rental code committee for some specific recommendations after the first draft was presented.

The committee met again and discussed fees, inspections and egress windows and a majority agreed to send the ordinance back with specifics. In addition to fees and frequency of inspections, the committee agreed all rental property will have to meet State Building Code regarding egress.

Strodtman explained it will take two to three months to hire an inspector, prepare applications and complete other background work before the ordinance can go into effect.

The council agreed to schedule a second reading Dec. 12 with a future effective date, possibly March 1.

The council established a rental code committee last March and the committee met starting in June. Police chief Terry Eilers and city attorney John Masog also were asked for feedback and their suggestions were incorporated before the first draft was presented last fall.

In addition to egress, the rental ordinance includes minimum standards regarding basic equipment and facilities, light, ventilation and heat, maintenance requirements and minimum space, use and location requirements.

Responsibilities of owners and occupants, such as care of public areas, cleanliness and plumbing fixtures, also are covered.

The city will be divided into thirds and each section will be drawn as a lottery to determine which portion is done the first year, second year and third year. Then rental inspections will be done on each property every three years. If there is a complaint, the property will be inspected immediately.

Violations can result in a misdemeanor with fines and time limits for compliance.

In addition to city staff and council members, the committee included Michelle Mahowald of the Hubbard County Housing and Redevelopment Authority and three landlords: David Bitker, Dave W. Konshok and Scott Rech.

In other action Tuesday night, the council:

n Conducted a public hearing on the Central Avenue, South Street and Middle Avenue underground utility and street improvement project.

City engineer Gary Nansen said the most of the area currently doesn't have sewer and water and has gravel-based streets. If the project proceeds, Nansen said, it would likely begin next spring and go into the summer. At the end of the project, another hearing will be held on assessments based on actual costs.

For now, the estimated project cost is $499,200. The city's share will be $119,300, about 20 percent. The rest will be assessed to property owners, based on lot size. The city council will determine the interest rate and term, such as 6-7 percent for 10 to 20 years.

The estimate for a 100-foot lot is $11,120, $15,770 for a 150-foot lot.

Several residents attended and asked questions specific to their property.

After the hearing closed, the council approved a motion to proceed.

n Ordered an update of the preliminary engineering report for the seven-block sewer replacement project in the alley parallel to Main Avenue North and Park Avenue North.

n Discussed a request to abate a special assessment for the Park Rapids Senior Center. The assessment is approximately $200 a year.

Council member Nancy Tague argued against the request, saying the group owns the building and doesn't pay property taxes. She said she thinks the seniors need to look at other options for a location. If the building were sold, she said the improvements added to the value and the group would benefit. Finally, Tague said she is concerned about the precedent that would be set.

"I 'd rather see the city go into debt $1,500 than the senior citizens," said mayor Ted Godfrey. "I don't think we're that hungry yet."

"They own the building because the city sold it to them for a dollar," commented council member Gene Kinkel. (At one time, the building was the fire hall.)

Tague's motion to deny the request was defeated. Nancy Carroll moved to approve the request, but city attorney John Masog intervened, saying that like Tague he also thought the council should consider the precedent that would be set by granting the request.

Tague moved to table it until Dec. 12 and the senior citizens group was asked to submit information on their finances.

n Approved purchase of a 2006 plow truck from Boyer Trucks, Rogers, and J-Craft, Kimball, for a total price of $136,374. City administrator Brian Weuve said new emissions standards that will be required for 2007 vehicles with diesel engines will add an estimated $10,000 more per vehicle.

n Approved buying a 2006 Dodge Durango purchased locally to replace the 2001 K-9 squad.

n Approved the resignation of Walter Meier, full-time public works employee, and will advertise to fill the position.

n Approved advertising for open committee positions once incumbents have been notified.

n Learned watertower erection has been delayed until February, but the overall project is still projected to be completed on time in July 2007.