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Infrastructure, Chalmers lots take council spotlight

By Sue Sitter - | May 8, 2021

Sue Sitter/PCT A worker from Jamestown firm Pipe Detectives checks a manhole on Main Avenue in Rugby.

The Rugby City Council heard updates on projects to improve water infrastructure projects and revisited an issue concerning lawn care at Rugby’s Chalmers Addition at its regular monthly meeting May 3 at city hall.

Engineer Jim Olson presented findings from a camera study of the city’s water and sewer system conducted by Jamestown firm Pipe Detectives.

Olson reported crews found a collapsed manhole near the Cenex office on Highway 3 near First Street Northwest. Workers repaired the manhole.

Olson also reported another problem near the softball diamonds at the Rugby Recreation Complex where a fence pole had been driven into clay water system pipe.

Olson said the beginning phases of a comprehensive land use plan for the city were underway. Olson told the council Ryan Graf of engineering firm AE2S was putting together a demographic information draft for the plan to distribute to comprehensive plan steering committee members to review.

The council also listened to a proposal by Olson to bring a GIS software platform to city workers to enable them to receive detailed information such as pipe locations, valves and types of underground infrastructure throughout the city.

The platform costs “roughly $12,000 to get off the ground,” Olson said.

“The GIS world within municipalities is expanding unbelievably and it’s to our benefit to hang with this, it really is. I can’t stress how easy it’s going to make it on the Public Works Department down the road,” Olson added.

Olson said information in the system can be edited and stored on a computer accessed by City Auditor Jennifer Stewart.

Local construction company owner and former council member Neil Lotvedt, who attended the meeting said he recalled time-consuming work done using large city maps, which often required updates.

“Any opposition to putting it into the 2022 budget?” Steinke asked. Hearing none, she added, “I guess the finance committee can consider that.”

The council members agreed more expenses might come up as the software was updated

Olson also told the council he applied for an application for a state water commission grant for applications to replace transmission lines and clarifiers at the city water plant. The state Water Commission is a 60 percent grant only. The application deadline is July 1.

Olson also recommended replacing 10 miles of asbestos-containing pipeline from city wells to the water plant. “We also wrote a letter to our people on the legislative side who do a lot of lobbying,” Olson said, adding, “The federal earmarks for the project are called the 2022 Asbestos Pipe Replacement Project.”

Olson also mentioned federal community funding projects, telling the council he had submitted a letter for Rugby’s infrastructure projects to Representative Kelly Armstrong. Olson said Armstrong would choose 10 projects from the applications he received.

“They accepted our letter,” Olson said of Armstrong’s office. “We’re going to step back and see what happens.”

The council voted to approve a bid by Integrated Process Solutions to provide new computers for the water plant.

Olson said the public works department would receive the old water plant computers.

“It’s vital to the City of Rugby that we keep this plant updated at all costs – the plant and the 10 miles of pipes serving us from the wells. We drop the ball on that and we’ve got people lined up outside of city hall,” Olson said.

Rugby Mayor Sue Steinke said the system was not only vital to the City of Rugby, “but All Season Water District and it just keeps going from there. It’s a regional water plant. It’s not just a city water plant.”

Olson also shared information from the City Buildings Committee, who voted in April to seek community development block grant funds from Souris Basin Planning Commission for work to make doorways accessible to people with disabilities. Other work for the armory includes replacing damaged windows. Committee member Joel Berg told the council the armory’s roof needed repairs for leaks as well.

Council members also listened as Olson told them he had asked for bids from Fargo Glass and Swanson’s Contracting to replace fans and windows and double doors at the Rugby Pool building.

Council members spent another large part of the meeting discussing a controversial decision by the Rugby Job Development Authority to table two bids for lawn care on lots in the JDA-owned Chalmers Addition in Rugby.

Council member Frank LaRocque asked why the JDA hadn’t reopened the job to bids.

Council member Gary Kraft, who also serves on the JDA replied, “You try to make the best decisions you can whether it’s at the council or the JDA or wherever and when we did get the two bids we got, in my opinion, it was quite high compared to what we had been paying the city. That was just my opinion. And when we determined to table them at that point, we felt that was the thing to do.”

“You kind of had a few unanswered questions such as each time a mowing would occur, we didn’t have it spelled out how often a mowing would occur. If it was mowed five times a month, it would be costing us way more than we had been paying. It would get very expensive and since it’s on the JDA side, that’s tax dollars that are involved. It had always worked out as far as I was concerned when the city was mowing it,” Kraft said. “They always used summer help. I’m not saying that’s the way it always was. I believe the city for the most part was recovering their costs and there’s a benefit to all of us when things are mowed up around here. It looks better.”

