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Willmar Council orders plans to be prepared for 2009 street improvements

WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council has ordered plans and specifications be prepared for the 2009 street improvements.

Assistant City Engineer Holly Wilson told the council Monday night the city was proposing three reconstruction projects and two new construction projects totaling 1.8 miles with an approximate cost of $2.5 million. Two underground utility projects and some miscellaneous work are also included.

Construction bids will be approved in May and construction will take place between July and November.

Proposed street work is down this year from previous years because funds from two important sources are lacking or not available, according to officials.

One source is interest earnings from the community investment fund. Earnings are virtually nonexistent because interest rates are down. The interest earnings are used to provide the city's 25 percent match to the 75 percent cost assessed against property benefited by street reconstruction projects.

The other source is the $200,000 placed in the $3.5 million property tax levy a couple of years ago to help fund new developments. The funds from that source may be tapped, however, to cover cuts this year in Local Government Aid from the state.

Wilson said the hearing is required by law and gives citizens a chance to comment.

During the hearing, Doug Reese, who was presiding in place of the absent Mayor Les Heitke, read a letter from Delores Drakenberg, who lives at 502 14th St. S.W., which is also the corner of 14th Street and Trott Avenue Southwest.

She was concerned about the cost of possible assessments against her property for reconstruction of Trott Avenue Southwest from 10th Street to 16th Street Southwest. The street will be rebuilt when a new sanitary sewer forcemain is constructed under the street as part of the new wastewater treatment project.

City Clerk-Treasurer Kevin Halliday said Drakenberg, who indicated she is a senior citizen living on a fixed income, could apply for a 10-year property tax deferment, which is available for seniors. But Halliday guessed Drakenberg's property would not be assessed because her address faces 14th Street, which is not part of the improvement program. Only properties with addresses facing the street slated for improvement are assessed, he said.

In other business, the council set a hearing for April 6 to consider a proposed ordinance that would let dogs accompany persons into outdoor areas of food and beverage establishments. The ordinance was recommended by the council's Community Development Committee.

A law passed by the 2008 Legislature allows cities to write such ordinances. Willmar's proposed ordinance says any eating and drinking establishment, which has outdoor eating and drinking areas, may apply to the city clerk for a license to allow dogs in the outdoor area of the establishment. Persons 18 years of age or older would be allowed to be accompanied by a dog while in the outdoor area of the licensed establishment.

The council voted to support state legislation that would require everyone in a motor vehicle to wear a seat belt. Under the current 20-year-old law, law enforcement officers can ticket motorists for failing to wear a seat belt, but only if the car is pulled over for another offense.

The proposed bill would let officers pull over motorists simply because motorists are not wearing a seat belt. Anyone without a seat belt would face a $25 fine. According to the Minnesota Seat Belt Coalition, unbelted traffic deaths and injuries resonate beyond victims and their families. The coalition said Minnesotans pay major cost factors including emergency response, medical assistance, unemployment compensation and increased health care insurance premiums

Council member Ron Christianson said he thinks everyone agrees that wearing seat belts saves lives, but he said the law was another government mandate that tied to Minnesota potentially receiving federal transportation funding.