North Branch City Council has been in the process of developing an ATV ordinance.

At the May 24, council meeting, members discussed the details of the ordinance draft that North Branch Police Chief Dan Meyer has compiled.

Before going through some of the details in the draft, Meyer mentioned the state statute has requirements of the ordinance, such as:

• An application process for a permit.

• Limited driving hours from sunrise to sunset unless the vehicle has original headlights, taillights, and rear-facing brake lights.

• Prohibited use during inclement weather.

• No requirement that ATV users have a driver’s license.

• Must allow operators to cross any street, highway, or designated roadway.

• Must have rearview mirrors.

• Must have proof of insurance when applying for the permit.

“The permits can be revoked at any time based on evidence that the operator is unable to safely operate the ATV on the city streets,” Meyer said.

Meyer highlighted what he felt were important pieces of the ordinance that could be discussed. They are:

• Speed limit of 20 mph.

• No one under age of 12 can drive. Those ages 12 to 15 need a permit, ATV certificate, and must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

• Drivers ages 16 to 18 need to have a permit and ATV certificate.

• Hours of operation are sunrise to sunset.

• Permit revocation details allow police to revoke the permit. The permit holder can plead their case to council if they object.

After Meyer went through the details and requirements of the ATV ordinance, council responded with questions.

“I went through the ordinances for the city of Cambridge, the city of Wyoming, the city of Harris and the city of Stacey,” Council Member Katy Blomquist said. “One thing that I found in here is that they are prohibited from towing any person or thing except with the use of a rigid tow bar attached to the rear of the off-road vehicle, which would prevent somebody from saying, ‘OK, I’m going to pull this skateboard behind me.’”

Meyer confirmed this is an item that he could add to the ordinance. Blomquist also made a request about including a key requirement, an ignition lock.

“They (other cities’ ordinances) specifically said ignition locks. Every person leaving an off-road vehicle on a public place or way shall lock the ignition, remove and take the keys with them,” Blomquist said.

Although this is a detail that could be added to the ordinance, Council Member Kelly Neider added her opinion with Blomquist’s idea.

“So if somebody leaves their keys in the ignition, you’re just going to pull them (the keys) out and fine them?” Neider asked. “In all reality, let’s not micromanage this thing. You leave the keys in there, somebody steals it, bummer. Shouldn’t have done that. I mean we’re not going to cite somebody because, ‘Oh there’s some keys in the ignition and they didn’t take them out.’”

The council as a whole seemed to agree that detail in the ordinance may not be necessary.

Mayor Jim Swenson mentioned how people have contacted him in regards to driving after dark. As an example, he said someone may drive to their friend’s home for cards, and when it’s time to leave, it’s after dark. He feels they should still be able to drive home with their ATV.

“We can’t be so strict on everything. ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that,’” Swenson said.

Meyer did make a point opposed to ATVs being driven after dark.

“I think you’re kind of balancing noise, a possible noise issue at night, versus the convenience of driving that,” he said.

Although that is a concern, Swenson mentioned the city already deals with noise complaints with vehicles that are more of a disturbance. In this case, most of council agreed with Swenson.

“I would be open to disregarding the 10 p.m. time frame,” Council Member Patrick Meacham said. “Part of it too is our ordinances are a living, breathing document that can be changed if you come in and you’re saying, ‘Man, we’re getting all these calls, people out driving city streets at midnight, 2 in the morning’ — we can make that change.”

Comments were also made about the price of permits to North Branch residents for the first year.

“I would like to see, the first year, that we let them sign up for free so until the end of this year,” Swenson said.

Meacham asked City Administrator Renae Fry about not giving the full three-year permit for free.

“The first permit you pay for, for any subsequent vehicles for the end of the year, are free. So we recoup some money to cover for the administrative costs instead of putting the burden on the city,” Meachum said.

Fry clarified that she and the chief can make it clear how the pricing of the permits would be.

“What we can do to accomplish what the mayor is suggesting is [this]: If you sign up between now and the end of the year, you get all of 2022 free. But you’re still going to pay for three years because the license will now expire at the end of ‘25,” Fry said.

As the council agreed to move forward with that idea, Neider asked what that means for ATV users until the ordinance is final.

“In the meantime can they drive on the roads?” Neider asked.

Meyer said no, ATVs legally cannot be driven on city streets until the ordinance is final.

Neider asked, what is an important question for the community. “So this year, for Mid Summer Days, ‘don’t bring your ATVs out’ is what you’re saying?” Neider asked.

“That’s what I would suggest, yes,” Meyer replied.

Another draft of the ordinance may be presented to council at the June 14 council meeting. The tentative plan is to hold a public hearing at the June 28 council meeting, then the ordinance will come back for final review in July.

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