“When we tabled it, we didn’t realize we also voided it so we didn’t take any further action on it. We also discussed getting legal advice and were wondering whether it was appropriate to use Bill for the JDA when he’s representing the city even though the JDA is part of the city,” Kraft said.

“We were questioning whether the JDA was obligated to go up and rebid,” Kraft added.

“Seeking legal advice is part of what’s happening now,” Steinke said.

“Seeking outside legal advice with taxpayer money is against the law,” LaRocque said.

“The attorney general said that the JDA is an alter-ego of the city, a branch of the city. Therefore, our city attorney is the legal representative. So, did anyone from the Job Development Authority board seek Hartl’s legal opinion?” LaRocque asked.

Hartl said, “It was not discussed with me.”

LaRocque said, “So, that’s your avenue. You can seek outside attorney advice at your own individual expense but you can’t use taxpayer money to seek outside legal opinions.”

LaRocque said an April 10 Tribune story on the discussion at the JDA’s April meeting motivated him to research the organization’s role.

“When I first got appointed to the council in November of 2019, the Rugby Job Development Authority always emphasized, ‘The city council has no authority over the Rugby Job Development Authority.’ They’re their own entity. They’re an arm of the city but we don’t have control over their own budget and all that,” LaRocque said. “In my research, I learned that the opposite is in fact true.”

LaRocque said Hartl had told him the JDA’s decision to purchase the Chalmers Addition nearly 10 years ago had been outside of their scope of authority.

“I think the JDA would love not to have the Chalmers Addition,” Steinke said.

I think it’s time to use checks and balances,” LaRocque said.

LaRocque said the JDA’s current agreement to use city workers to mow the Chalmers lots lawns at a rate of $30 per hour was outside of the JDA’s scope of authority.

LaRocque made a motion “that the city does not mow lots on the Chalmers Addition and the city has to send out a letter for neglect of said lots that the city will mow at a rate of $250 each time per lot and $250 per lot for weed control per lot each time.”

Steinke asked if the city charged other property owners that rate.

LaRocque said, “No, but as a city alderman, I can make that motion, and I just did. I have the legal right to do so.”

Hartl said he had concerns about fairness if the JDA were to be treated different from other property owners in the city.

“I was quoted up to $200 in the past,” LaRocque said of his research into property neglect fees. “So, I’ll amend my motion to up to $200 for mowing and $200 for weed control, per lot.”

LaRocque said he preferred to charge the JDA more than other residential property owners would pay “to incentivize the JDA to take care of their own lots rather than the city. I don’t want it to get down so low that they don’t seek outside bids. That defeats the purpose.”

“You guys are busy,” LaRoque said, speaking to city public works employees attending the meeting.

After more discussion, LaRocque changed the motion for the city to charge $100 per hour to mow the Chalmers Addition lawns and address weed control separately, since the city does not normally spray herbicides on residential properties.

“The motion is still the city will not mow it,” LaRocque added. “That’s only if we have to send a letter out.”

Albrecht said, “Just to clarify this, you don’t want the city to mow the lawn?”

“Right,” LaRocque answered.

Albrecht and Kraft voted “no” to the motion, while council members LaRocque, Trottier, Joel Berg and Matt Lunde voted “yes.” The motion passed.

In other business, the council heard an introduction from new JDA Executive Director Karl Frigaard. Rugby Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Laurie Odden also spoke to the council, explaining she had been on medical leave in April and unable to hold a CVB meeting. Odden provided other updates on CVB and chamber of commerce activities.

The council voted to approve the purchase of two electronic traffic safety signs at a cost of $3,149 plus tax each. The council also heard updates from Berg, who chairs the recreation committee. Berg told the board the committee had hired David Schneibel as the city’s new recreation manager

The City Ordinance Committee reported working on issues with the Municode project, which moves city ordinances to an electronic database. Both the ordinance and finance committees reported working on a review of city purchasing policy.

The City Personnel Committee reported revamping cell phone policy in the city employee manual.

The council approved April minutes and bills and approved financials after Stewart reported a $2 million bond payment for the Chalmers Addition.

The council voted unanimously to approve a proclamation to declare May 9-15 Police Week; May 16-22 Emergency Medical Services Week and May 18 Arbor Day.

The council also unanimously voted to approve a beer license application for KJ’s Pizza Place and accept a letter of resignation from Ward 4 Council Member Chuck Longie.

The Rugby City Council will hold its next regular meeting June 1.

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