LaPrairie City Council

October 15, 2020

    The LaPrairie City Council convened remotely on Oct. 5 and several routine issues were discussed. 

    City Engineer Jayson Newman informed the council that sewer cleaning was winding down, and crack sealing of LaPrairie streets has been completed for the year.

    City Clerk Lisa Mrnak reported back to the council with a quote from Lefty’s Rent-A-Tent for $781 to rent a tent and some accessories for the upcoming Nov. 3 general election. The council had previously considered the option for keeping overflow voters socially distanced on election day. 

    Councilor Joe Abeyta suggested that rather than renting a tent, residents could stay in their cars to keep warm, and whenever a voter came out of city hall another person could exit their car and come in to vote. Several councilors offered suggestions on how to regulate traffic. City Maintenance Worker Bill Hildreth volunteered to direct traffic.

    Mrnak next said that she had been in contact with the Itasca County Land Department regarding the parcel of tax-forfeited land at the end of Timberline Drive. The council is looking at the parcel as part of its effort to increase recreational opportunities along the Prairie River. Councilors offered several ideas on developing the property for recreational use including; tying it into the bicycle trail, building a boardwalk, using the site for the proposed fishing pier and creating an access for kayaks and canoes. Newman ruled out an access for larger boats. The council decided to discuss the parcel of land with Sarah Carling with whom they are brainstorming economic development ideas.

    Mrnak also addressed the city’s new logo. She has been in touch with the art department at Grand Rapids High School and there are currently two entries for the logo project. 

    Forms have been sent to area businesses that may be interested in recouping losses due to the pandemic from CARES Act funds. Mrnak reminded the council that it committed to setting up a committee to review any applications that may be returned. Mayor Jonathan Bolen deferred creation of a committee until applications were returned. 

    In other business, the council:

    • Established Nov. 9 as the date to certify the vote from the Nov. 3 general election.

    • Approved the Telecommutor Forward! certification.

LaPrairie City Council

September 17, 2020

    The LaPrairie City Council convened remotely for its regularly scheduled meeting on Sept. 8 where the topic of pandemic-related expenses was discussed. Councilor Mike Nelson opened the conversation saying, “The end of the year and the end of the fund allowance is going to catch up to us before we know it, so anything we don’t use is goes back and somebody else is going to burn it up somewhere else.” 

    Nelson said that in order for the city to be reimbursed for COVID-related expenditures, goods and services have to be COVID-related, a need has to be demonstrated, and the purchase has to be made before the deadline. 

    Councilor Joe Abeyta added that any purchases made that would not have been made without the pandemic can be justified. He also noted that cleaning supplies could be paid for with COVID-19 funds as can supplies required to operate from a distance.

    Returning to the list of needs that the city has, Nelson cited a laptop computer, repair of an air-conditioner at city-hall, and equipment to operate a computer remotely. He also suggest considering equipment that the city might need to rent such as patio heaters and temporary shelters to keep people socially distanced during the upcoming general election.

    Nelson added the city also has the ability to transfer funds to LaPrairie businesses and residents that can demonstrate a negative impact due to the pandemic as long as those residents and businesses were not receiving aid from another branch of government. He suggested creating a form for businesses and families to fill out.

    Councilor Ken Olson asked if the purchase of laptop computers with COVID funds directed at certain individuals or all councilors. Mayor Jonathan Bolen said it was his understanding that two laptops, at a cost of about $1,000 each, were under consideration - one for the mayor and one for the zoning administrator. 

    Abeyta said that he thought laptops should be purchased for the entire group with COVID funds. Bolen asked, “How much are they really going to be used?” 

    “We don’t know yet,” said Abeyta. “We could end up having to use them all next year.” 

    Bolen countered saying, “I guess what I’m getting at is right now Zoom works.” Abeyta answered saying, “Now is the time to fund that. Later on, we might not be able to.” Bolen ended the exchange by moving on to the next topic.

    In other business, the council:

    • Voted to increase salaries of election judges to $16 /hour and $17/hour for head judges with meals provided for all judges.

LaPrairie City Council updated on CARES funding

August 27, 2020

    At the Aug. 17 meeting of the LaPrairie City Council, Rob Sjostrand from the Itasca Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) presented information regarding grant money that will be available to area businesses that have suffered economic losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.     

    Sjostrand is the business consultant at IEDC and was on hand to promote the Itasca Business Relief Grant Program that was recently approved by the Itasca County Board of Commissioners. The Commissioners authorized $1.5 million dollars in business relief grants that will be made available to for-profit businesses in Itasca County in the coming months. An additional $300,000 is specifically earmarked for the county’s logging industry.

    Grants would be awarded on a lottery basis in the range of $1,200 to $20,000 per business. He added that grant amounts will be based on need. Sjostrand said the application process would be streamlined and that it could be done through IEDC’s website (

    IEDC is hosting additional meetings via Zoom technology at 2 p.m. on Aug. 20 and 24. The application process will follow on Aug. 25, 26, and 27. Sjostrand said IEDC personnel will be available from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on those three days to assist applicants with the application process. 

    Sjostrand anticipates the applications to be processed during the month of September and awards will follow sometime during the middle of October. 

    Sjostrand added that his organization is currently working on a plan for nonprofits but the work is incomplete. Some of the CARES Act money will help fund relief for nonprofits.

    Itasca County received about $5 million from the CARES Act, and it was expected that about $1 million be used to assist businesses. By allocating $1.8 million dollars to business relief, Sjostrand said the county greatly exceeded expectations.

    At the conclusion of his presentation Sjostrand asked for questions. Mayor Jonathan Bolen asked Sjostrand whether his organization was reaching out to business owners. “We are at this point via social media, our website, our contact list, but it’s a very short window of a couple of weeks that we’re trying to get this out so we’re trying to hit as many community groups, townhalls, everywhere that we can to spread the word,” Sjostrand responded. Bolen then asked if the lottery would be completely random. Sjostrand responded that it would be completely random as long as the applicant could show need. 

    In other business, the council:

    • Approved a resolution from Itasca Waters promoting clean water in Itasca County.

    • Purchased Adobe Acrobat software at a cost of $449.

LaPrairie City Council

August 13, 2020

    The LaPrairie City Council convened via Zoom technology for its regularly scheduled meeting at city hall on Monday, Aug. 3. 

    City Engineer Jayson Newman was on hand to inform the council that he had met with Sarah Carling from Community Economic Development Associates. Carling was present at the last council meeting to kick off a dialog about projects the city is interested in moving forward. 

    Newman reported that Carling is investigating funding sources for the city’s top priorities, adding that she sees a lot of potential in LaPrairie. Carling is set to meet with the council on Aug. 24.

    City Clerk Lisa Mrnak announced the kickoff to budget meetings. She reported the council will begin budget discussions for 2021 in August. The preliminary budget will be announced on Sept. 14 and the final budget will be put to a vote on Dec. 7.

    Mrnak also noted that some election judges are beginning to voice concerns over the COVID-19. Mrnak said that she is looking at alternatives and has the situation under control. The council then voted to appoint election judges for the 2020 election. 

    Mrnak next turned her attention to the city’s insurance bill. She said that the city had received an invoice for $6,129 through the Minnesota League of Cities insurer, Otis Magie. The bill represents an increase of $406 over last year. Mrnak said she called the insurer to ask about the rate hike and was informed that the increase of 7 percent represents an inflation guard. The council agreed that Mrnak should follow up with the city’s insurance representative to inquire about the increase.

    In other business, the council:

    • Voted to donate $200 to Grace House.

    • Was informed that it will receive $77,494 in LGA funding for 2021.

LaPrairie City Council

July 30, 2020

    At the July 20 meeting of the LaPrairie City Council, Sarah Carling was on hand to deliver a presentation on economic development. 

    Carling is a consultant with Community Economic Development Associates (CEDA) which is currently under contract with Itasca County to deliver economic development ideas to area communities.

    Carling said that she wanted the city to conduct one or more meetings in order to get economic development ideas flowing. She said it was preferable to have community involvement in the meetings. She noted that given the current environment, the meetings could also utilize social media channels such as Facebook Live to accommodate social distancing. She said the council meeting room could also be rearranged to conform to the rules.

    The meetings would result in a document that Carling would deliver to the council and would have a maximum of 10 economic development ideas to consider. The contents of the document could then be altered and prioritized.

    Carling then opened up the presentation for questions. Mayor Jonathan Bolen asked if different subsidy options could be considered. “Potentially, yeah. I try to help identify grants, loans, resources that we haven’t tapped into in the past,” she responded. Carling added that there were other tools at her disposal such as fundraisers and networking that could help finance projects.

    Carling then requested that the council establish a date for the first meeting, noting that the number of meetings per community is about four but emphasized the number can vary depending on the needs of the community. The council decided to host the initial meeting on Aug. 24 beginning at 6 p.m. That meeting would likely last about one hour and 30 minutes. 

    In other business, the council:

    • Voted to donate $672.00 to the Itasca Historical Society.

    • Announced a contest to develop a new city logo that is open to all LaPrairie residents. The deadline is Nov. 30 and the winner will receive a $50 gift certificate.

    • Clarified that in-person voting at City Hall in the November election will be accommodated while following any restrictions pertaining to the Covid-19 virus that may be in place at the time.

