paving

Assessment level for gravel road paving could fall in commercial area

The Forest Lake City Council may be considering a change in its road paving assessment policy that council pave the remainder of gravel roads in the city’s heaviest business areas. 

During a discussion period at the council’s Jan. 13 meeting, the first one of the year, the body discussed a proposed change to the policy that would assess property owners in a new “commercial business district” 20% of the construction of a paved road abutting their land. The current policy would assess them for 100%.

The borders of the proposed district are still uncertain, but the version discussed by the council covers approximately 40,500 square feet in an angled area including the downtown Lake Street corridor, the Broadway corridor up to the bridge over Interstate Highway 35, and the area around 15th Street Southwest including and south of Walmart. There are a few gravel roads that could be affected by the policy, but the primary road that would likely get paving consideration is 5th Avenue Southwest, the road between Roberts Funeral Home and Dan’s Towing. Mayor Mara Bain said the proposal was an attempt to “close the loop” on some roads that should have been paved long ago, with the acknowledgment that local business owners probably would not stomach a 100% assessment.

“For a community of our size trying to promote commerce and business and our downtown district, to continue to have those be unpaved, [it] just seem like, let’s fix this,” she said.

Councilmen Paul Girard and Sam Husnik were generally in agreement with the policy change at first blush, with Husnik saying he believed it was “standard” for cities like Forest Lake to have a totally paved centralized commercial area. Councilwoman Kathy Bystrom said she saw the merits in the policy but added she was afraid of potential unintended consequences.

“I need to noodle on it for a little bit,” she said.

Bain pointed out that there is scheduled road work going on near some gravel roads this year and that a changed policy could have led to those roads being included in the work, but for now, those potential improvements will likely have to wait even if the council amends its policy. City Administrator Patrick Casey said the city is quickly moving forward on finalizing its road plans and it is likely too late for the gravel roads to be added to it.

Purchases

Beyond the road discussion, the council spent a large chunk of its time at its first meeting of 2020 approving several vehicle purchases. The purchases, which were all budgeted for this year, replace several old Public Works department vehicles that have aged out of the city’s lifespan for public vehicles – including a backup plow truck that is no longer operable.

The first approved purchase was an ag tractor and boom mower that cost $137,755.84 and $56,226, respectively. The ag tractor is replacing 14-year-old vehicle and will be sized and equipped for snow removal, which will allow it to be used in winter as well. The boom mower is replacing a 27-year-old vehicle. Both purchases are slightly over budget – the tractor by about $2,800 and the mower by about $1,200, but city staff are anticipating cost savings in other equipment purchases this year that can make up the difference. 

Two such purchases coming in under budget were approved immediately afterward. One, a $233,561 replacement of a 27-year-old plow truck, was about $1,400 under budget, not including an estimated $5,000 to $10,000 the city hopes to receive by listing it as a surplus property. The other purchase is a $98,400 replacement for a 12-year-old backhoe, about $1,600 under budget.

The council approved all of the requests. Bain praised staff for squeezing every last bit of usefulness out of city equipment but pointed out that the plow truck is the second city vehicle in recent memory (along with a fire vehicle) that was deemed inoperable and now must wait for months before a replacement can be built. She encouraged staff to be proactive in their requests in order to not leave the city without needed vehicles.

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