Monday, February 13, 2012

Council and Library

Our regular meeting on Feb 7, 2012 went quickly and was pretty smooth. We had a presentation from a company that wants to create a Buhl website. Councilor White thought that was a great idea and the board agreed. We handed that over to the economic development authority (BEDA).
We had a brief discussion concerning a current employee in regards to the number of total hours the employee has earned toward retirement. That issue was turned over to the personnel committee and then to the city attorney. So far there has not been a decision.

We condemned a building that had mostly burned down. Our goal is to remove the building, but we need to follow the proper laws first.

A company sold us wireless utility meter readers two years ago for $14,000. We no longer need these meter readers and that same company has graciously offered to buy them back for $1500. Guess what we told them.

We did not approve a new ordinance requiring address numbers on houses. We didn't want to "big brother" the tax payers of Buhl, but if you have a home and don't have an address number, it makes it tough for the 911 caller to find you.

That was the highlights from the meeting. In Buhl, you can watch the meeting on local public cable.

I am also a member of the Library Board, and we had a meeting Feb 9, 2012. The library has two new librarians and they are doing a great job cleaning up and operating the library. So the Library Board doesn't have to worry about a lot of the day to day decisions. We still need another board member, so don't all volunteer at once.

That's about it. Let me know what ya think.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Library Director

Last night the Buhl library board hired a new library director and a library assistant. The two new employees will be trained by an Arrowhead Library System employee on the overall library system and will get a lot of assistance from the library board on the specifics of the Buhl Library.

Our library will be open 35 hours a week, but the specific hours have not been set yet. Our hope is that the new employees will open the library November 28, but that is pending due to a couple of new employee requirements that must be met first.

So next week you can run to the library and get your fix of books, magazines, online research and general socializing with other Buhl residents and our new librarians.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Mining Effects Dollars

Like most Iron Range cities, Buhl receives money from mining that is labeled "Mining Effects" money. This year that amounts to $30k that must be spent within Buhl on things that helps Buhl and other communities. During the October 27 2011 meeting, the council voted to spend $14,779 rehabbing Well #1. This well provides water to the city and needs maintenance.

The other $15,221 was designated to the recreation department. There are many things the rec department would like to accomplish including repair of the baseball fields, making a winter sledding hill, buying more playground equipment. I attended a rec board meeting last night (Nov 2) and there were lots of ideas on how to best spend some of that money for the kids. If you have ideas, post them here.

Friday, October 21, 2011

On to the Library

Been awhile since there was a new post, but I am going to try to get this going again. I am on the library board now, and we are looking for a new Library Director. The board spent a couple of meetings discussing many aspects of the library like the number of hours of operation, the budget, types of employee/employees, job descriptions and a lot of other things. We came to a few decisions and left some others open.

First the new Library Director. We are looking for a part time 20-30 hour per week person that can run the library under the not so direct supervision of the library board. The Director should have a lot of energy, be outgoing, and have some experience in a library setting. Our thoughts are that the new Director will assist us in hiring another employee, a roughly 15 hour per week library assistant. Using two employees will help with library hours and continuity if one of the employees decides to take another job at some time in the future.

One of the things we didn't discuss but an idea that another bright person had was to integrate the library and recreation department on some level. Moving that idea forward, it might be possible to have our second employee also work for the recreation department part time and be a Buhl recreation director. We have great volunteers in Buhl that handle our recreation department now, but it's a lot of work and we seem to burn the volunteers out quick. A paid recreation director could take a lot of the pressure off the volunteers.

The library board has initially decided to continue the 35 hour per week library schedule, but we are going to strictly monitor the usage and try to find the best days and times to serve the residents. It won't be easy.

We aren't sure if we can stay in the Arrowhead Library System in 2012 since we will not meet the MN State mandated maintenance of effort. The maintenance of effort is the amount of money that the City of Buhl must give the library, based on the amount the City gave the library the previous year. We will be short about $7000, and the Arrowhead Library System could kick our library out of their group of libraries. Time will tell.