LaPrairie moves forward with infrastructure projects

July 16, 2020

    At the July 6 LaPrairie City Council meeting, City Engineer Jayson Newman was on hand to update the council on ongoing projects. As promised at the last meeting, Newman was back with two quotes for sewer cleaning. One was from Rapid Rooter in the amount of $24,113.75. The other bid was submitted by Ritter and Ritter in the amount of $27,206.35. The work to be done covered selected areas of the city and specified sewer main cleaning, lift station cleaning, waste disposal and traffic control in the scope of work.

    Based on its low bid, Newman recommended Rapid Rooter but said that the expenditure could be reduced by removing items from the scope of work. Councilor Mike Nelson said he would like to see the areas covered by the cleaning come into closer alignment so that cost for the service becomes roughly equivalent. Currently, the city’s coverage area is split into two portions, each of which has sewer cleaning performed every four years. Some councilors speculated that the cost for sewer cleaning in the remaining portion of the city was about $15,000. Nelson’s proposal would bring the cost to about $20,000 every other year. Newman said he thought that could be accomplished in the coming years. The council voted unanimously to award the contract to the low bidder with no changes.

    Newman also had two quotes for crack sealing on Furhman Avenue, Sisler, Voges and Walter, LaPrairie Avenue North, Glenwood Drive, and the bicycle trail from 10th to Pleasant. Bargain Companies submitted a quote in the amount of $8,688 and RC Sealing came in at $9,900. Newman also pointed out that Bargain had the ability to fill in gaps in more severe cracks at an additional cost of $3,744. The council decided to take $2,000 from the Park and Recreation budget to cover crack sealing on the bike trail and voted to award the contract to Bargain Companies at a total cost of $12,432.00.

    Newman then turned his attention to the drainage ditch on Glenwood. Previously, Newman had described flooding concerns raised by a resident who owns property adjacent to the ditch. After speaking with the resident and visiting the site, the city engineer said he thought debris removal from the ditch as well as trimming grass in the ditch would help to increase flow. He also recommended allowing grass around the perimeter of the ditch to grow taller. Newman said the resident would not agree to any of his recommendations regarding grass length, but thought that removal of debris could be accomplished. Mayor Jonathan Bolen directed the city’s maintenance staff to remove the debris from the ditch.

    Lastly, Newman brought up the possibility of building a fishing pier on the Prairie River. Newman said there were various possibilities to tap funding. Councilor Joe Abeyta and Newman said they would look into the matter further.

    In other business, the council:

    • Increased the city clerk’s hourly wage from $22.47 to $23.80 retroactive to June 1.

    • Noted that the Itasca County Sheriff’s Office would pay costs associated with repairing the city’s warning siren.

LaPrairie addresses infrastructure projects

June 25, 2020

    At last week’s LaPrairie City Council meeting, City Engineer Jayson Newman was on hand to update the council on several projects he is working on. 

    Newman first noted a culvert on Martin St. that is failing. Residents in the area initially said the asphalt over the culvert was buckling but now there appears to be a depression in the asphalt over the culvert. Newman said he looked at the culvert and observed an obstruction but couldn’t determine the nature of the blockage. He offered a couple of solutions including a patch, wholesale replacement of the culvert, and postponing any work until it can be included in a larger project to gain better pricing. Councilors followed the engineer’s recommendation and decided to remove the obstruction and put a patch over the culvert.

    A survey of roads in LaPrairie revealed cracking on some roads - none of which was severe. Furhman, Sisler, Voges, and Walter had enough cracking to warrant crack-sealing. Mayor Jonathon Bole directed Newman to get a quote for crack-sealing on the four roads. Newman said he anticipated the cost would be on the low end of a $3,000 – 5,000 range.

    It has been two years since the city had any of its sewers cleaned. Newman reminded the council that the city was scheduled to have half the sewer system cleaned every other year. He has been in touch with Ritter and Ritter, the company that provided the low quote on the last cleaning and they have expressed interest in doing the work again. Newman said he would send a quote package to Rapids Rooter as well and report back to the council at the next meeting.

    Lastly, Newman touched on a drainage issue that affects a drainage ditch from the intersection of Lorane and Glenwood to the Prairie River. In relatively large rain events, the property north of the ditch is being flooded. Newman said that the property is in a flood zone and characterized the issue as a low elevation problem. The owners of the property, Jeffrey and Linda Niemala, wanted the ditch to be better defined. The water table would prevent dredging the ditch any further, and creating a berm would likely solve the problem. Newman said he would discuss the possibility with the land owner.

    In other business, the council:

    • Voted to allow structures measuring 120 square feet or less to have a minimum setback of 6 feet from interior and rear lot lines.

    • Voted against the repair of the emergency alert siren after receiving a quote from DSC Communications in the amount of $2,595 for repairs.

    • Acknowledged Schwartz Gravel for volunteering to remove the city’s brush pile at no cost to the city.

    • Voted to grant Councilor Joe Abeyta authority to prepare and adopt the City’s COVID-19 preparedness plan.

LaPrairie mulls commercial building inspection options

June 12, 2020

    At the June 1 regular meeting of the LaPrairie City Council, Zoning Officer Larry Curtiss was on hand to discuss commercial building code enforcement. 

    Curtiss said he had been in touch with Rob Mattei, community development director for the city of Grand Rapids as well as Andy Sharpe, a traveling building code inspector from Duluth, to discuss the city’s commercial building code inspections. LaPrairie’s contract with Grand Rapids for commercial building code inspections is set to expire and Curtiss wanted the council to consider its options.

    Curtiss said the city of Grand Rapids wanted to amend its current contract for commercial building inspections. Councilor Mike Nelson said that it was his opinion the proposed changes to the contract offered little in the way of substance. Curtiss agreed, but added that the city of LaPrairie would still “be on the hook” for some of the building code services that Grand Rapids performs.

    Nelson noted several times that the city of LaPrairie does not have much in the way of commercial property. Mayor Jonathan Bolen agreed, but initially argued that Sharpe would take responsibility for his work. However, review of his contract indicated that Sharpe would not stand behind his work, either.

    Curtiss noted that the city could opt out of the contract with Sharpe at any time. Nelson commented that the city would have to pay Sharpe a monthly retainer fee of $100. Nelson again observed that there was not much commercial property in the City of LaPrairie.

    Nelson made a motion to accept the contract being offered by Grand Rapids. Ken Larson seconded and the measure passed.

    In other business, the council:

    • Voted to purchase and install a new hot water heater at a cost of $940.25.

    • Voted to have the city’s Terex repaired.

LaPrairie City Council

April 30, 2020

    The LaPrairie City Council convened for its regularly scheduled meeting via Zoom on April 20, when the council took care of a couple routine issues. 

    Citizens and councilors both have noticed that there is a lot of trash in the ditches. Treasurer Lisa Mrnak said that one household in LaPrairie had called City Hall to suggest that the council think about supporting a city-wide cleanup where residents would contribute to collecting trash from ditches. Several councilors voiced support. City Engineer Jayson Newman added that there was a delay to Itasca County’s commitment to run its street sweeper through the city’s streets due to mechanical problems.

    Mrnak also said that Itasca County had visited the home of a LaPrairie resident to investigate a claim that a snowplow had damaged the resident’s mailbox. The county found no evidence that the blade of a plow had damaged the mailbox. The resident turned to the city, and it was the council’s consensus that they would not be held responsible for LaPrairie mailboxes.

    Zoning Officer Larry Curtiss said that he had added some verbiage to the city’s ordinance that prohibits parking on the city’s streets. The measure was adopted unanimously.

    Councilor Joe Abeyta questioned the need for the city’s membership in RAMS (Range Association of Municipalities and Schools). Abeyta said that benefit area seemed to start at Coleraine and continue northeast along the Iron Range. Several councilors agreed and councilor Mike Nelson suggested the issue be revisited at budget time.

LaPrairie City Council

April 16, 2020

    The LaPrairie City Council convened for its regularly scheduled meeting April 6 via Zoom technology, which allowed councilors to attend remotely. 

    Councilor Joe Abeyta asked City Engineer Jayson Newman if it would be possible to extend the Zoom technology into the area of public hearings. Specifically, Abeyta was referring to the Glenwood Acres project. The project did receive a public hearing, but more than six months has passed since the initial meeting, making a second meeting necessary. 

    “The big part would be trying to get the bids out and I don’t know if we’re going to get the bonding this late, especially with everything going on at the capital right now,” Abeyta said. Newman responded, “Yeah, there are some difficulties within that.” The city engineer agreed that another public hearing would need to take place, however, under the current circumstances, the city would have to get creative with convening a public meeting. He suggested the possibility of holding such a meeting in the pavilion or parking lot to keep people spread out.

    Newman then turned his attention to the bonding question. He didn’t anticipate that the bonding question would be a problem because the bonds being talked about were private bonds as opposed to state bonds. However, Newman did add, “You have to keep in mind that it does take time to put those plans together which is getting pushed further out there, and we’re not at our peak speed right now because we’re working remotely.”


    About one month would be required to conduct the bidding process. “With our current time frame being April right now, it’s difficult to get it constructed by this year, but that doesn’t mean we can’t continue moving forward with the plan if that is still the council’s wishes,” Newman said. 

    Newman concluded his remarks by outlining a three step approach to move things along. The steps recommended were: to approve the plan going forward, get the plan’s specifications ready for bidding in the fall, followed by construction in 2021.

    Abeyta responded that he was concerned about the $250,000 that the city had been awarded from IRRRB. Abeyta said that the city had six months to spend the money and that the window of opportunity would close on the award if the project were moved back to 2021. Abeyta suggested contacting IRRRB to see if the timeline could be extended, or the project furloughed due to the pandemic. Mayor Jonathan Bolen concurred.

