by Dave DeMars
With the temperature inside its chambers hovering at a chilly 60 degrees, the St. Joseph City Council opened its first meeting for 2018 on Jan. 16 and after holding a brief public hearing proceeded to authorize becoming involved in a Community Block Grant Program through the Department of Employment and Economic Development, the purpose of which is housing rehabilitation.
The housing-rehab program provides assistance to qualifying homeowners to repair or replace deteriorated roofing, soffit/fascia, gutters, siding, windows and doors. Interior items are also eligible and include electrical, plumbing, new furnaces, insulation, lead-based paint remediation, and health and safety items.
The program targets the community development and rehabilitation of areas in need, concentrating much of its assets in support of very low-income persons and other needs of the city at large.
Because the grant is highly competitive, there are several steps that need to be taken.
In previous action last August, the council had approved a contract with the Central Minnesota Housing Partnership to submit a grant proposal to DEED and compete for a grant. The council authorized a show of support for the program by making a $25,000 commitment to the program.
“It’s always better if the city has some dollars involved in the project,” said Ed Zimny, CMHP program director.
Zimny explained the City of St. Joseph was one of 36 cities out of 48 that submitted a preliminary proposal and were then invited to submit a full grant application. CMHP would submit the full application, which is due Feb. 22. Once that application is made, grant winners will be notified in May. Kick-off of the actual program would be sometime in September or October.
A meeting will be held Jan. 22 for people who might be interested in securing help from the program in improving their properties.
If awarded a grant, the city stands to garner about $195,000 that would be used to finance work on 10 proposed projects.
“We are hoping we can get people to come to that meeting next Monday to drum up support for it because the more support we have, the more people interested in doing it, the stronger our application will be,” said St. Joseph City Administrator Judy Weyrens. “If there are people who live in the area that would apply or would qualify, you should encourage them to attend.”
Authorization was approved with a unanimous vote.
The Capital Equipment Plans incorporates the five-year rotating certificates in the levy budget. The next certificate will be paid in full in 2018, so a new certificate would be issued during the year with the first payment beginning in 2019.
The CEP laid out costs for various pieces of equipment from computers to rifles, to plow trucks and lawn mowers. After taking into account prior funds that had already been dedicated to various needs, the balance of funds needed to purchase new equipment was about $265,000.
After examining the list of equipment, council member Dale Wick expressed some concerns and reservations about the need for some of the equipment. Specifically Wick addressed concerns about the needs of the Public Works Department whose requests amounted to $217,000.
Wick had asked for maintenance records on the equipment and wondered why some of the equipment could not simply be improved and repaired rather than new equipment purchased. Some of the equipment had very small amounts of repair done on it, perhaps as little as a $1,000 per year. Wick also said he really had not been furnished with good records about equipment maintenance.
Public Works Director Terry Thene said the one truck, a Ford F-250, had much work done on it and it had about reached the end of the line. As for the Chevy utility truck, it has a bad knock in the motor, and the diagnosis is the motor could fail at any time and that would cost about $7,000.
Maintenance will not save that motor, Thene maintained. It’s just a matter of time, he added.
“These trucks aren’t normal pick-ups like people pull into the garage. These trucks have worked,” Thene said.
“But shouldn’t maintenance cost more?” inquired Wick. “Shouldn’t there be yearly maintenance in maintaining these things rather than just running them until they die and looking for a new truck for everybody?”
“We do do maintenance on them,” Thene said, “but when things loosen up you don’t just jump down there until something breaks and then you repair it.”
Wick turned attention to other equipment. There didn’t seem to have been a lot of repairs on some of the equipment or at least not documented repair.
“I keep asking for it, but I’m not getting it,” Wick said. “I’m trying to find a method to inform the council and the public as to where the equipment is and why we are getting a new truck.”
Mayor Rick Schultz agreed more detail would be nice and that requests had been made. At the same time, he felt he had to trust Thene would make sound decisions with regard to needed equipment.
Weyrens offered that in the future they would do a better job of tracking maintenance, but the records still would not show when a motor was going bad or why there was a need for replacement.
“It’s difficult to tell you exactly when a truck is going to die,” Thene said. “What we are trying to do is get this used equipment replaced before we have a catastrophic failure on the vehicle.”
In the end, the council voted to approve 4-1 with Wick voting no, to approve the Capital Equipment Certificate.
During a report by City Engineer Randy Sabart, Loso tried to convince other council members the upgrading of alleys should be more of a priority for the council. As it stands, the alley projects are listed as part of the Capital Improvement Project, but they have not been funded. Loso wanted to have the alley upgrades funded. He was hoping the alleys would get done in the coming year.
Sabart said while they have estimates in the CIP, the alley projects were not prioritized. That’s the first step in recognizing the problem, but to designate funds at this time would compete with other projects that have been designated as high priority. Sabart asked what the council wanted to do.
In another 4-1 vote, council member Loso was the lone yes vote in an attempt to get alley projects higher priority and secure committed funding.
The council also approved the preliminary design phase agreement for East Park with Short Elliot Henderson Engineering. The company will provide images and concept planning as well as facilitate community-wide input sessions as well as other services. Cost for the design is estimated at $17,650.
Author: Dave DeMars
Born and raised in Wisconsin – a “Happy Days” high school experience. Attended UW-River Falls and followed their motto – “Where the free spirit prevails.” Four years in the Army Security Agency (Spies), 31 years teaching English and directing plays. Other jobs – gandy dancer, counselor at mental institution, snowmaker, apple picker, concrete finishing, janitor, furniture mover, appliance sales, insurance sales, media sales, real estate, and writer. I am skeptical to a fault and like all human being I am more oxymoron than I am anything else. I blog at http://www.curmudgeonstwist.net/