I think my old posts were too long, which made it tough for me to write. So I am going to make shorter posts from now on. Let me know what you think.


Friday, September 4, 2009

September 1, 2009 Council Meeting

It's been few meetings since I last wrote about one. Summer life is busy, and I'm kind of lazy. But here's my account of the latest council meeting.

The mayor started off by reading a nice letter from parents of a Buhl baseball player. The parents thanked Buhl, but mostly the baseball coach Jessie W. for the fun positive season.

Next, George from Northland Securities talked to the council about refinancing two of our bonds. The terms would stay the same on the bonds, but the interest rate would lower enough that the City would save @ $27,000 over the next decade. The council approved moving forward with a more detailed study, and if all is as George said I suspect the council will approve the refinancing of the bonds.

We approved a change order for the Frantz St improvements. The contractor needed to replace a culvert that goes under Presidents Ave. The cost for the change was $1827.00.

Then we paid a partial payment for the road and improvements projects going on in Buhl for a total partial payment of $147,160.01.

Next we discussed the fiscal 2010 budget and tried to set a preliminary levy. In the end we did not set the levy because the request was for a 21% increase from last year. The preliminary levy setting is strange to start with. A proposed levy is set to meet a State of MN deadline (Sept 15 this year). Then we go through each and every dollar of the budget to try to trim wherever we can. This year, with a preliminary request 21% higher than last year, our two new council members decided that they would not vote for the levy. Good. I have tried every year since I have been on the council to set a more realistic preliminary request, and I have failed every year to get more than 2 votes. I am glad to see that Jessie and Colin want the same thing.

We will get together 1 hour before the next council meeting and try to work out a better, more realistic preliminary levy request. Believe it or not, the council has done a good job of keeping spending down. We spent less last year than we did in 2006 or 2008. The request this year is for less than either of those years or 2009. But our revenue goes down every year, so we need to continue to find ways to cut.

One very interesting thing is, if you go to this web site and select Buhl, every year available, and put in $100,000 (or any home price), you can see that the taxes in Buhl are MUCH lower now than they were in 1997. Still, we need to keep taxes low so we can continue to being new homeowners to Buhl.

Next we passed a Resolution to give $165,000 in loan money to St Louis County. The reason we did this is a bit complicated. Buhl gets $893.83 per month from Kids Peace, and in turn Buhl must loan that money out to private companies for things like infrastructure, loan guarantees, interest buy downs and other things a private company may need. The problem is that with only two people working for the City in administrative positions, we just don't have the staffing and knowledge to make these loans. So, we gave the money to the county, and they will make the loans. We couldn't use the money ourselves (I asked), so it was best to let the county run the program.

The water tower needs work, so we worked out a way to use some Mining Effects funds to get the inside of the water tower fixed. Then next year we will pay to have the outside of the tower painted. The total is $41,000 for inside and out.

Next, we okayed a new City warehouse for $33,900 that will be located just west of the #2 pump house. It might seem crazy to spend money on a new building now, but with many thousands of dollars of equipment and parts sitting outside in the weather, we need another storage building. If we can increase the life cycle of our equipment and make each of them last one or two years longer, then the new building will be well worth it.

We approved $1008.00 for new rubber mats on the skateboard ramps at the park. The old mats are worn out through use, not abuse. It's good to see the kids using the park.

We paid $33,014.00 to the League of MN Cities for our insurance.

We talked about starting a new program for administrative traffic citations. This would allow the Sheriff to give citations of $60 to speeders, stop sign runners etc instead of tickets. Then the City would collect $40 of that. The council took no action. After hearing the discussion and reading the materials provided, I am not all that positive on this program.

Next we briefly talked about a curfew ordinance, but it was tabled do to lack of support.

We approved a grant proposal for the senior center for automatic doors. The bid for the doors is $1950, and a grant should pay for that.