    Newman responded saying, “Exceptions do exist. If we go beyond that twelve month period in their contract, we need to give them a progress report.” He indicated that if the scope of work did not change, the project could continue. He said that if sewer and water or paving were removed from the project, then IRRRB should be notified as soon as possible.

    Mayor Bolen asked Abeyta if he had talked to any more citizens about the project. Abeyta said that he had talked to two additional residents, noting that one person was in favor of the project and one was not. Abeyta said he still had two or three people to talk with yet but said currently the project was a 50/50 proposition. The council scheduled a wok session for April 27 to discuss the scope of the Glenwood Acres project.

    In other business, the council:

    • Voted to donate $250 to First Call For Help.

    • Noted that Board of Equalization will be held on April 16.

    • Established a cap of $250,000 on the city’s checking account, with amounts over that to be moved to the city’ savings account.

    • Approved a one year extension for the Northland Baptist Bible Church to hook up to sewage.

LaPrairie City Council

February 13, 2020

    At last week’s LaPrairie City Council meeting, City Engineer Jayson Newman was on hand to update councilors on the Glenwood Ave. project. 

    Newman said that he had asked Braun Geotechnical to put together a proposal for performing soil core sampling on Martin St., Lorane Dr., and Saylor St. Newman said there were two cores proposed for Martin St., two for Saylor and four on Lorane Dr. Information gleaned from the report would help in many aspects of road building such as cross-sectional views of the road profiles, aggregate forecasts and groundwater levels.

    Newman went on to say that the work would not be done until the spring of the year when the ground thawed. “There’s no commitment on this right now; I’m trying to be proactive.” Newman said the information would be valid for “a good amount of time,” however, he encouraged councilors to act sooner rather than later. The proposal could be fine-tuned but presently, the cost of the soil borings and geotechnical report would be $6,915.

    Citing the 2015 LaPrairie Ave. infrastructure project, Councilor Tony Donahue said that cutting corners on soil sampling was “no place to pinch pennies.” That project ran into cost overrun problems when inadequate soil samples were taken on Glenwood Ave. during the rebuilding of LaPrairie Ave. in 2015. Large volumes of material had to be removed and replaced under Glenwood Ave., resulting in a $108,000 cost overrun. Itasca County, a partner in the project, paid $35,000, and the city of LaPrairie paid the remaining $73,000. 

    Mayor Jonathan Bolen indicated that he still had to take input from some of the citizens within the project area and elected to table the matter until the next council meeting. 

    Bolen then announced that the city had been successful in its application to IRRRB for a $250,000 grant for the Glenwood Acres infrastructure project. He prompted the council for input on accepting the grant. Councilor Mike Nelson asked if the city could accept the grant and make changes to the project after doing so. Newman said that if the scope of the project were to change, IRRRB would have to be notified. 

    The matter was tabled until more public information could be gathered. 

    The council and Newman agreed that another public meeting should be held. The Council set the date of March 23 for a second public meeting to discuss the Glenwood Acres infrastructure project. 

    In other business, the council:

    • Adopted a road maintenance agreement between the city and Itasca County.

    • Voted to accept a proposal from Northland Portables at a cost of $100 per month for the summer season.

LaPrairie citizens voice concerns on street improvement plans

August 15, 2019

    Several people were on hand last week at a LaPrairie public hearing to discuss a proposed plan to make improvements on Lorane Drive, Martin Street and Saylor Street. 

    Lorane Drive resident Greg Frazier was the first to speak and said that his calculations indicate that a lot with 100 feet of frontage on the project area would cost $25,000 over 10 years in assessment fees. There would be an estimated $8,000 in additional cost to hook up to city sanitary sewer. “This is the gift that keeps on giving. You’re also going to have a monthly bill for city sewer and water.” 

    “I’m 63 years old very soon. If this goes through, I will be forced to continue working and I don’t think anybody should have the right to tell me how long I will work or not work other than myself,” Frazier said.

    Harmony Madden was next to speak. Madden said that she lives on Martin Street. She said that her neighbor’s septic system had been failing for a long time and that her water was horrible as a result. “Something needs to be done,” she said. 

    Madden said that her husband has brought the issue to the attention of some council members but that nothing has been done. 

    Kurt Saylor of Saylor Street spoke next. Saylor opened his remarks by saying that he wholeheartedly agreed with Frazier’s position. “My property here, I don’t want it. I don’t want city water. I don’t want city sewer.” 

    Saylor also said that elevation on Saylor Street sloped down away from LaPrairie Avenue and that it would cost a lot of money to install infrastructure that would serve the residents on the road. He concluded his remarks by noting that there were more people on Saylor Street that were against the project than were in favor of it.

    Tom Cook of Lorane Drive took the microphone next and asked for clarification on hook-up and ditching fees. He also asked what the city has done to procure funding through grants and other government resources as well as how long the project might take to complete. 

    City Engineer Jayson Newman responded that the project would take most of the summer and that there would be minor amounts of additional work to complete the year after the construction was complete. 

    Cook concluded his remarks by asking “When and how is the decision made to go forward?” 

    Newman again fielded the question saying that after public input, the council could order plans and specifications for the project within the next six months and send the project out for bids. Up to that point Newman said the city is not obligated to proceed with the project. However, once a bid is accepted and notice is given to proceed, the city is obligated to see the project through to completion.

    Randy Becker of Martin Street spoke last. Becker said that his well and septic were terrible. He added that for the money he would have to put into a new well and septic, versus the cost of the city’s plan, the difference would be minimal. “I would never have trouble again on city water and sewer” her said.

    Mayor Jonathan Bolen wrapped up the public input by asking for any final commentary. Saylor reiterated his position and added that he would be in favor of repairs to Saylor Street without the addition of sewer and water. Frazier reminded the audience that proceeding with the project would mean residents would have a monthly bill for sewer and water that they don’t currently have, which he speculated would cost between $30 and $60 per month. Scott and Amy Mann, who currently live on Martin Street but previously lived on Voges Avenue, said their bill was $300 per month for city sewer and water while they lived on Voges Avenue.

    The City Council voted to accept the feasibility report for Saylor Avenue and to hold another public hearing on Aug. 19 to discuss changes to the scope of the project.

LaPrairie postpones updated code decision

June 28, 2019

    At the June 17 meeting, the LaPrairie City Council conducted a public hearing to receive input on updating the city’s municipal code on nuisances, chapter 92, Sections 92.15 through 92.24. 

    No members of the public were present, but Councilor Mike Nelson raised two concerns with the new verbiage. He argued that there was insufficient language in the proposed ordinance to separate compost from other debris that would be considered a nuisance. Composting, he said, was becoming more prevalent for him personally and as a service the city offered to residents and, as such, he wanted an exception for compost in the updated ordinance.

    Nelson also objected to language relating to the use of domestic power equipment. As written, the use of domestic power equipment would be restricted to the hours between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends and Fridays. Nelson asked the other council members to consider adopting the hours of 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. for weekdays as well as weekends.

    All of the remaining council members that were present weighed in on the matter as did zoning officer Larry Curtiss, who noted that he had received a blight complaint due to compost. He said that an exemption for compost should include size restrictions. Consideration of adopting the ordinance was tabled until the July 1 meeting.

    Curtiss reported that progress was being made on most of the properties that had received letters regarding blight. There were two properties that still needed work and he singled out the Hoolihan property as particularly problematic. Three vehicles had been removed from the property as well as metal debris, and a truck overflowing with garbage. Curtiss said the garbage from the truck was still sitting up against the house.

    City Engineer Jayson Newman was not present but did drop off a list of road projects that are currently under consideration. Newman’s list indicated that Martin, Lorane, Elizabeth, Sisler, and Green were being looked at in the short term. MaryAnn is a medium range project at this point and Saylor is the lowest priority street on the list of road rehabilitation projects. 

    In other business, the council:

    • Set a date of Monday, July 1 for a public hearing to consider regulations regarding the construction of building cellular telephone towers.

    • Authorized a raise from $20.54/hour to $21.82/hour for Clerk Treasurer Lisa Mrnak, effective July 1.

LaPrairie City Council mulls financing options for road construction

April 27, 2019

    At the April 15 meeting of the LaPrairie City Council, George Eilertson of Northland Securities was on hand to explain some funding options for a future road construction project on Glenwood Drive. 

    Eilertson said that Northland Securities was a firm that provides financial services to public entities such as cities, counties and schools. He summarized what the council discussed previously with respect to financing, namely a loan from USDA Rural Development and the possibility of a grant from IRRRB. The grant would likely fall in the neighborhood of $250,000, far short of the projected $1.5 - $1.8 million price tag of the project.

    Issuing conventional general obligation bonds is another option, however, the city would need to obtain a bond rating. Eilertson said that the higher a city’s bond rating, the lower the interest rate on a loan. Later in Eilertson’s presentation, he would add that the state would put its AAA bond rating behind a utility-related project, increasing the credit-worthiness of a municipality.

    Eilertson presented three scenarios: Bonds of 20, 25, and 30 years. Based on today’s markets, a 20-year bond would carry an interest rate of 2.84 percent, a 25-year bond would be set at 3.04 percent and a 30-year bond would command 3.18 percent interest. Eilertson said that the maximum length of time for a traditional infrastructure bond is 30 years. He added that the USDA loan could be stretched out to 40 years.

