By Jordan Gerard

Editor, The Caledonia Argus

In a calculated and slightly unexpected move, the Spring Grove City Council approved a bid-off between the top two bidders for two landlocked parcels near Nine Oaks Dr. at its regular meeting on April 20. 

The council approved three of four sealed bids. The fourth was rejected by the council because it was received after the deadline. The public hearing and sale process was not originally advertised as a bid-off, but it was presented as an option to the council. It would have allowed the city to get the highest value for the land. 

The remaining three bids were announced with city employee Paul Morken coming in at $2,394.87, Mike Solum at $8,107 and Chris Petersen at $10,000. 

City Attorney Greg Schieber said the council was not required or obligated to have a public hearing, but chose to do so in order to provide an open and transparent process because a city employee was interested. 

The council was also not obligated to send a certified letter to adjoining landowners beforehand. They expressed surprise at the amount of interest in the land. 

Furthermore, the council had the right to reject all bids, was not required to sell the land and had flexibility to re-do the process if they were not satisfied. The city was also not required to promise access to the land. 

The duration of the public hearing stayed in open meeting, but the council did have the option to go into closed meeting for negotiations or if they received a counter offer. 

Nine Oaks resident Jacque Wennes said she and her husband, Greg, did not know about the sale until they returned from their winter home and thus, their late bid was rejected. She expressed disappointment that adjoining land owners were not notified beforehand.

Mike Solum said his mother and her family were under the impression part of the larger parcel was part of their land since 1978. They had also been maintaining fencelines, put livestock on the land and cut trees. 

Karen Solum had been paying taxes on part of the larger parcel as well. She explained  that she did not realize it was not hers, as the description of the land was difficult to understand. Mike Solum said the title work was done again about three to four years ago and the parcel was added back in, unbeknownst to them that it belonged to the city.

City Administrator Julie Amundson said trying to find information about the parcels was “very interesting reading and very frustrating reading.” Since 1940, the property has gone through 11 transactions and in 1947, the land was granted to the city by a Sylling.

The council unanimously approved the bid-off between the top two bidders. The bid-off is not required to be a council meeting, nor have council members present. 

Later in the week, it was reported that Petersen pulled out his bid, Amundson confirmed. Since that was after the meeting, no formal actions have been taken since the council meeting.

Syttende Mai news

Acting in his role as Syttende Mai Committee Vice President, Chad Rohland said the committee was planning as “consciously as we can.”

So far, returning events include soap box races, pedal pull, corn hole tournament, parade, beer tent, a local band, 5k race, garage sales, alumni baseball game and other favorite events. 

The committee requested $2,500 budgeted for Syttende Mai last year and the $2,500 budgeted for this year. The council granted approval of the $2,500 for 2021, but waited until after the celebration to consider the other $2,500.The council also approved the temporary liquor license for the event. 

Going green

The council was presented with an opportunity to install an electric vehicle charging station, offered by MiEnergy. The city would need to decide on a cap of how much would it would cost to charge a vehicle per kilowatt and how to pay with a credit card, Amundson relayed. 

The station would work best if installed at a three-phase electrical box, as this would provide fast charging. MiEnergy would tell the city where to place the station. 

Rohland added that Google Maps has been incorporating known charging stations into its routes. If one were in Spring Grove, travelers could stop here and charge their vehicles while also visiting town. 

The council authorized Amundson to schedule a walk-around with Morken and MiEnergy to look at possible locations. 

In other green news, the council discussed adding a solar policy for homeowners. Currently, the city has a small, limited ordinance for solar systems. Since the city has a two-phase pricing system, the amount would be variable each month. 

Caledonia recently implemented the Minnesota minimal guideline for solar rebate programs, and Spring Grove could utilize the same policy. However, there’s not too many people expressing interest in solar for their homes, Rohland said. 

Amundson added that Caledonia has three commercial properties and two residential using the solar ordinance right now. The homeowner has two meters, one purchased at their own cost and also bought two at a time with the purpose of one serving as a back up. 

Council member and planning and zoning committee member Travis Torgerson said the city should review and update their comprehensive plan first before adding new ordinances. 

Rohland said he would like to see a solar policy to encourage people who want to implement it. The council did not take action, but did request Planning and Zoning to do homework on the matter and bring it back next month. 

Other news

The council approved AquaLogic from Waconia, Minnesota as the pool repair company for $58,200. The goal is to have the pool ready to open on June 7, but if repairs are not finished by then, the company is prepared to get the old pump running in order for the season to continue. If the new pump gets installed, it’s likely that the pool will be closed for three to five days. 

The council approved updates to the chicken ordinance for 2021. The regulations will remain limited to chickens and not include ducks or any other poultry.

The council also approved authorizing Solberg to sign a cooperative landscaping agreement with Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), accepting an $8,000 grant for planting trees on the south side of West Highway 44. 

The council approved Chris Strinmoen as the sports summer rec director and additional Swim Center staff Kaitlyn Gross, Olivia Wennes and Kohl Betcher. Along with that, the council approved a job posting for a non-sports summer rec director. This particular position would oversee the arts and crafts part of summer rec. 

The council approved a purchase of a zero turn mower from SEMA Equipment for $9,381.68.This replaces a planned purchase for a new deck at the cost of $6,400 for the current utility tractor. Funds for the new mower come from the city’s funds in Parks, Streets, Machinery and Equipment, and equipment funds for Water and Parks.

Also approved was the installation of three solar lights and street poles on Enterprise Dr. in the industrial park. The cost is $400 per pole and city staff is able to install them. 

The council approved changing City Hall hours to close half an hour earlier. The new hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays. 

The council also approved Plunkett’s Pest Control for a total of $983.25 for a year to do pest control at the Fest Building, City Hall and the Swim Center. 

Next meeting

The next meeting of the Spring Grove City Council will be May 25, at 6 p.m., back in the lower room at Spring Grove Communications.

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