Rushford City Council discusses road and utility projects, old R-P school buildings

By : 
KATHLEEN LYNN
TRI-COUNTY RECORD

Rushford Mayor Chris Hallum and the full City Council held a regular city council meeting on Nov. 13. City Clerk Kathy Zacher and City Administrator Tony Chladek were also present. Several members from the public came to ask questions during the Public Hearing portion concerning the Proposed 2019 Street and Utility Improvement Projects that would affect their properties. Derek Olinger, from Bolton & Menk, Inc. (engineering firm assisting with the project) was also present. Boy Scout, Ricky Buchanan was in attendance taking notes, who according to Mayor Hallum, was present to “observe the meeting to learn how government works.”

Micro Grant approval

The council passed “Resolution 2018-066 Approval of a matching funds Micro Grant to Il Luigi Italian Restaurant” in the amount of $150 for musical entertainment for the upcoming New Year’s Eve celebration. According to Chladek, through the help of this event, they were “hoping to get even more activity in Rushford,” and that it opens doors for more variety of grants.” Councilor O’Donnell expressed his hopes that the results could be seen, like the “Root River Jams” event held this summer. Councilor Ryman expressed the “need to track how event is promoted,” to help document results for the need for further micro grants to other businesses. Council members briefly discussed how they hope grants like these will help promote tourism and business in the area.

 

Airport

Chladek led the conversation regarding the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) for the Rushford Municipal-Robert W. Bunke Field Airport. Chladek noted that, though the city assists the airport with some funding, the airport also has state and federal funding and grant opportunities. Chladek stated, “The CIP does not obligate the city.” By working with the airport in discerning its current and future needs for maintenance, repair, and growth, it helps the state and federal government determine their budgets and plan for whatever financial assistance they have available to the airport. Chladek pointed out that the airport has to go through the same “scoring process for projects to allocate dollars towards it, and sometimes, our projects don’t make the cut.” Mayor Hallum added, “We just have to show we have a plan to maintain. We’re trying to maintain what we have.” Chladek stated, “Any adding on (to the airport) requires a study to see if it is necessary.” The council briefly discussed the current status of the airport, and agreed that it remains in good shape, with no study needed at this point.

2019 street improvement project public hearing

During the Public Hearing portion of the meeting, Derek Olinger from Bolton & Menk, Inc., first briefly reviewed results from the Nov. 1 Neighborhood Informational Meeting #2, which was held with property owners affected by the 2019 Street & Utility Improvement Project E. Grove St., Walnut St., and N. Burr Oak St., (the 2019 Street & Utility Project is budgeted for under $2 million for repairing utilities, storm drainage, and roads).  

The 2019 Improvement Project for Lamplighters Lane was also discussed at the meeting. This project is proposed to cost an additional $83,000. These estimated costs are purposely estimated on the high side to insure all costs are covered. To determine how to best budget the project and which items to repair now (and outline for future projects), Bolton & Menk, Inc., used a scoring system that thoroughly evaluated the street utilities, drainage, and road conditions. Olinger said the scoring system documented findings about the roads, utilities, and drainage in Rushford. Many roads are in various stages of deterioration. Many of the utilities are from the 1950s or older, and are often not laid out in a way that is best suited for the layout of the city. There are also drainage issues abound due to the terrain and potentially poor design. Most of these now need repair or are in danger of failing in the not-so-distant future.

Through Bolton & Menk’s scoring system, the worst items/conditions in Rushford that needed repair were prioritized. This would help the city in the decision process to try to stay within its budget and help plan for future projects. At the Neighborhood Meeting #2, several, but not all, property owners showed up to ask questions. One of the two property owners from Lamplighters Lane had given feedback on the project as of the council meeting. After Olinger’s brief recap of the Neighborhood Meeting and the 2019 Projects using charts and printed reports, Olinger and the council answered several questions from the public. No one from Lamplighters Lane was present. Questions ranged from: how the projects would be paid for, what would be involved for the owners, whether or not a section of sidewalk (that is only one block long) should be kept, and some further details on other individual property addresses are affected.