    Repayment of the bond would be at 105 percent of bond issuance plus interest and associated costs. He said that the state mandated an additional 5 percent be collected in the event that any residents who failed to pay their assessments would be covered by the additional revenue.

    Eilertson concluded his remarks by comparing open market financing to government financing. The potential advantages of financing through firms like his on the open market included less red tape, no labor standards, and the possibility of lower interest rates. Eilertson said these factors might allow the city to move forward with its project in a timely manner.

    At the conclusion of the presentation, City Engineer Jayson Newman asked Eilertson what the typical time frame would be for Northland Securities to figure out the rating for the pre-work on the project. Eilertson responded that the time required to issue bonds on the open market is 60 – 75 days.

    Eilertson returned to the city’s bond rating. He said that one of the criteria used in rating a city’s credit-worthiness is debt. “There’s really not any debt here in the city of LaPrairie so that’s certainly a positive in your regard.” 

    The other criteria that plays a big role in the determination of a city’s bond rating is cash reserves. Eilertson posed the question “Are you at or above the State Auditor’s recommended level of fund balance or beyond that? You couple low debt with good cash reserves and that’s a good combination for getting a nice bond rating.”

    Mayor Jon Bolen speculated that the state would back LaPrairie with its AAA bond rating regardless of the city’s bond rating. Eilertson said it was advantageous to have the city’s underlying bond rating coupled with the state’s backing. “What it says to the investment community is here’s a credit-worth community on its own and then here’s the state backing them as well,” he said.

    Newman asked Eilertson whether there would be any limits on how the money was spent. “You’re doing street and utility-related improvements. That’s what we’ll be able to finance.” Eilertson said. “We couldn’t finance improvements on private property but on public property, yes, we can do that.”

    In other business, the council:

    • Heard a presentation from Chris Mattfield and Dave Lutz on the possibility of building an independent living or assisted living facility in LaPrairie.

    • Voted to refund a $25 rental fee to users who cancelled reservations to use a meeting room. 

    • Voted to send City Clerk Lisa Mrnak to training from June 26 through June 28.

    • Voted in favor of a motion to allow former Clerk Jean Panchyshyn to fill in during current Clerk Lisa Mrnak’s absence due to training.

    • Voted to hire Larry Curtis as Zoning Administrator beginning May 1.

LaPrairie City Council

April 11, 2019

    The LaPrairie City Council convened for its regularly scheduled meeting on April 1 at 6 p.m. at city hall where they addressed several routine issues. The council:

    • Was informed the Grand Rapids Public Utilities will resume replacing water meters beginning April 1.

    • Agreed to pursue hiring a part-time summer employee.

    • Heard a report on the purchase of one or more park benches from Council Member Mike Olson and forwarded the item to the Park & Recreation Committee for consideration.

    • Voted to send the city’s maintenance worker to OSHA Safety & Health training.

    • Voted to invite a speaker to the April 15 council meeting to discuss funding options for the Glenwood Dr. road project.

LaPrairie City Council

March 16, 2019

    At last week’s LaPrairie City Council meeting, Thomas Kelly of Walker, Giroux and Hahne was on hand to deliver the city’s audit report. 

    Kelly started with a broad overview of the city’s finances and said the city received a clean or modified opinion, which is the best opinion the city could receive. “Basically, we are saying the financial statements are free from material misstatement and not misleading to the user.”

    Kelly then drew the council’s attention to the cash on hand in the general fund. The city has $296,792 in its checking account and $129,523 in a second account for a total of $426,315. The city had nearly $80,000 more in its coffers than one year previous. Later in the presentation, Kelly would cite greater receipts than anticipated and fewer disbursements than budgeted for as the reasons for the variance.

    The city has $295,976 in its water fund and $192,107 in its sewer fund for a total of $488,083. Kelly noted that both accounts had made money in the last year with the water fund increasing by $18,979 and the sewer fund increasing by $10,645. He characterized the increases favorably saying “Both of these funds made money which is a good thing because as it says at the top of the page, this is a business-type activity so it should be run like a business. They should at least break even or make money.”

    Kelly said that the findings of the audit included the lack of segregation of duties and a lack of control over financial reporting process. Kelly said that both findings were very common and they occurred in cities larger than La Prairie. Kelly indicated that he understood that the city was not in a position to hire an accounting staff to segregate duties, but said he wanted to draw the council’s attention to the issue so that it could impose as many checks and balances as possible to mitigate any risks that might be present. 

    With respect to the second finding, Kelly indicted that some cities are able to put an audit report together and then hire Walker, Giroux and Hahne to render an opinion of the report. Kelly reiterated that he understood the city did not have the resources to do things that way. 

    Kelly concluded his remarks by noting the absence of a management letter in the audit. He described the management letter as a list of items discovered during the audit process that did not rise to the level of the two audit findings, but nonetheless deserved attention and recommendations for remedy. Kelly said that he looked hard but could find no irregularities to bring to the management letter and commended Clerk/Treasurer Jean Panchyshyn for her work in preparing and organizing the city’s financial statements. The council approved the audit report with a 4 – 0 vote (one council member was not present).

    In other business, the council:

    • Set April 18 as the date for Board of Appeals and Equalization proceedings.

    • Set July 25 as the date for the city’s annual picnic.

    • Approved the city’s new Clerk/Treasurer to be an authorized bank signer.

    • Approved the city’s new Clerk/Treasurer to be an authorized credit card holder.

    • Voted to contract with Itasca County for snow removal services during the 2019/2020 season.

    • Approved an agreement with Northland Portable for the coming season’s portable toilets.

LaPrairie adopts rental ordinance

September 20, 2018

    The LaPrairie City Council convened on Sept. 10, when the city’s rental ordinance was discussed after being tabled at the last meeting. 

    Councilor Margie Ritter presented the ordinance and said the council had several options, one of which was to enact the ordinance, but delay implementation. The council voted unanimously to accept the ordinance without changes and to begin implementation on July 1 of 2019.

    The purpose of the ordinance is to ensure rental units meet city and state housing safety, health, fire, building and zoning codes. The ordinance will apply to all residential housing occupied by renters and the rental dwelling units contained therein. This includes rented single family dwellings, duplexes, manufactured homes, as well as efficiency and studio apartments. The ordinance exempts jails, hospitals, parish houses, parsonages, manses, rectories, condominiums and dormitory rooms.

    All rental property owners will be required to make application and register their properties with the city. Newly acquired properties must be registered within 10 days of ownership transfer. Registration permits will not transfer with the rental unit at the time of sale. Once implemented, a registration permit will be required for all rental arrangements.

    Terms of the ordinance allow representatives of the city to inspect a rental property upon a 30-day prior written notice to the owner of any rental unit. The rental unit owner is required to give occupants at least a 24-hour written notice of the inspection. If the owner or occupant of a rental refuses to allow an inspection, the city maintains the right to pursue all remedies under the city code, which may include seeking an administrative search warrant.

    Terms of the ordinance require that all rental units have adequate and safe plumbing, electrical, heating and sanitary systems that are free of hazards, and conform to applicable Minnesota statutes covering building and housing law. 

    Some of the specifics of the ordinance include:

    • The rental unit owner must supply a stove and a refrigerator that are in working order. 

    • Rental units must be free from dangerous air pollution levels from carbon monoxide, sewer gas, fuel gas, dust, mold and other harmful pollutants. 

    • Water must be tested on an annual basis. 

    • Bathrooms must have at least one operable window or other adequate ventilation in working order. 

    • Windows that are accessible from the outside must be lockable and capable of providing egress. 

    • Doors leading to the outside and common hallways must be equipped with a deadbolt lock. 

    • All rental units must have hot and cold running water, and a tub or shower as well as facilities capable of disposing human waste. 

    • Heating systems must be in working order.

    • Handrails are required when four or more steps are present and protective railings are required when porches, balconies and stoops are thirty inches or more above the ground.

    • Rental units must be free of rodents and substantial accumulations of trash or other debris that may attract vermin.

    • All rental units must be served by an approved public or private water supply. 

    • At least one battery-operated or hard-wired smoke and carbon monoxide detector in working order must be present in each bedroom, and in each room adjoining the bedroom on each level. 

    • Each tenant in a rental unit must keep the unit and related premises in a clean sanitary condition.

    In addition to its powers under City Code Section 6.03, terms of the ordinance allow the city to review the permitting status of a rental unit owner if the owner is not in compliance with the ordinance or if the owner misrepresents himself or herself. Permits can also come under review if tenants or their guests engage in disorderly conduct three or more times within a 36-month period. Activities of the owner or state of a rental unit that have the potential to harm the health, safety or welfare of the public may also cause a permit to come under scrutiny.

    Application fees and inspection fees will be established each year at the city’s organizational meeting. Frequency of inspections will be determined at a later date.

    In other business, the council sold a used lawn mower for $1,969.

LaPrairie City Council

July 26, 2018

    At last week’s LaPrairie City Council meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Vic Moen presided over a public hearing to discuss the blight problem on a lot north of 1771 Fraser Street. Brenda Aubrey, who owns the property was present for the hearing, and Moen invited her to speak. 

    Aubrey started off by stating that she had been incarcerated in July of 2017 and was served notice regarding the blight in August of that year. Aubrey said that she was in and out of jail during the initial 30-day time period she was given to clean up her property. Aubrey added that during this time period additional garbage and car parts were placed on her property by a man that she was involved with at the time.

