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Council temporarily shelves work on additional capital improvements

Project map

Park Rapids street and utility improvements are on the back burner in 2011 after citizens said "enough" to increased taxes.

The Park Rapids City Council has been feeling pressure to replace aging infrastructure throughout town while taxpayers want lower taxes because of an ailing economy.

The next project scheduled on the city's Capital Improvement Plan was put on hold Tuesday  after a resolution to order the improvement and preparation of plans for the Riverside area of town failed to receive four out of five council votes. Mayor Nancy Carroll, councilwoman Sue Tomte and councilman Rod Nordberg voted in favor while councilman Paul Utke voted against the resolution and councilman Pat Mikesh abstained, citing a conflict of interest because he lives in the proposed project area.

It was unclear at Tuesday's meeting whether the motion carried but city administrator Bill Smith said later that, after consulting with the city's attorney, it was determined the motion did not carry. A four-fifths vote is required to order improvements paid by special assessments.

The proposed project would replace infrastructure on Washington Avenue, Riverside Avenue, Forest Avenue, Beach Road, Third Street and Fifth Street west of the Fish Hook River. Some alleys would also be included.

Olson said at Tuesday's meeting that it was identified as a high priority project because the area has infrastructure dating back to the 1920s.

Within the entire proposed project area, the sanitary sewer is constructed with Vitrified Clay Tile Pipe (VC), Olson said. These mains were installed prior to modern record keeping so the exact installation dates are unknown. However, Olson is estimating the mains are from the 1920s or 1930s.

Olson said approximately half of the city‚s flow goes through the sewer lines in this area of town.

The Public Works Department cleans the mains on a very regular basis, Olson said. The lines have dirt and silt in them and roots have been removed from some areas. Chunks of concrete and clay tile have been removed from some areas as well.

Some backups have been reported in homes in the area.

"Several times a year, we rod that, we've cleaned it this year, we'll probably clean it next year. We just can't get ahead of it," said Scott Burlingame, public works director.

The city's Capital Improvement Plan includes other projects scheduled in the next few years, some of which can‚t be pushed back. Discovery Circle is being annexed into the city, for example, and homes will need to be connected to city utilities. Most of the projects are to replace aging infrastructure.

"When we started pushing projects back we start pushing, not just this, but the whole chain back," Olson said.

The council received input from the public at Tuesday's meeting. Several homeowners said that the timing was wrong because the economy was still ailing.

John "Jack" Miller asked, "With the tough economy we're suffering, 'why now?' People have trouble paying for food."

Several others reiterated Miller's statements about the project being proposed at the wrong time.

        Councilman Mikesh agreed that the timing was wrong.

"People can't afford it and I just don't know how we can move forward," he said.

        He wondered if there was a way to hit just the problem areas, rather than do an entire project.

        Nels Peterson lives in Park Rapids, although he is not affected by the proposed project.

"My property certainly doesn't adjoin that property but I certainly have a benefit to that improvement," he said. Sewer backups are "a massive liability risk to the city. That in itself justifies the cost. Those are deadly risks."

Peterson said the city needs to abolish the current assessment policy and go to a flat rate system where everyone in the city pays a fee rather than property owners in the affected area having large assessments.

"Even if we have an annual fee of $500 a year, it's manageable. By going that direction ... then we have the strength in numbers that we so desperately need," he said.

The city of Park Rapids has had a committee meeting regularly to discuss the assessment policy. The committee is charged with reviewing the current policy and determining if any changes are needed.

Councilman Utke said that, based on input he has received he thought the project should be tabled.

Councilman Nordberg made a motion to move ahead with the engineering report to find out more about the condition of the utilities in the area. Tomte and Carroll agreed with the motion, with the caveat that they could decide to table the project later. Utke voted against the motion and Mikesh abstained.

Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
(218) 631-2561