Menahga Police Chief Adam Gunderson asked the city council to allow him to purchase new portable radios, plus riot gear, in anticipation of Line 3 pipeline protests.
“Without having a chief for six months, (the city) saved on a lot of different areas,” Gunderson said at the Nov. 26 meeting. He estimated a $202,466 surplus in this year’s police fund.
Existing portable radios are about 10 years old, he said, and new ones will cost $37,086.
A portion of the Line 3 pipeline replacement cross into Wadena County, Gunderson pointed out, north of Menahga. “They’re already starting to see protests around the area,” he said, mentioning an incident in Clearbrook. “We’re not sure what to expect with protests on the pipeline.” He said the Minnesota DNR kicked out people who were illegally camping at the Huntersville State Forest.
Gunderson said riot gear includes helmets, masks, shields, rifles, less lethal munitions and launchers. He’ll be seeking quotes.
“We also need to update our tasers,” which are 15 years old, he said, adding one sparked when it was turned off. Three tasers cost another $8,755.
Earlier in November, the council approved Gunderson’s $55,000 request for a new squad car.
After the holidays, Gunderson said he’ll be working with Katie Heppner, executive director of The Economic Alliance, to find grants for a new fire hall/police department building.
Mayor Joan Liimatta asked if any old stored evidence could be discarded.
Gunderson said some can be destroyed, but all the files from a 2016 murder-suicide must remain because the Minnesota Department of Commerce is investigating that case.
Water rates, snow removal
Public Works Supervisor Ron Yliniemi said he has received questions about the possible $14 water rate increase.
On average, Yliniemi said a private well costs around $10,000. In comparison, the average monthly city water bill is around $50. At $50 per month, it would take 17 years to pay for a new well, he said.
With private wells, tests most of the time are overlooked, but the city tests its water daily and monthly, Yliniemi said.
“Our rates aren’t that high – if you did have a private well, like I have. I haven’t been setting aside money. Well, if you end up having to replace a pump or get the whole well replaced you’re looking at a loan from the bank, where, for the city, you’re investing in that already,” he said.
Liimatta asked the council to seriously consider purchasing the necessary equipment so the public works department can snow plow city streets. She calculated it would be about a mile of streets. She said Park Rapids has two machines to plow eight miles.
Yliniemi pointed out that Park Rapids has a dedicated maintenance person who only plows and sweeps streets, whereas Menahga is short staffed. He also expressed concern about the city having sufficient liability insurance.
Council member Tim Ellingson agreed with Liimatta, saying it is a safety issue when kids and elderly are forced to walk on snow banks or ice chunks.
“We’re not enforcing our ordinance for clearing sidewalks. They aren’t getting cleared, and people are getting injured,” he said.
“We don’t have that many attractions in Menahga,” Ellingson continued, but clearing the sidewalks so people can walk around would make the city more inviting and safe. “People appreciate that. They notice it. It’s not that hard to do it.”
Ellingson urged “a coordinated team effort” to clear streets by a certain time, whether that involves the Minnesota Department of Transportation, a contracted snow plower, volunteers and business owners.
The city ordinance requires snow to be cleared within 24 hours or the city charges $75 per hour fee to remove it, Yliniemi said. “Do you stick that and enforce it?”
Council member Art Hueber recommended forming a committee to do research and bring possible resolutions to the council. The motion passed unanimously.
Liquor store remodel
Council member Karol Andreasen asked Northbound Spirits manager Renata Parks if she had considered an expansion of the municipal liquor store.
Parks explained that, within the past two years, the city paid for a market feasibility study and hired an architect to draw up preliminary construction designs.
“It was in process, and then just slowly kind of died because of everything else that happened,” Parks said.
City Administrator Curt Kreklau noted the plans are in his office. “We could certainly resurrect that discussion,” he said.
Parks said money needs to be invested into either remodeling the existing store or building new.
Tables and chairs, which are 20-plus years old, need to be replaced and bar “is showing its age, she added. The vestibule is drafty and cold. Equipment needs to be updated.
“There’s stuff that’s been neglected,” she continued.
Parks advised the council to review the study and architectural plans.
Andreasen praised Parks for the successful zombie prom at Northbound Spirits. Parks said it will become an annual tradition.
Parks noted that before she took over, $40,000 was transferred from the liquor store fund to the general fund, but now it’s between $60,000 and $75,000 each year.
Kreklau said the liquor store is on track to hit $120,000 gross profit this year.
In other business, the council decided the full council will serve as the city’s revolving loan fund committee in order to hear a request from an existing business.