    Throughout her presentation, Aubrey would return to what she called her “poor quality of life.” Aubrey cited several reasons for her state of affairs including divorce, domestic abuse, joblessness, and incarceration. She also returned to the topic of acquiring a land use permit several times during her presentation. It was not clear whether she was seeking a permit to keep a trailer on the property or a permit relating to a temporary shed.

    Aubrey did not provide any further details about the time period between August of 2017 and July of 2018, except to say that when she was released from jail, there was snow on the ground and the man she was involved with at the time had made the blight problem worse in her absence. Aubrey did say that she had removed all of the debris from the property prior to her hearing before the council, adding that she regularly mows the lot. Later in the meeting Aubrey indicated that there was still some debris on the property but said that she was willing to remove it later that evening.

    Aubrey said she eventually she wanted to use the LaPrairie lot to go green by turning the shed on the property into a micro-home. Said Aubrey, “I have lived for two years with no sewer, no running water, no electricity and I’m fine. I have my own little porta-potty, I capture rain for my stuff, I don’t leave a carbon footprint wherever I go.”

    Aubrey indicated that she might have to sell her property to pay the citations that have been issued to her for the blight. Aubrey said that her only possession was a trailer and the LaPrairie parcel of land. Aubrey said that she did not want to sell her property. “It’s all I have,” said Aubrey. Later in the hearing Aubrey said, “Without that piece of property I’m pretty much homeless, and I don’t deserve that.” 

    At the conclusion of the presentation, Moen said that while he was heartbroken by her story, he had to look out for the good of the community. Zoning Administrator, Ritter said that current zoning regulations would not allow Aubrey to turn her shed into a micro-home because there was no sewer, water or electricity leading to the property. City Attorney John Licke weighed in on the matter stating that if the council decided not to apply to the court for warrant to enter Aubrey’s property, then there would be no reason to pursue abatement. The council voted to table the matter until Aubrey’s parcel could be inspected. 

    In other business, the council:    

    • Voted to table the award of a bid to Hawkinson Construction in the amount of $46,994 for the purpose of resurfacing Fuhrman Avenue.

    • Voted to table a vote on the rental ordinance to allow for further study.

    • Voted in favor of appointing election judges.

    • Appointed Joe Abeyta to fill the vacant city council seat.

    • Awarded a bid to Schwartz & Sons Inc. in the amount of $19,650.56 for ditching work to be done along Glenwood Avenue, 75 percent of which will be reimbursed by Itasca County.

    • Approved payment to Ritter & Ritter for sewer cleaning in the amount of $10,091.08.

Blight issue dominates LaPrairie discussion

July 12, 2018

    The LaPrairie City Council convened for its regularly scheduled meeting on July 2 at city hall. In recent meetings, the council has been discussing a blight problem on Fraser Street. The council was made aware of the situation in July of 2017 when resident Brian Carlson brought the matter to their attention. 

    At the time, Brenda Aubrey was living in a shed on a lot north of 1771 Fraser Street. The blight consisted of tents, campers, and abandoned vehicles as well as other debris.

    The city sent a letter to Aubrey requesting the blight be removed in the wake of the July 2017 council meeting. The matter was taken up again in October 2017 when Councilor Margie Ritter said that city workers had cleared brush from the right-of-way leading to Carlson’s property. She also noted that the Aubrey premises had been vacated but that the blight remained. The council voted to turn the matter over to the city’s prosecuting attorney, John Dimich, at the end of the October meeting.

    At the June 18 council meeting, Dimich reported that Aubrey had been summoned for a court appearance on June 22. Dimich said that he would ask the deputy who issued a citation to Aubrey to visit the property again before the court date to see if there had been any change.

    Later at that meeting, Ritter informed the council that the city’s civil attorney, John Licke, was in the process of drafting a letter that would prohibit Aubrey from living in her camper on Fraser Street. “There are more things than just the junk. It’s also living in the camper with no facilities, no running water, and no electric,” said Ritter.

    At last Monday’s meeting Ritter informed the council that a second notice had been sent to Aubrey on June 22. The letter instructed Aubrey to terminate or abate the public nuisance and remove the personal property from the premises within seven days. Ritter said that she had driven by the property earlier in the day and that no action has been taken.

    Ritter then asked the council to set a date for Aubrey to be heard at a public meeting. “That gives her a legal right to come before the council and plead her case,” said Ritter. “That’s what I’d like to request tonight is that we consider setting a hearing date because that will keep us in step with the law.” The council set the hearing date for July 16.

    Ritter reported that the June 22 court hearing had occurred but that no action had been taken. Another court date has been scheduled for August. 

    In other business, the council:

    • Adopted a resolution to proceed with the scaled back plan to make improvements on Fuhrman Avenue.

    • Approved a health and dental cafeteria plan for city employees.

LaPrairie City Council

June 29, 2018

   Vic Moen was appointed mayor at last week’s LaPrairie City Council meeting. Moen agreed to fill the position after former Mayor Lynn O’Brien, abruptly resigned due to health concerns at the conclusion of the last council meeting. After taking the oath of office, Moen said he felt honored to serve as mayor of the city. He intends to listen to citizens, as well as make fair and just decisions. 

    Moen also reminded the audience that there was an open position on the council. Applications will be accepted through July 2.

    City Engineer Jayson Newman presented the council with estimates to address the Glenwood Ave. ditch problems. The ditch is eroding due to increased flow and a natural spring and Newman recommend adding fabric followed by rip rap to a portion of the ditch. Two local contractors submitted bids - one estimate came back at $19,650.56 from Schwartz Excavating and the other estimate came in at $26,667 from Casper Construction. Previously, Newman said the project would cost about $17,350.

    At the conclusion of Newman’s presentation, Moen asked Newman where the water from the Glenwood Ave. ditch flowed. Newman responded that it was collected on La Prairie Ave. along with some water from Lorane Dr. Moen asked if Itasca County might be willing to help fund the project in light of the fact that La Prairie Ave. is a county road and the county has full responsibility for the storage holding pond on La Prairie Ave., adding that the county has the equipment and ability to do the work. 

    “My initial thought is that maybe the County has some responsibility,” said Moen.

    Newman said it was worth having a conversation with the county to see if they would provide some assistance. 

    Moen said he didn’t want to see the project delayed any further but felt the county should be consulted. In response to Moen’s idea, Councilor Margie Ritter said “I think you have a point because those culverts and that ditch functioned fairly well for all those years and all of a sudden we have an enormous amount of water.”

    Newman asked Moen how much he thought the county should contribute. “What do you think? Is 50 percent reasonable or are you thinking it should be 100 percent?” 

    Moen said he did not know how to make an equitable calculation. Newman responded that the most ethical way to make the calculation would be by area.

    Ritter said she didn’t feel comfortable with asking the county for 100 percent and Moen echoed her thoughts. Ritter added “those ditches were holding their own and now they are not holding their own.” The matter will be taken up at the next scheduled council meeting after Newman speaks with the County Engineer.

    • Voted to repair a gate valve on Cromwell Drive at a cost of $221.26

    • Received notification from the state that residents served by the city’s water supply will be charged an annual fee of $6.36 starting in 2019.

    • Voted to send a letter to all Mary Ann Dr. residents informing them of an opportunity to hook up to natural gas through Minnesota Energy. 

    • Voted to appoint Mike Nelson Mayor Pro Tempore.

    • Voted to make Mayor Moen, Councilor Mike Nelson and City Clerk Jean Panchyshyn bank signers while eliminating Lynn O’Brien as a bank signer.

    • Voted to enter into a contract with Marco in the amount of $102.81 per month to lease a copy machine.

LaPrairie mayor resigns

June 14, 2018

    At last week’s meeting of LaPrairie City Council, officials once again took up the topic of the Fuhrman Ave. proposed improvement plan.         

    There was widespread opposition to the initial plan from Fuhrman Ave. residents, prompting Mayor Lynn O’Brien to discuss with residents the possibility of returning it to a gravel road. With widespread opposition to that concept as well, O’Brien asked City Engineer Jayson Newman to return to the council with a “bare bones plan.”

    The revised plan called for 1 1/2” of bituminous instead of the standard 2” overlay, no tree planting, and no widening of the driving surface or turn-around at the north end of Furhman Ave. Installation of driveway ramps to meet the new driving surface remained part of the plan.  


    At last Monday’s meeting, Newman said the cost of the project now stands at $40,700 compared to the original cost of $57,000.

    At the conclusion of the discussion, officials passed a resolution ordering the revised improvements on a 5-0 vote. 

    O’Brien expressed satisfaction with the council’s efforts to reduce the cost of the project. “I’m glad we took a step back and we talked with the residents on Furhman and got their ideas, and I think we’ve made a really good compromise.”

    At the conclusion of the meeting, Mayor O’Brien submitted her resignation, effective June 4 at 9 p.m. She took the opportunity to thank residents, past and present council members and past mayors for allowing her to serve the residents of LaPrairie. 

    O’Brien cited ongoing health concerns as the reason for her resignation. Said O’Brien, “…due to continued health issues, I feel it is best for the city and for me personally, that I resign.”

    The council accepted O’Brien’s resignation, and then moved that Mayor Pro Tem Vic Moen would serve as acting mayor. 

    Moen previously served in that role for a four month period this past winter. Moen’s move to fill the remaining time of O’Brien’s appointment leaves a vacancy on the city council.

    O’Brien was elected Mayor in November of 2016. Prior to that she served as a city councilor.

    In other business, the council:

    • Heard a presentation on cost estimates for Martin Street improvements.

