Editor’s Note: This story recaps the first part of a nearly two-hour Aug. 15 meeting between Princeton City Council members, the Princeton Township Board, and staff representatives. Mille Lacs County Board Commissioners Genny Reynolds and Tim Wilhelm also attended the meeting.
When the Princeton City Council and Princeton Town Board gathered Aug. 15 to discuss road improvements, the joint meeting involved quorums of both governmental bodies.
However, before city leaders and township supervisors adopted a 12-item agenda, political maneuvering occurred on the Princeton side of the meeting room dais at Princeton Township Hall. Princeton Councilor Jack Edmonds distributed a handout before the start of last Thursday’s meeting that asked if the primary issue involved annexation or 33rd Street and 82nd Avenue improvements.
Edmonds was skeptical work to improve area roads would occur anytime soon.
He listed a number of projects that in his view, were more important and needed higher priority: 21st Avenue and a connection to the industrial park, the Sterling Point corner, general street maintenance, and pending roundabout assessments.
“The city has been reaching out to Princeton and Baldwin townships for decades, trying to enter into orderly annexation agreements with them and they both have rejected any attempts to do so,” Edmonds stated in his pre-meeting handout. He motioned at the start of the meeting to remove four items from the heart of the agenda that dealt with road conditions and recommended work, an engineer’s estimate, funding sources to pay for improvements, and assessments.
“We don’t even have a policy in place for these items right now, and we want to start talking about building roads?” Edmonds asked. “That’s putting the cart in front of the horse. I think it’s a waste of all of our time.”
However, when it came time for a Princeton council vote to adopt the agenda, Edmonds’ motion, which had been seconded by Councilor Jules Zimmer, failed 3-2. Councilors Jeff Reynolds and Jenny Gerold joined Mayor Brad Schumacher in opposition. Edmonds was successful in getting his handout added to the agenda.
Princeton City Administrator Robert Barbian started the joint meeting by providing an overview of the proposed paving work in Princeton Township.
“This has been a topic that’s been in the township for more than a year to a year-and-a-half,” Barbian said. “It seems pretty obvious [some] township [residents] as well as the board have frustration with the condition of the roads. There’s a lot of gravel out there, and it seems people are looking for some change.” According to Barbian, the city of Princeton was approached regarding the process of change. He said the city is happy to be of assistance to the township.
“Maybe there are some synergies we can find as we discuss these topics,” Barbian said. “We necessarily don’t have all the answers. We are not a savior. We don’t have our pockets full of money. If you want roads improved, it’s going to cost money. The forum tonight is set up to discuss what options are out there. We are happy to be your neighbor, to work together to see what you can be done.”
Barbian said it was important to note that the city wasn’t trying to force anyone into being annexed into the city, but if someone wanted to come in because of growth opportunities, the city of Princeton would be happy to work with them.
During his review of road conditions, Princeton Public Works Director Bob Gerold said a lot of the discussion involved 33rd Street, from 85th Avenue to 82nd and a short distance beyond, as well as 82nd Avenue where it connects with the city of Princeton’s Fourth Avenue, as well as the Balsam Lane and Bluff Road cul-de-sacs.
“Those roads are gravel, and they are not consistent with city width for our standards,” Gerold said. “That’s how those roads were constructed for the township. That’s what observed by myself and our city engineer.”
WSB Project Manager Jennifer Edison, in an email to Barbian and Gerold dated June 19, 2019, stated the following regarding Princeton Township road paving:
“Since these are very preliminary costs, I utilized the USGS soil survey maps to determine what soils are to be expected,” Edison wrote. “For the most part, the soils appear to be well-draining with the exception of the northern piece of 82nd where we may need to do some subgrade excavation. This was to be expected, as it is historically seems to be a wet pocket. Please note these are assumptions, and without soil borings, we can’t confirm.”
Edison added that 82nd would need some widening. She concurred with Gerold’s remarks made during the Aug. 15 meeting.
“I would recommend widening to a minimum of 24 feet,” Edison’s email stated.
Regarding the cul-de-sacs, Gerold said the condition of the asphalt would require an overlay.
“I don’t know if a chip seal would bring the road condition back and get the residents and adjacent property owners the satisfactory surface that would last a while,” he explained.
Gerold provided an itemized estimate for each piece of road under consideration, referencing data supplied by WSB, the city’s engineer.
The cost estimate for 33rd Street west of 82nd Avenue, between 82nd and 85th totaled $143,149, and 33rd Street east of 82nd Avenue totaled $109,146, Gerold reported.
Eighty-second north of 33rd Street came to $285,000, with soil corrections being required on the north end before turning into the asphalt cul-de-sacs and a possible culvert, Gerold added.
“We believe that some borings would have to be done to verify what soil corrections would be needed,” he said. Eighty-second south of 33rs totaled $148,360 in the engineering estimate provided by the city. Overlay of Balsam Lane was $38,023 and Bluff Road was $70,700.
The grand total to pave all township roads in the area under consideration was $794,396, Gerold said.
Gerold said was there no breakout provided in the estimates regarding specific property assessments. “I don’t have numbers for you what the cost would be per property,” he added.
During discussion of the estimates provided by Gerold, Princeton Township Supervisor Bill Whitcomb said he did a historical cost-comparison of bid prices using Minnesota Department of Transportation data.
“We are not here to argue price, I understand that,” Whitcomb said. “I would agree with the motion [made by Edmonds] at the start of the meeting that we should put some of this aside until we sharpen our pencils a little bit.”
Whitcomb said some of the numbers being presented scared people.
“I would say these numbers are on the high end,” Whitcomb said. “You’ve allotted a contingency of 15%, and another indirect cost total of 24%.”
According to some of the numbers that Whitcomb ran, these city’s preliminary numbers were about 43% higher than MnDOT’s historical bid prices.
“Some of the gravel is 19 percent high, and your bituminous costs are as much as 50% higher,” Whitcomb said. “At MnDOT, we typically use 8% and 20% for pre-engineering and post-engineering in those ranges. I know this is just an estimate, and it can be all over the board, but I think this is on the high end.”
Gerold said he used to work in the private sector, and going out for estimates at this time of year could be problematic.
“When I was asked to do a bid. I would tell people, ‘If you want it done this year, that’s what the numbers are going to be.’ These were the numbers that were given. This is what the going price is at this time of year. We didn’t do any averaging.”
Whitcomb, in his calculations, came up with a township total $562,000 with a 4% inflation figure. “If this work is done next year, we are talking approximately $580,000, and if it gets done in 2021, the cost would be well over $600,000.”
Barbian encouraged the township to have its engineer put an estimate together.
“Now we know what we are up against,” added Princeton Township Board Chair Eugene Stoeckel, referring to the preliminary estimates for paving work.
Part 2: Princeton City Council members and Princeton Township Board supervisors learn more about potential road improvement funding sources, the feasibility of using Mille Lacs County’s local option sales tax, and options for possible boundary adjustments while discussing the orderly annexation process.