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Bemidji to change name of Stoner Avenue; theft of street signs costs city $2,000 a year

"This has been an issue for a long time," said Craig Gray, director of public works/city engineer.

Gray was referring to the 15 "Stoner Avenue" signs that disappear each year from the street located south of Lake Bemidji.

The Bemidji City Council met in a work session Monday evening and unanimously voted to begin the process of changing the name of the Stoner Avenue Northeast and Stoner Avenue Southeast signs.

Forty-three property owners live along four sections of Stoner Avenue. Five of these properties are located just south of the city limits.

Two signs are placed at 15 intersections along the avenue. Each sign costs about $100, Gray said. In a typical year, the city replaces between 12-15 signs at a cost of about $100 apiece.

"I would say, conservatively, we spend about $2,000 a year replacing signs out there," Gray said. "That's $20,000 over a decade."

Jane Mueller, the Geographic Information Systems director and co-coordinator of Beltrami County's 911 program, said the county has changed the name of five roads since 2003, including one that also included the name Stoner.

Stoner Memorial Drive Northeast (Beltrami County Road 30) was renamed North Blackduck Lake Road Northeast in 2009.

Numerous signs were being stolen from Stoner Memorial Drive, according to Beryl Wernberg with Beltrami County Sheriff's Office of Emergency Management/911 Communications, who attended the work session.

At least eight signs and sign poles were reportedly stolen from this roadway. The cost of replacing each sign, which included the labor, poles and the sign, ranged between $55 and $200.

The county's ordinance on road naming states that if a road name is vandalized four times, the road name can be changed. The county eventually sent letters to the 56 property owners indicating the change.

"We were spending a huge amount of money on that road," Wernberg said. "Since we changed that, we have not had an issue."

Councilor Ron Johnson questioned why the city or county has never caught anyone attempting to steal a sign.

"We have the same question - 'How do all these signs disappear?' And no one seems to know," Wernberg said.

Gray explained that last year the city replaced eight signs and within two days, five of the signs that were replaced were stolen.

City Attorney Al Felix said Minnesota Statute authorizes the city to be able to change the name of the street by going through an ordinance process. Approving an ordinance involves approving a series of readings and holding a public hearing.

Changing a street name can affect businesses and residents. Residents must change their driver's licenses and their banking, Social Security and medical information -- and more -- once their address changes.

Gray said changing the street signs would not cost the city "much at all," because half of the existing signs still have not been replaced.

"Either we need to buy more Stoner Avenue signs or we need to buy new road name signs," Gray said. "Your cost is going to be the same either way."

Wernberg said when deciding on a road name, the city should consider how easy it would be to pronounce and spell the road to a 911 dispatcher.

The name "Franklin Avenue" was brought up at the work session as a potential replacement name for Stoner Avenue.