    • Was updated on Veterans Park Trail connector.

    • Received estimates for ditch erosion protection on Glenwood Street ranging from $13,000 - $17,350.

LaPrairie City Council

April 26, 2018

    For the third consecutive council meeting, last week’s LaPrairie City Council discussion was dominated by the Fuhrman Ave. project. Tom Hopkins was the only Fuhrman Ave. resident to speak at the meeting and took the opportunity to clarify his position on the project. 

    Hopkins said that he was opposed to enlarging the turn-around at the north end of Fuhrman Ave. due to the low traffic volume. He also indicated that the scope of replacing a collapsed culvert could be reduced while maintaining natural drainage. Hopkins concluded his remarks by saying; “As far as the overlay, I don’t have any objection to it.”

    City Engineer, Jason Newman was on hand to update the council on his findings since the last meeting. He said he looked into sealants that would extend the life of the road if the overlay were to go forward. That sealant would cost between $3,825 and $5,500 plus a $2,500 mobilization fee and should be re-applied every five years. Newman also came prepared with cost savings that could be achieved with an overlay that was thinner than the two-inch overlay proposed. About $4,000 could be saved by reducing the thickness to 1.5 inches and $8,000 could be saved by reducing the thickness of the overlay to one inch, but Newman said that he would not recommend the one inch overlay. Finally, he reported that about $3,600 could be saved by not enlarging the turn-around.

    Mayor Lynn O’Brien summarized the sentiments of Fuhrman Ave. residents that she conferred with over the past two weeks. O’Brien said residents were opposed to the idea of turning the street back to gravel as suggested at a previous council meeting. She said that they were also opposed to enlarging the turn-around. O’Brien said one resident was opposed to the assessment method being proposed which is to assess each property for the amount of front footage on Fuhrman Ave. Residents also expressed interest in any products that could be applied to the road’s surface to extend its life. Finally, O’Brien said that residents questioned the need for the overly, a theme brought up many times at the initial public meeting. O’Brien said that Fuhrman Ave. was at the top of the list because the city’s engineering consultants felt that from an engineering perspective, it belonged there.

    Councilor Margie Ritter indicated that the council might want to take a look at scaling back the project in terms of asphalt thickness, turn-around dimensions, culvert configurations and tree planting. “A couple thousand here and a couple thousand there adds up to some real money,” she said. Ritter asked Newman to “look at everything and just go down to bare necessity.” 

    The council will vote on the matter when a full council is seated.

    In other business, the council:

    • Voted to authorize newly seated City Clerk Jean Panchyshyn to sign checks, and use the city’s credit card.

    • Voted to send letters of support to the Western Mesabi Mine Planning Board regarding:

    1. A request to the Legislature to appropriate $200,000 to expand monitoring and modeling of water levels in the Canisteo and Hill Annex mine pit groups.

    2. The widening of the remaining two lane Cross Range expressway between Pengilly and Taconite be given a high priority.

    3. Local units of government be reimbursed from the state for lost revenue resulting from decreased value due to conservation easements.

    4. Support for the continued operation of the Hill Annex mine.

    5. Support for continued expansion of broadband.

    • Agreed to pursue a special meeting with ISD 318 to discuss the district’s plans for the Hoolihan property which it recently purchased.

LaPrairie tables Fuhrman Ave. vote

April 12, 2018

Last week’s LaPrairie City Council meeting picked up where the previous meeting concluded, with a lively conversation about the viability of proceeding with the Fuhrman Ave. overlay project. 

At the March 19 council meeting, about half of the residents that live on Fuhrman Ave. showed up to voice opposition to the project. Last Monday evening, there was one Fuhrman Ave. resident present, Terry Taylor. Taylor also was opposed, citing cost, design flaws in the driveway ramps, and a lack of urgency.

City Engineer Jason Newman was on hand to deliver an update on the project. He outlined a few different scenarios for Fuhrman Ave. 

The first scenario would convert Fuhrman Ave. to a gravel road by grinding up the existing bituminous and laying it back down as gravel. The material would bind very well, making a robust driving surface but it wouldn’t be as comfortable as a tar road for recreational usage, Newman said. The conversion would cost about $27,000, but cost-sharing between the city and Fuhrman Ave. residents was not discussed. Newman also mentioned additional maintenance would be required on a gravel road but he did not include any cost figures.

Newman characterized the next option as “a more robust reclaiming.” He said it would consist of reclaiming the existing bituminous, construction of a four inch profile, and replacing a damaged culvert. He estimated the cost for this option at $91,500, and projected the life-span of the work to be about 20 years. 

Newman next reviewed the plan that is currently under consideration. Under terms of the current plan for Fuhrman Ave., the road would be overlaid with two inches of bituminous, a culvert would be repaired and five foot driveway ramps would be installed to allow driveways to meet the elevated driving surface of the bituminous. Widening the turnaround on the north end of the road also was discussed. The projected life of the work would be about 12 years. Cost of this project is estimated at $57,000. The city would pay half of the bill and residents living on Fuhrman would be assessed for the remainder.

Councilors weighed in on the issue next. 

Mayor Lynn O’Brien said she didn’t think it was fair to let the road go because the road would have to undergo a complete restoration in five years and that would double the cost for every citizen in LaPrairie as well as those living on Fuhrman Ave. The mayor also said she would have a hard time voting for the measure due to unanimous opposition amongst the residents who spoke at the last council meeting. O’Brien then appealed to the council for ideas.

Councilor Tony Donahue said “Yes we do hear the citizens but on the other side of that, we have the city to think about, and sometimes they’re not the same.” 

Councilor Margie Ritter echoed the thoughts of the Mayor and Donahue. “There wasn’t a single resident here last time who wanted this done,” said Ritter. “Yeah $57,000 is a lot of money but it is patently unfair to burden the rest of the citizens of LaPrairie with another $50,000 five years from now.” Ritter concluded her remarks saying “If it is truly the desire of those residents not to upgrade that street, then we just stop maintaining it at this point and we grind it down and turn it back to gravel.”

Councilor Vic Moen offered his thoughts saying he was conflicted as well. His concern was the way in which degraded roads affected property values. Moen also voiced concerns over the collapsed culvert, the importance of maintaining roads that is outlined in the city’s comprehensive plan and the width of the turn-around at the north end of the road.

O’Brien said she did not feel prepared to take a vote, adding that she would be willing to go to the homes of Fuhrman Ave. residents to discuss the gravel option. 

After taking additional input from the council, O’Brien said that it sounded like the matter should be put to a vote and asked for a motion for the resolution. No such motions were made. Ritter made a motion to table the matter, which passed unanimously.

In other business, the council:

• Passed a proclamation in support of the Boys & Girls Club of America.

• Authorized maintenance staff to attend OSHA training.

LaPrairie road project draws citizen questions

March 29, 2018

Last week’s LaPrairie City Council meeting was dominated by a public hearing to gather input on the overlay project planned for Fuhrman Ave. this summer. About half of the residents living on the road were in attendance. 

City Engineer Jason Newman explained that the overlay would result In a final driving surface that would be raised two inches from its current elevation and that gravel would be added along the edges to create a lift. He also said the turnaround would be enlarged to accommodate emergency vehicles and garbage vehicles. In addition, five foot ramps would be constructed in driveways to meet the new surface. Newman said the estimated cost of the project stands at $57,800. Typically, the city absorbs half the cost leaving the remainder to be divided amongst the 10 households on Fuhrman Ave.

Following Newman’s presentation, Mayor Lynn O’Brien asked for public input. Jason Thurm was the first Fuhrman Ave. resident to speak and asked what prompted the project. O’Brien responded that the city had devised a plan for LaPrairie’s streets to be rebuilt or resurfaced on a rotating basis. 

“That was decided way back when and now is the time for Fuhrman” said O’Brien, who was then asked if the rotation could be changed due to a high needs street, and whether such an assessment had been conducted recently. O’Brien did indicate that the rotation could be changed. Councilor Tony Donahue fielded the second part of Thurm’s question. Donahue said that the city maintained a list of the top five streets that were most in need of repair in LaPrairie and that the list changed yearly. He was not sure what position Fuhrman Ave. was in on this year’s list. Newman offered to make the list available and O’Brien said the vote on the project could be delayed until the next council meeting so that the list could be reviewed.

Tom Hopkins was the next Fuhrman Ave. resident to speak. He questioned the need for enlarging the turnaround, saying that since 1963 there had only been three ambulances and one fire truck that used the turnaround. He added that school buses no longer came down Fuhrman Ave. O’Brien responded saying the school bus situation could change, and if so, a safe turnaround would be desirable. 

Joanne Norris spoke next, asking councilors how much the project was going to cost for her residence. O’Brien said she couldn’t answer the question because the final cost of the project is unknown and the council has not yet decided on an assessment method. O’Brien did, however, note that the city has assessed road project costs in the past based on the total front footage of each parcel that benefited from the project. Based on current projections, and use of the front foot assessment method, Newman said her taxes would see an increase of $270 per year for 10 years. 

Joanne Svatos spoke next. She asked whether the existing surface of the road would be ground down. Newman explained that grinding down the surface would introduce additional cost and was not needed in this instance. Svatos also asked about the potential for ponding water and any remedies that the city might offer in the event the project did cause water to pond. Newman indicated that he didn’t think it would be an issue while O’Brien stated that there was no recourse for homeowners if water did pond. 

