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Critters, infrastructure topics for committees

By Sue Sitter - | Feb 27, 2021

Unusual pets and feral cats were among the topics discussed by Rugby city committee members Feb. 17 as they prepared for the March 1 regular city council meeting.

Six committees met at city hall with each meeting about an hour in length.

The city ordinance committee heard a request by a Massachusetts resident who indicated she hoped to move to Rugby to be closer to family who live in the community.

Mia Woodman, who told the committee by phone she owns six pet snakes, asked them to consider changing Ordinance 416, Chapter 6.08.010, which covers keeping certain animals within Rugby city limits.

The ordinance lists snakes among animals such as skunks, wolves and alligators that are forbidden to keep within city limits.

“I know that a lot of people look at snakes and go, ‘Why would you ever possibly want to keep them?’ However, it’s nice to have a pet where if you go on vacation for a week, you don’t have to worry at all,” she said.

Committee member Jackie Albrecht told Woodman, “I do understand what you’re saying, but from the perspective of the council, when we make a decision, it doesn’t only apply to your case, where you’re taking good care of your snakes and keeping them in their cages and doing what you’re supposed to. When we make a change, it applies to everything in the future, so there’s much more to consider than just your specific case.”

“Not everybody is responsible for their animals, but the city ends up being responsible for the ordinance that allows those animals in the city,” Albrecht explained.

Albrecht said there was no second motion to vote on the matter, so it would be discussed at council March 1.

The committee reviewed ordinances pertaining to pets allowed in other cities in North Dakota. Albrecht said she knew of a resident of Balta who keeps snakes in his home.

The committee also voted to table a review of purchasing procedures until next month.

Later that day, the public safety committee reviewed a complaint by a resident of Fourth Street Southeast about feral cats. The resident complained of damage done to her home by the animals, describing the repairs and cleaning she did to rid her back door of urine odors.

Rugby Police Chief John Rose asked City Engineer Jim Olson about the storm sewer system, where the cats live in winter to keep warm.

Olson said the cats did no damage to the sewer and water infrastructure. “It’s all concrete. They just need a place to be warm,” he said.

“Once they get in, they can get anywhere?” Rose asked.

“Anywhere,” Olson answered. “They can go from one inlet all the way to the other side of town. There are no valves. They have free rein under there. They take their food with them down there, if they have any. They just stay out of the weather. It’s probably better that they’re down there than in somebody’s yard. But, they’re populating, and that’s another issue,” Olson added.

City ordinances prohibit residents from allowing their cats to roam free outside of their owners’ property and leashes are recommended for cats as well as dogs. Cats and dogs must also have licenses issued from the city and be up-to-date on rabies vaccines.

Mayor Sue Steinke told the committee, “(City) policy is that we do have traps we give people and they can trap the cats and they can be taken to (Rugby Veterinary Service). If no one claims them, they’re euthanized.”

“Concerning this specific thing, we should write them a letter telling them we’ll be happy to provide one trap or more traps and if they catch any feral cats they don’t want in their yard or neighborhood, the mechanism the city has in place to catch them and take them to the vet clinic. This is what we need to do to (show) we’ve addressed this complaint,” Steinke said, adding, “We’ve always had feral cats in this city.”

“We get (complaints) on occasion,” Steinke noted. “This is the first one we’ve had (in approximately a year).”

Rose indicated his officers had seen predators such as coyotes and foxes within city limits on rare occasions, but this occurred during nighttime hours.

In other business, the public safety committee approved January’s police report.

The public works committee voted on what Steinke and committee members called an “urgent” need to begin wiring work on sewer/water system lift stations.

Steinke heard public works employees Greg Boucher and Troy Munyer describe how power rationing and rolling blackouts in area municipal utility providers could interrupt water and sewer service, which depends on electricity-powered pumps and lift stations, which control the water flow.

The blackouts came in an effort to conserve electrical power provided by the Southwest Power Pool, a 14-state cooperative that has experienced blackouts in Texas. The pool delivers power to providers in North Dakota.