We reviewed the Long Range Planning minutes and made a recommendation to have the City Attorney pursue lien forfeiture by the lien holders of the old nursing home. If they will forfeit their liens, then we can tear the old building down. It needs to be torn down because it has quickly become a hazard.

We approved the receipt of a $100,000 grant from the Central Iron Range Sanitary Sewer District. We will use that money and another $100,000 CDBG grant to fix sanitary sewer lines in Buhl. The council approved going out for bids on those sewer lines.

Finally, we approved a $15,870 contribution to the Buhl Fire Relief Association to be paid next year. This is the first time I can remember approving the payment of a bill for the next year, but we did.

That was it. Come to the meeting on September 15, 2009 at 5:30 and let us know what you think about next years levy.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Council Meeting June 2, 2009

The meeting started 30 minutes early so that we could review the 2008 Fianancial Audit. Sterle and Company did our audit as they have every year since I have been on the council. The audit is available to anyone at City Hall, so I am not going to review it here. However, the audit was positive for 2008 without any real concerns. Buhl still has a fairly substantial amount of cash reserves and the auditor did not find any real problems.

Gene P spoke for Public Works to start the regular meeting. He told us that the boat landing was in, the camp ground is open, and alley cleanup was going well. He also let us know that he hired 4 people for summer help at $7.50/hour.

Mike L. spoke for the Fire/Ambulance and let us know that hydrant flushing would take place the week of June 7. Mike explained that there are 60 hydrants and it takes a lot of time and effort. So, two individuals would be paid the regular hourly rate for this work. Mike also asked for an additional $921 for the new fire truck for chassis wiring, radio install and wheel protectors. The council approved this spending and the new fire truck should be delivered this month. The final cost is @$120,000. I did not write down the exact cost but you can phone City Hall to find out.

Next up….the Rec Board asked to spend $1100 on new swings for the playground equipment. This amount was in the Rec Departments budget request for the year, so the board approved this purchase.

The meeting then went into a series of resolutions for improvements to East Monroe Drive, Frantz Street, President's Avenue and South Memorial Drive. Each project had three resolutions, and they were:

A resolution approving plans and specifications and ordering advertisement for bids.
A resolution declaring cost to be assessed and ordering preparation of proposed assessment.
A resolution for hearing on the proposed assessment.

Each project’s resolutions were passed, with the hearings to be held June 30 at the Senior Center starting at 5pm.

The total costs of the projects are estimated to be:

East Monroe Drive - $130,765
Frantz Street - $324,000
President’s Avenue – 120,000
South Memorial Drive - $75,000

The total cost estimate is $649,765, with $480,000 filled by various grants.

Next was final payment for the Stubler Pit project of $18,922.76. I asked the city engineer about the large rocks still in a pile down at Stubler and I told him that the walking trail had still not been repaired. Early on in the project, we had assurances that the “trail” would be repaired after the project was complete. There was some misunderstanding on this, as the engineer thought we were talking about the Mesabi Bike Trail, not the walking trail. An agreement was reached that will have the City Crew repair the walking trail using funds withheld from the final payment. The rocks were left, as the engineer did not believe that the contract enforced moving the rocks from the site.

I walked the trail last week, and the repairs have been completed.

Next up the council approved the purchase of a new lawnmower for $5628.52. The old lawnmower finally gave up, so the purchase was needed.

During the summer months there will be only one meeting a month….so next up the council had to approve the payments of certain regular bills for the months of June, July and August. These bills are telephone, waste, energy etc….normal monthly bills. The council approved this.

Last on the agenda was the City’s membership dues for the Minnesota Association of Small Cities. The total for the year is $562.35, which the council approved. This association lobbies the State Legislature on behalf of small cities, which gives us a larger voice in Minneapolis.

That was it, let me know what you think.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

April 21, 2009 Council Meeting

This council meeting was highlighted by the new Animal Ordinance, which I will review later in the post. The meeting started with the reports from the department heads. The Long Range Planning committee accepted Gene Mathews as a member as nominated by Mayor Pulford.

