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Wadena County assisting Menahga with law enforcement

Adam Gunderson resigned as Menahga Police Chief on Dec. 2. The Menahga City Council also approved the final property tax levy, payable in 2023. It’s a 9% increase, or $47,026, over last year’s levy.

MenahgaCityHall2022Medium.jpg
Menahga City Hall
Shannon Geisen/Park Rapids Enterprise
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Wadena County Chief Deputy Joe Schoon is serving as Menahga’s Chief Law Enforcement Officer (CLEO).

Adam Gunderson resigned as Menahga Police Chief on Dec. 2.

Interim City Administrator Laura Ahlf explained that Schoon has been providing CLEO services since Gunderson’s departure.

At Monday’s meeting, the Menahga City Council agreed to designate Schoon as CLEO on a month-to-month basis and reimburse Wadena County for his work. They authorized Ahlf to negotiate the compensation.

Council member Robyn Keranen asked if a current police officer was interested in becoming CLEO.

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Ahlf replied that no officers were interested.

The council will advertise the police chief position at a rate of $29.25 to $43.25 per hour, depending upon experience.

Ahlf reported that the police department has its own post office box. Last week, city staff discovered the mail hadn’t been collected for months.

“We haven’t had a chief for a week, but the mail hadn’t been picked up for two months,” she said, adding there were two or three bills in the pile dated from September.

The council approved a resolution to have all city mail delivered to one post office box. It passed 4-1, with Keranen opposed. Keranen said she was unsure about mail “going through many different hands.”

“Somebody has to do it” for the CLEO, Ahlf replied, adding that all mail is sorted.

Final levy and budget

The council approved the final property tax levy, payable in 2023. It’s a 9% increase, or $47,026, over last year’s levy.

They settled on a general fund levy of $441,979. With bond payments of $8,673, $32,299 and $59,746, the total 2023 levy will be $542,698.

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As for the 2023 budget, general fund revenues and expenses are balanced at $1,255,593 each.

Mayor Liz Olson pointed out that wage increases are a major factor in the budget.

“Wages just don’t go down, unless you’re really going to start cutting and then what would happen? I know right now inflation is at 9%. It’s tough on everybody,” she said.

Matthew Johnson questioned the $300,000 budget for the police department, given the size of Menahga.

Olson replied a squad car was cut from the budget, along with budget reductions in other departments.

Former mayor Joannie Liimatta recalled that Menahga’s police department budget was higher than other cities with a similar population.

Temporary administrative assistant Jensine Kurtti noted there was $1.5 million in new construction within Menahga city limits in 2022. Blueberry Township, she added, saw $4.5 million.

Mailbox standard

The council also adopted a new mailbox standard policy based on the Wadena County Highway Department’s guidelines.

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Kurtti explained the need for the new policy.

“The reason that this has come about is due to the increased number of mailboxes that are being put up within the city limits. There’s everything from concrete in a 5-gallon bucket with a mailbox on them to whatever. During this last recent snowstorm, a couple mailboxes were damaged, and they were not hit by a snowplow,” she said.

For county road residents, Kurtti said, the county will install a breakaway mailbox for $150.

Then Kurtti spoke with Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) officials, who said they prefer adoption of the state’s swing-away mailbox installation and support standards.

The council unanimously approved the new policy.

Now that the city has adopted the new policy, the U.S. Postal Service will be informed that anyone wanting a mailbox in Menahga must meet this standard. The city will not be responsible for replacing nonconforming mailboxes.

In other business, the council did as follows:

  • Approved Greenwood Connections’ budget, which includes a 3 to 5% wage increase, an insurance premium increase and a $652,000 bottom line.
  • Accepted a $16,062 quote from DMP Heating & Cooling of Menahga to replace an old, faulty furnace at Northbound Spirits.
  • Learned that Kurtti was stepping down as the city’s current zoning administrator. Ahlf was designated to replace Kurtti.
  • Approved annual pay to planning and zoning commission members, totaling $1,708.
  • Approved city council annual compensation, totaling $11,195.
  • Denied a proposal to convert a portion of First St. SW into a park due to utility improvements planned for the area, plus the complexity of vacating the property.
  • Approved a 10-year water tower service agreement with KLM Engineering inc. of Woodbury for $17,000 total.
  • Approved a $1,630 sponsorship of Community Concern for Youth program in 2023.
  • Hired Aaron Hillstrom as a firefighter.
  • Approved a new wage scale of $33.50 to $47.50 for the city administrator, in the hopes the higher rate will attract more candidates.
  • Approved an updated 2023 city fee schedule.
  • Certified 17 unpaid utility bills in 2022 to be collected by Wadena County.
  • Deferred a $304 special assessment based on income criteria.
  • Designated city hall as the official polling place for 2023.
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Shannon Geisen is editor of the Park Rapids Enterprise.
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