The project costs would be paid for by Capital Improvements, assessments (allowed by law and city policy), and obligation bonds, etc. City Clerk Kathy Zacher noted that following bid openings, special assessments would be recalibrated. A public hearing will then be held so property owners have an exact amount of their assessment.

Due in November 2019, owners then have the option of paying the assessments all at once or partial up front, and putting remaining amounts on the 2020 taxes. Interest will accrue on unpaid amounts that are carried over onto their taxes. This gives property owners six months to determine what works best for them to finance the improvements. Chladek stated, “Like you, we want the bids low.” Mayor Hallum added that the council was “hoping that the earlier in the year project gets more bids to bring costs low.”

Overall expressed feelings from the council and the public at the hearing were that the sections of public sidewalk served no definite purpose and should be removed. Olinger offered to show individual owners the project report that showed each property’s current estimated assessment, based on its size. Olinger explained that it made no financial sense to repair roads that have utility systems that run under them and not repair the utility systems at the same time, only to have to tear them up again later to repair the utility systems. The property owners would then be inconvenienced twice and costs would escalate for all. The proposed project would do the job once, replacing outdated, deteriorating utility systems with the proper modern systems that are more up to the jobs they need to perform and road repaired once. Mayor Hallum agreed to “do it all at once.” The Public Hearing closed and the regular meeting resumed.

The council approved modifying “Resolution 2018-067” and “Resolution 2018-068” together: “Resolution 2018-067 Ordering Improvements and Directing Preparation of Final Plans and Specifications for the 2019 Street & Utility Improvement Project: E. Grove Street, Walnut Street, and N. Burr Oak Street” and “Resolution 2018-068 Lamplighters Lane Improvements.” The modification to the resolutions was to remove the sidewalk for the one block’s section of public sidewalk that does not connect with any other public sidewalks.

Hart resignation

Councilor O’Donnell announced the resignation of Library Director Susan Hart, effective March 19, 2019. Hart has served for over 20 years.  Hart’s successor will go through an approval process by the Library Board and presented to the city council at a later date. Councilor O’Donnell also serves on the Library Board.

School buildings

City Administrator Chladek brought up the topic of what to do with the now vacant, old Rushford-Peterson Elementary and High Schools. The R-P School District owns the buildings. This has been one of Chaldek’s projects as City Administrator and working with the EDA (Economic Development Authority). The council discussed the need to communicate with the R-P School Board regarding Chladek’s extensive findings of available funding and potential uses for the old elementary and high school sites.

Councilor Ryman stated, “Half of the school board will be new members in January…and will need to be brought up to speed.” The council agreed that though the decision regarding the schools will be up to the new school board, the council has some suggestions based on their findings. Chladek has investigated what options and funding are out there for the sites from various sources, plus some public opinions, data, etc., to put together to present to the school board. Chladek stated that he felt his research could help the school board with their decision process as he had found some things “were not viable” options after all, and some that were. Chladek stated however, “We need more options. Facts, data, and resources are not matching. What do you envision for the sites? What is a better use for the site?” Chladek stated that this research could save the school board some time and effort. As time passes, it causes delays that affect deadlines for various grants and funding. Councilors Benson and Ryman also stressed the city’s need to work in tandem with the school board to best suit Rushford’s needs and re-iterated the status of the new school board members’ not being familiar with all the facts yet. Mayor Hallum stated, “Tony (Chladek) has been doing the work on this from the start. All the information has been given to R-P…this needs movement, there is no timeline. The city has a different vision (for the sites). Does the public have an opinion? The school owns the building.”

It was noted the council, Planning Commission and EDA have all reviewed the detailed report, also provided to R-P School staff, and Chladek would be happy to discuss the findings with any other interested parties.

The next Rushford City Council regular meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 26, 2018 at Rushford City Hall. All members of the public are welcome to attend.