Resident Nathan Lane questioned officials on how long an overlay would last. Newman responded “typically it’s a minimum of ten years.” Lane characterized the overlay as a band-aid and said that the project seemed like it would cost a lot of money for a road that, in his opinion, was not in need of repair.

In other business, the council:

• Announced that the Board of Appeal and Equalization meeting will be held on April 10 at 9 a.m.

• Voted in favor of donating $250 to First Call For Help.

• Voted in favor of sending the city clerk to the Municipal Clerks and Finance Officers Association Conference and reimbursing the clerk for mileage.

• Voted in favor of sending the city clerk to the safety and loss control workshop at a cost of $20 plus mileage.

• Voted to accept a proposal from Northland Portables at a cost of $100 per month for the summer season.

LaPrairie City Council

March 15, 2018

At last week’s LaPrairie City Council meeting, Laura Pheifer, Assistant Director of Finance for the city of Grand Rapids, was on hand to deliver a presentation on LaPrairie’s finances.

Pheifer indicated that the city was in excellent shape with respect to its finances. Mayor Lynn O’Brien thanked Pheifer for her report and added that she was proud of the fact that the city of LaPrairie had no debt. Councilor Vic Moen inquired about the percentage of tax-payers who pay their taxes in a timely manner. Pheifer said that the number was approximately 98 percent and that number was typical of municipalities in the area.

City Clerk Lana Hess submitted her resignation to the council. The announcement was anticipated as the council has been working to hire a replacement for several months. Hess said she had worked in the position for about 2 ½ years and thanked the council for the opportunity. Mayor O’Brien thanked Hess for her time as city clerk and praised her work. 

The position vacated by Hess will have additional duties and will be called Clerk-Treasurer. Jean Panchyshyn has accepted the position of Clerk-Treasurer and began her job on March 6. In her resignation letter, Hess said that she would be available to help make the transition a smooth one through the end of March.

In other business, the council:

• Sent a termination letter to the City of Grand Rapids to end its agreement or financial services. The agreement has been in place since Oct. 13, 2015. 

LaPrairie City Council

February 15, 2018

At last week’s meeting of the LaPrairie City Council, Jayson Newman from SEH Engineering firm was on hand to talk about the Fuhrman Ave. project. Newman reminded the council that it had accepted the feasibility report from SEH and that to keep the project moving, the council would have to conduct a public hearing on the matter. 

When Mayor Pro Tem Vic Moen asked Newman how soon the meeting should take place, Newman responded, “the sooner the better,” adding that one month out seemed about right.

Councilor Margie Ritter asked Newman if he was recommending the hearing take place at the first meeting or second meeting in March. Newman responded by saying that there were actually two meetings that would have to be conducted. He said the first one allowed the public to weigh in on the project and the second, more formal meeting was for assessments. Moen said that he thought the second meeting in March might suit Mayor Lynn O’Brien better since the first meeting in March would be the first meeting she has personally attended in a few months. The hearing will be held March 19 at 6:10 p.m.

In other business, the council:

• Voted to replace the current no-cost e-mail addresses for councilors wishing to have a city e-mail address with accounts that initially will cost $3.99/month/account and eventually will cost $5.99/month/account. 

• Was informed that the city would no longer have to pay a monthly fee of $175/month to Itasca County as the county would be covering the cost of the animal control service going forward.

• Corrected a mistake in the city of La Prairie’s fees for 2018 regarding water usage rates.

• Voted in favor of a resolution of support for RAMS efforts regarding the PolyMet mining project.

Increased taxes a concern in LaPrairie

December 14, 2017

At last week’s meeting of the LaPrairie City Council, residents were on hand to speak about the city’s tax levy. The city is proposing a 7 percent increase in the tax levy payable in 2018. 

LaPrairie resident Chris Hookland was the first speaker of the evening. Hookland said that he purchased his LaPrairie lot in 2001 and built a manufactured home there. Now, his proposed tax statement showed a 24.2 percent increase over last year. He said that when he initially moved to LaPrairie his tax bill was in the neighborhood of $900-$930. The current proposal would put his taxes over $2,000. 

“I feel sorry for us older people that are living on a fixed income” said Hookland. “Try to live on Social Security and pay those kind of taxes.”

Councilor Margie Ritter asked Hookland if his property valuation had gone up. Hookland responded the value had gone from $148,000 to $162,000. 

Hookland asked if these kind of tax hikes are going to be allowed. Ritter responded; “You had a huge increase in your valuation. That’s the County Assessor and that’s done independently. April is the time that you get your assessor to come out to your house and re-evaluate your property.” 

Mayor Pro Tem Vick Moen added, “It’s called the Board of Equalization. They have a meeting here in April for any residents who wish to question the appraised value of their home.” Moen said all residents would be given notice ahead of the meeting.

Terry Taylor a Furhman, Avenue resident, was next to address the council. Taylor said that his proposed taxes had increased by 12 percent. He asked why $85 of the $200 increase in taxes was attributed to LaPrairie alone. Moen responded by saying the council would be convening another meeting to try to find ways of reducing the city’s proposed 7 percent tax hike. 

Moen also said the city would be overlaying Furhman Ave. in 2018 and revised estimates to do the work were coming in at a much lower cost than initial estimates. He added; “The city is in good shape. We have good streets, we have sidewalks, we’re expanding our walking and bike paths and our sewer and water is well maintained, we have great fire coverage, and we have a host of services and all those are expensive.” 

Taylor responded “Itasca County didn’t go up as much as you people did.” 

Moen acknowledged Taylor’s comment but countered that the city had seen zero percent increases over the last four to five years.

A couple, who did not identify themselves, echoed the feelings of Hookland and Taylor. The LaPrairie residents said that they were concerned about the 7 percent increase as well due to their fixed income status. The couple said that they also had seen their valuations increase this year. Moen said that the council was very sensitive to those concerns but that the city had an obligation to take care of its infrastructure. 

“It’s a delicate balance we’re trying to find here,” said Moen.

In other business, the council:

• Accepted a list of considerations to examine from SEH regarding potential development of the Hoolihan property by ISD 318.

• Granted authority to the personnel committee to enter into negotiations with potential candidates for the clerk position.

• Voted to increase the hourly wage of a city maintenance worker from $15/hour to $16/hour, effective Jan. 1.

Blight dominates LaPrairie discussion

October 26, 2017

    Blight dominated the conversation at last week’s meeting of the LaPrairie City Council. 

    Blight came to forefront of discussion during the July 17 council meeting, when LaPrairie resident, Brian Carlson noted concern about a lot immediately north of 2771 Fraser Street. The lot that Carlson referred to is not developed and is owned by Brenda Aubrey. Carlson owns two vacant lots in the Satinwood plat located immediately north of the property. 

    Carlson’s property is separated from Aubrey’s property by platted right-of-way. The right-of-way was established for building a road but, to date, that road has not been built. There is additional platted right-of-way to the east of Aubrey’s property and Carlson’s property. At the time of the July meeting, Carlson was trying to sell the lots but noted that potential buyers did not feel comfortable accessing his lots due to blight at the neighboring property as well as dense vegetation and blight in the right-of-way leading to his two lots. The blight consists of tents, campers, and abandoned vehicles as well as other debris. Mayor Lynn O’Brien promised Carlson that something would be done but said that “it will not happen overnight.”

    At Monday’s council meeting, Councilor Margie Ritter updated other officials on the matter. She said that LaPrairie maintenance workers had cleared brush from the right-of-way leading to Carlson’s property. Ritter also said that the city had sent a letter to Aubrey requesting that the blight be removed. An Itasca County Sheriff’s deputy delivered the letter to the occupants of the Aubrey property and found them to be living in a shed. The premises has been vacated but the blight remains. 

    Ritter said the city had a couple of options. The matter could be turned over to the city’s prosecuting attorney for litigation or a new letter could be sent to Aubrey from the city’s civil attorney, giving her 30 additional days to remove the blight. She also said that the city could remove the blight and add the cost of the removal to Aubrey’s taxes in the form of a lien. 

    Councilor Tony Donahue said; “I say let’s nip it in the bud and take care of it because we send letters and letters and letters… We’ve had multiple occurrences and it does take years if we just send letters.” The council voted to turn the matter over to the city’s prosecuting attorney, John Dimich.

    In other business, the council:

    • Set Dec. 4 as the date for the public to weigh in on the levy and Dec. 18 as the date to adopt the final levy.

LaPrairie moves forward with utility maintenance, improvements

September 28, 2017

    The LaPrairie City Council convened for its regularly scheduled meeting on Sept. 18 at city hall. Recommendations from utility meetings on Sept. 5 and 12 dominated the discussion. Councilor Margie Ritter said that the city should continue to purchase annual lift station maintenance by Quality Flow. City Engineer Glen Hodgson endorsed the move. The council voted to continue the city’s maintenance agreement at a cost of $1,000 annually.

    Hodgson also recommended that the city purchase a spare pump for the city’s busiest lift station. Staff from the Grand Rapids Public Utilities recently replaced a seal on one of two pumps at this location, which is typically a sign that the pump is near the end of its useful life. 

    Hodgson said there is a second pump that alternates with the first pump and if that first pump failed it would take eight weeks to get a new one. That scenario also would mean the second pump would be doing all of the work for that time period, potentially shortening the life of the second pump. The council voted to purchase a second pump at a cost of $8,000. 

