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State, federal mandates are beginning to frustrate the City Council

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WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council will be making known its frustration with mandates.

The council has directed City Administrator Michael Schmit to draft a letter asking two state agencies to review requirements or provide an appeals process for mandates on a bike path grant and a possible downtown housing rehabilitation grant.

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Council members question mandates requiring an archaeological survey of the bike path route on the historic MinnWest Technology Campus and another requiring a civil rights resolution be attached to police policy for the downtown grant.

The council says the mandates are a waste of tax money and unnecessary.

The State Historic Preservation Office is requiring the city to conduct the archaeological survey as a requirement for receiving the Department of Natural Resources bike path grant because the technology campus -- the former Willmar Regional Treatment Center -- is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The survey would look for sites that should not be disturbed, but officials say the route along the east side of North Business 71 on campus land was dug up years ago when city water and sewer lines were installed before the campus was listed on the historic register.

"We don't think (the discovery of archaeologically significant sites is) likely in this case because it's in public right of way and in a corridor where we've made significant underground utility improvements in the past,'' Schmit said.

He recalled that MinnWest went through a similar process when it assumed ownership of the property. But Schmit said the state would not accept the previous survey for the bike path project.

Council member Jim Dokken asked why the city is spending $3,785 for the survey if the corridor was previously dug up. "What are the chances we're going to find anything?'' he asked.

Schmit said the question was excellent, but he said the survey is a condition of the grant. The cost will be paid with revenue from the local option sales tax.

The council also contested a state Department of Employment and Economic Development requirement to ensure the use-of-force policy prohibits use of excessive force by law enforcement agencies against individuals engaged in nonviolent civil rights demonstrations.

Schmit said he was notified that a DEED employee had pointed out that the city's use-of-force policy does not conform to federal Housing and Urban Development grant requirements. The Willmar Housing and Redevelopment Authority has applied on behalf of the city for an $800,000 HUD grant for housing and downtown rehab activities.

Schmit said HUD was requesting the inclusion of wording that pertains to individuals engaged in nonviolent civil rights demonstrations and the enforcement of applicable state and local laws against physically barring entrance to or exit from a facility or location which is the subject of such nonviolent demonstration.

Police Chief Jim Kulset said the department's policy prohibits excessive force under all circumstances, much less nonviolent demonstrations. "It probably came about because someone different was looking at the grants and auditing the grants than who used to do it,'' he said.

Schmit suggested the policy not be amended, but that appropriate language be attached to the policy. The suggestion was made during a conference call with a DEED employee who reviews HUD grants.

"As far as I know, that was acceptable to them,'' Schmit said. "If the community wants to pursue federal and state grants, we may not like it but we have to play by those rules. This is a federal requirement that is being requested by DEED.''

Council member Steve Ahmann said the council "should attack this as another one of those federal and state mandates.'' Because local government aid is being cut, mandates should be reduced, he said. He asked that a letter be written asking the agencies to review the mandates or provide an appeals process.

Council member Ron Christianson said the survey was a waste of taxpayer money, but said it was another layer of bureaucracy to go through.

The archaeological survey was approved 7-0 with Tim Johnson, Jim Dokken, Bruce DeBlieck, Doug Reese, Denis Anderson, Ahmann and Christianson voting in favor. Rick Fagerlie was absent.

The council voted 6-1 to add the civil rights resolution to the police policy with Reese, Anderson, Ahmann, Johnson, Dokken and DeBlieck in favor and Christianson opposed.

The council also:

? Was urged by Willmar resident David Herzer to support proposed state legislation that would require seatbelt use by motor vehicle passengers as well as drivers and allow enforcement as a primary offense.

? Approved a request by the Willmar Design Center to seek qualifications from registered landscape architects to prepare a schematic design for a downtown commons on Becker Avenue from First Street to Sixth Street Southwest.

? Voted to let Voss Plumbing and Heating of Paynesville, a contractor with the wastewater treatment project, use underground directional drilling rather than open excavation to construct 1,700 feet of force main in southwest Willmar at no additional cost.

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