Steinke noted the interruptions include municipal electricity providers such as Northern Plains Electric, which serves nearby communities, “so right around us this is happening.”

Steinke said electricians had been hired to do electrical work at the lift stations and told Munyer that due to the rolling blackouts, “tell them it’s an ASAP thing.”

Boucher said water systems in other cities have been affected by the temporary power shutdowns.

“They didn’t shut down our wells last night, but (a provider) told me from Cando this morning, it could be forty-eight hours and we could shut down,” Boucher said, noting electricity providers do not warn cities of shutdowns in advance.

Boucher and Munyer said a new generator for the lift stations has been ordered, but it was urgent that wiring work be completed before then.

Committee member Dave Bednarz said he would ask an electrician to complete the work as soon as possible.

The committee also heard updates on a proposed steering committee for a comprehensive land use plan and funding to improve water/sewer infrastructure on 2 ¢ Avenue. The committee approved a request for mosquito spraying services at the Dale and Martha Hawk Museum, near Wolford. The city will bill the museum for the services.

When the buildings committee met, Olson advised the group to scale down plans for building-wide improvements to the Rugby Armory “due to a lack of funding to move forward with the entire project.”

“If we were to do the entire project, the annual payment (on loans for the improvements) would be just north of $112,000,” Olson said. “That’s if we were to do everything in that armory. But there’s no funding that can be had for a building like that, unless we decided we could break up the project and go after CDBG (community development block grant) funds in the future. That’s one way of addressing this issue.”

Olson also recommended canceling a scheduled March 15 public meeting on the proposed improvements.

When asked by committee member Joel Berg about the lack of funds, Olson said he had discussed the project with engineer Jay Klevin. “I’ve dealt with a lot of grant funding and it’s just not going to happen,” Olson said. “So, I’ve followed up on it.”

“I think in the era of COVID, it’s pretty much dried up,” Steinke said of funding.

“The best course of action, if there’s an action, is to bust it up into smaller projects as we go on. I know the armory’s hurting to get things done,” Olson said.

The committee decided to make improvements on the armory a few at a time to save on costs. Members voted to begin by replacing windows with rotting frames in the building.

The buildings committee also reviewed work needed at the Rugby swimming pool located next to the Rugby High campus.

Berg told the group the building lacks a ventilation system, leading to corrosion in the metal frames.

Bednarz suggested the committee ask Olson to inspect the building housing the pool. “It’s been about four years since we’ve had an engineer look at that swimming pool (building),” he noted.

“Right now, there’s $350,000 (in a fund set aside for the swimming pool) and I would like Jim to take charge of that and see how we can get the roof done, because you can see daylight through the roof,” Bednarz added.

“Maybe you could get the beams sandblasted and painted,” Bednarz said, adding, “there’s no ventilation in that building. On the whole west side, none of those windows open. They’re all frozen shut. The only thing where we get ventilation is from an overhead door.”

The committee voted to have Olson inspect the pool building and make recommendations.

In other business, the committee voted to accept an offer from roofing contractor Tecta America to inspect work the company had done on roofs for the armory and the city water plant about three years ago. The committee also voted to hire a firm to strip and buff the armory floors in the summer.

The finance committee approved the purchase of a new police car with a $20,000 down payment and agreement to finance the balance of the cost. The committee also approved financials, a 2021 cash report and expenditure and revenue reports at their meeting.

The recreation committee heard a proposal to begin an American Legion youth baseball program by Rugby resident Dave Schneibel. The American Legion in North Dakota sponsors 43 class B-level baseball teams for youth age 13-19.

The recreation committee also discussed repairing damage done to fencing at the baseball diamonds near Ellery Park during work on a drain tile project last year. The committee voted to refer to minutes from prior meetings for information on proposed work and pricing from Dakota Fence. The committee had earlier voted to pay an amount not to exceed $4500 for the repairs.

Deputy Auditor Candy Munyer told the group the city had placed ads for vacancies for a seasonal recreation manager and seasonal recreation director position. Munyer said city hall has received no responses so far.

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