    The committee also recommended that sewer jetting and cleaning be performed on the city’s sewer system, which has not been done since 2013. Hodgson recommended that the city jet one half of its system in 2018 and the second half in 2020. That sequence would be followed for the foreseeable future. Hodgson obtained an estimate from Ritter & Ritter for the work. Each half would cost $18,000 and the council voted to proceed with the plan.

    Finally, the committee recommended that water and sewer charges be increased by 5 percent to cover increases in wholesale purchase treatment rates. The committee also noted that meter charges for 4 and 6 inch meters increase slightly. Meter rate charges will be standardized to coincide with rates charged by Grand Rapids Public Utilities.

    The last item of the evening to be discussed was the levy. The preliminary levy as presented would be $280,000 for 2018, up 7 percent, or $20,000, from the previous year. The mayor and council noted that the levy has been flat over the last few cycles and that they will continue to work to bring the increase down before a final levy is set later this year.

    In other business, the council:

    • Voted to accept services from Schwartz & Sons for snowplowing city streets over the course of the winter at a rate of $700 per mile in addition to a $58.00/yd. fee for salt and sand.

    • Voted to pay the Minnesota League of Cities a premium of $6,109 for property/casualty insurance.

LaPrairie focuses on five-year street plan

August 31, 2017

   At the Aug. 21 meeting of the LaPrairie City Council, Jayson Newman of SEH was on hand to deliver the engineering report. Newman began by discussing the speed radar signs. He said that the city’s radar sign had been relocated to the eastbound lane of Fraser Street. In addition, the county had placed a speed radar sign on LaPrairie Avenue. The county’s sign would be moved frequently, he reported.

    Newman recently visited streets that have been sealed. Four of the five streets he inspected were acceptable but he thought Mary Ann Drive should be revisited by the city’s contractor, Bargain Incorporated. 

    Mayor Lynn O’Brien asked if the city would receive another invoice from Bargain if they had to do additional work on Mary Ann Drive. Newman responded that he had a verbal agreement from Bargain that the work would be covered by the company.

    The city’s replacement for an emergency siren has been installed by the Grand Rapids Public Utilities. At a previous council meeting, officials voted to purchase a new siren as the old siren had become unreliable.

    Newman then turned his attention to three issues that the Facilities and Equipment Committee was asked to consider: The five-year plan for LaPrairie streets, culvert replacement in Glenwood Acres, and trail and sidewalks in Glenwood Acres. 

    The five year streets plan was originally presented at the Aug. 7 council meeting. Subsequent to the full council meeting, Newman said that the Facilities and Equipment Committee met to consider the preliminary plan. The committee made the following recommendations to the full Council:

    1. Adopt the plan as presented with the understanding that the plan is a “fluid” document and will likely change over the next five years.

    2. Commence planning for an overlay on Fuhrman Street during the 2018 construction season.

    3. Consider the financial impacts of the Fuhrman Street overlay.

    4. Update the five year plan on an annual basis.

    In addition to the Fuhrman Street work, the plan recommends an overlay for Mary Ann Drive in 2019, reclamation of Elizabeth and Sisler Avenues as well as Green Street in 2020, an overlay on Martin Street in 2021, and reclamation on Saylor Street during the 2022 construction season. All council members present voted in favor of a resolution to adopt the plan including the committee’s recommendations.

    Newman briefly touched on the second of the committee’s tasks, culvert replacements in Glenwood Acres. He said that the Facilities and Equipment Committee had concluded that there would be no city-wide benefit to replacing culverts in Glenwood Acres and therefore the city should not participate in any cost-sharing should residents decide to upgrade their culverts. The committee also noted that there was precedence for its stance as driveway improvements have typically been paid for by home owners in the past. The committee also recommended that neighborhood-wide drainage issues and solutions be considered as part of the planned 2021 Martin Street overlay project.

    Recommendations that came out of the committee’s final task, bike and pedestrian facilities in Glenwood Acres indicated that the city is supportive of these kinds of improvements in Glenwood Acres, however, the city is not financially able to construct or maintain sidewalks and trails in the area at this time. It was also noted that the travel corridor that could accommodate these improvements is narrow and there is not enough room to construct trails or sidewalks. Low traffic volumes and speeds also were cited as reasons not to construct trails or sidewalks in Glenwood Acres. 

    In other business, the council:

    •    Voted to implement a 25 cents per month increase in PEG fees.

Engineering issues dominate LaPrairie discussion

August 17, 2017

    At its Monday, Aug. 7 meeting, City Engineer Glen Hodgson updated the LaPrairie City Council on the status of several projects. 

    Work is progressing on leasing a parcel of tax-forfeited land to be used for a brush pile. Mayor Lynn O’Brien, however, explained that the city had applied for a conditional use permit to secure the brush pile site at the urging of Itasca County. A fee accompanied the permit application and O’Brien questioned if the city would be receiving a refund since the county was now advocating a lease. “It certainly seems fair to me that the city should get that money back,” Hodgson responded, adding that he would look into the matter.

    The proposed bicycle trail from Mary Ann Drive to Veteran’s Park was the next item of discussion. Hodgson said that he has spoken with a land owner about acquiring an easement that would be necessary to build the trail in the proposed corridor, but had not yet heard from the land owner.

    Hodgson reported the Glenwood Drive ditching project is complete. An inspection of the site revealed that the work appeared adequate. Processing the bill for the work will now proceed.

    Hodgson characterized crack sealing work as a two-stage project. The first phase of the project which seals wider cracks has been completed while work on narrower cracks remains to be done.

    The new emergency warning siren has been ordered and shipped to Grand Rapids Public Utilities Commission (PUC). The city engineer added that personnel from the PUC were able to get the currently installed siren working but offered no guarantees on its longevity.

    The council was presented with the results of surveys that were sent to residents in the Glenwood Circle area of LaPrairie. The survey sought to get input from residents about infrastructure from residents in that part of the city. Hodgson said that 30 surveys were sent out and 14 were returned. The surveys indicated that concerns about drainage were principally limited to residents on Martin Street. Survey responses also indicated that 90 percent of the respondents in the area felt their private sewer systems are functioning well. While 10 out of 13 respondents indicated that the quality of their well water was fine, three respondents have quality issues. The lack of fire hydrants in the neighborhood was a concern to respondents but the cost of installing fire hydrants also was a concern.

    Councilor Margie Ritter asked Hodgson whether the ditching work that was recently completed on Glenwood Drive would remedy concerns about drainage on Martin Street. Hodgson responded it would not. He said that one citizen had approached the council about a non-functioning culvert but that there were additional culverts that should be replaced. He said that installation of culverts would cost a few thousand dollars per culvert, adding; “Then the question becomes: Who pays, as it always does.” 

    O’Brien directed the facilities committee to make a recommendation on how to structure payments on any culvert replacements.

    In other business, the council:

    • Agreed to refund the pro-rated portion of RC’s liquor license to the proprietors of the establishment, which is now closed.

LaPrairie City Council

July 27, 2017

    La Prairie resident Brian Carlson was on hand to speak during the public forum portion of last week’s LaPrairie City Council meeting.  

    Carlson said that he was trying to sell two lots on Timberline Drive between Pine and Green streets.  Both Pine Street and Timberline Drive are streets that were platted but never built.  Green Street exists but does not extend east of Elizabeth Avenue. 

Only right-of-way for the possible extension of Green Street is present between Elizabeth Avenue and the Timberline Drive easement. The property lies northwest of Steinhart Circle.  

    Carlson then introduced his realtor, Loretta Summers from Edina Realty.  She said the easement used to access the Carlson property was cluttered with campers, tents and other items that inhibits viewing the property. Potential buyers feel uncomfortable walking through the clutter, she noted.  She also said the vegetation was overgrown making it difficult to locate flags that were put in place to identify the boundaries of the property.

    Summers said that a request had been made to the zoning committee to get the Timberline Drive easement brushed.  She also requested that the Green Street right-of-way be brushed noting that there were 14 other lots for sale along the Green Street right-of-way that could benefit from brushing.

    Later in the meeting, Councilor Margie Ritter suggested using city resources to clear brush in the Timberline Drive easement.  Ritter said that she had hoped to advocate clearing brush in the Green and Pine Street easements but found the work required to be beyond the  capabilities of the city’s equipment.

    Mayor Lynn O’Brien assured Carlson that the city would take steps to remove brush from the Timberline Drive right-of-way as well as remove items from the city’s right-of-way that were discouraging potential buyers from visiting his property.    


    O’Brien cautioned Carlson on a time frame saying, “We will do what we can and we will try to expedite things for you.”

    Councilor Amy Thurm asked why the right-of-ways had been so neglected.  Ritter responded that she had suggested maintaining the city’s right-of-ways when she was first elected but her suggestion was rejected due to cost.  

    Ritter suggested that the issue be revisited, but also noted that the Carlson and Karpik properties did not have city sewer and water and did not have power.

    In other business, the council:

    • Directed the City Engineer to pursue a no-cost lease with Itasca County that will allow the city to use a tax forfeited parcel for a brush pile. 

    • Scheduled a public hearing to discuss PEG fee increases for the Aug. 21 City Council meeting.

    • Accepted the low bid of $11,892.25 from Schwartz Excavating for the Glenwood Avenue ditching project. 

    • Accepted the bid of $9,497 from Bargain Incorporated to perform crack sealing on LaPrairie streets.  

    • Accepted a bid of $2,772 from Federal Warning Systems to replace the city’s non-functioning warning siren.

    • Directed the City Engineer to investigate ways to prevent traffic from using the park to connect Fuhrman Avenue with Park Avenue.

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