The Sheriff reported that it is time to get busy on blight enforcement again. Also, the Sheriff Department wants to rent the BEDA room for $150/month. The council voted to except that proposal.

The first order of business was Mr Troutwine from C&B Warehouse. Mr Troutwine has purchased the property at the corner of HWY 169 and Forest from the City. The term of the purchase was that Mr Troutwine would have until the end of 2009 to build a new Short Stop on the site, or the City would get the property back. Also, the cost of the site to Mr Troutwine ($14000) would be kept by the City even if the new Short Stop was not built. Mr Troutwine informed the Council that he did not think that he would be able to meet the timeline for the new Short Stop due to the current economic issues. Mr Troutwine will keep his option until the end of 2009, but he said that if the City were to find another buyer for the property, he would give up his option. So.... no new Short Stop for now.

Next up was a new Animal Control Ordinance. Buhl has a current ordinance that I think is not well written or specific enough to enforce. We need a better ordinance. However, the current ordinance is 2 1/4 pages, and the new ordinance is 11 1/2 pages. I think that the new ordinance is too long, too intrusive and I don't think it can be enforced. Some of the things in the new ordinance that I don't like are

  • The penalty for a violation is $300 + prosecution costs + a separate offense for each day. This is the same as the current ordinance, but it could be a huge cost to a Buhl taxpayer if they violate the ordinance for a couple of days.

  • If an animal is running at large, impounded and the owner is not found, the animal will be sold or disposed of (destroyed) after 5 days. This is almost the same language as the current ordinance but should be changed to give more time to find the owner and to allow for adoption of the pet.

  • Any police or Animal Control Officer may enter upon private property and seize any animal provided certain things of the things is that the seizure will not involve the forced entry into a private residence. I guess my problem with that is, the animal can be seized if the front door is unlocked, or a youth answers the door... I can think of a couple of other problems with that. Seizing dangerous animals needs to happen, but seizing barking dogs or animals at large (off the leash) is going too far.

  • The owner of a dangerous animal must have a hearing before the City Council. It would be better if the hearing were before a judge. After all, the person is guilty of a misdemeanor as an act of the City Council. They should not have to have a hearing before the same body.
  • Any animal is subject to seizing if it is considered a nuisance. A nuisance can be habitual barking, a dog urinating on the lawn, a dog or cat in any way harming property. I'm not sure we should go that far.

There are other problems I have with the ordinance, and I will propose a separate ordinance or a re-written ordinance at the next council meeting.

The vote on the new animal control ordinance was 3-2 for passage, with Councilor Swanson and myself voting against. However, later in the meeting the Council agreed to rescind that vote and wait until the next meeting to discuss the ordinance in greater detail.

Next up was the posting of the ordinance in the newspaper. By law, all new ordinances must be posted in full, or they can be posted in summary if 4 out of 5 council members agree to the summary. Both Councilor Swanson and myself voted against a summary appearing in the newspaper, forcing all 12 pages of the animal ordinance to be printed in the newspaper. Since none of the council members wanted to spend that much money on posting the ordinance, we all agreed to wait until the next council meeting for both the passage and posting of the new ordinance. It was generous of Councilors White and Gramm to rescind the ordinance vote and agree to delay the vote until the next meeting. 6:00pm on May 5, the Council will discuss the new Animal Control Ordinance in an open meeting. Hopefully a representative of the St Louis County Sheriff Dept will be able to attend. Get your copies of the ordinance at City Hall.

Next up was the confirmation of an RLK work order for Frantz, East Monroe, Presidents Ave and South Memorial. The total cost of engineering for these four projects would be $43,100 if all four are approved. The public hearing on these projects is scheduled for April 28 at 5:00pm at the senior center.

The next agenda item was a donation request for the St Louis County Fair. The council agreed with a 4-1 vote to donate $100.00 to the fair for 2009.

An announcement of Pay Equity training was next. It was decided that any council member that wanted to attend the training May 15 in Duluth could go. The cost is $29/attendee.

That's it. I'm looking for some feedback.