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City proposes 3 percent levy bump

Property taxes shouldn't increase much in Osakis next year.

At its Sept. 4 meeting, the Osakis City Council set its 2019 preliminary general levy at $594,500 — a 3 percent increase from this year's levy of $573,000.

The levy is an overall amount and each property owner's taxes may be greater or less than the 3 percent increase, depending on property values, real estate sales and other entities that collect taxes.

This year's general fund revenues amounted to $1,266,190 — $11 more than expenditures.

The council plans to take final action on the levy at its December meeting. At that time, the council, under state law, is allowed to decrease the levy but it can't increase it.

One factor that could have impacted the budget is a proposed assessment from the Sauk River Watershed District Board for the city to share in the expense of cleaning out judicial ditch 2.

The project, which removed accumulated sediment from ponds, dates back to 2012.

Rather than trying to determine benefits to individual properties within the city, the appraisers for the watershed decided to assess the city 50 percent of the cost or $22,547.

At the Sept. 4 meeting, Mayor Kip Emerson said he's not convinced that the project helped property owners in Osakis.

Other council members agreed and said the watershed district, not the city, should assess residents for the clean-out work.

"Let them (the watershed district) bill it," said Jerry Olson. "Why should we do their dirty work?"

The council approved Olson's motion on a 5-0 vote.

Liquor store follow-up

The council briefly discussed a public hearing that was held on Aug. 30 to decide the fate of the city-owned Osakis Liquor Store. Mayor Emerson said the council should schedule a workshop meeting to talk about what was said and learned. City Clerk Angela Jacobson said she'd look into some possible dates.

The August financials for the liquor store showed a profit of $3,298 for the off-sale portion of the business and a profit of $3,477 for on-sale. Both those figures do not include capital transfers of $12,500 that were put in the city's general fund.

For the year, off-sale is showing a loss of $10,021 while on-sale is making a profit of $24,333. After transfers and capital improvements, off-sale lost $22,521 while on-sale made a profit of $9,512.

Julie Didier, liquor store manager, updated the council on her latest efforts to improve sales. She said the store is running off-sale deals to match other liquor stores in the area, has added background music and is starting new drink special drawings on Monday night.

Didier said she's continuing to do cycle counts of the store's inventory, cutting down on its wine selection, and is sprucing up the store with dusting and fall cleaning.

At Didier's request, the council authorized her and Jacobson to attend the Minnesota Municipal Beverage Association regional conference in Alexandria on Oct. 3. Didier noted that the association is "fighting hard" against legislation that would allow wine and strong beer to be sold in grocery stores.

Rat house

The council continues to deal with a problem known as the "rat house" — a vacant house on Eighth Avenue that has been overrun with rats. The rodents are not only in the house but are running around the neighborhood, according to council members.

Despite warnings, the property owner hasn't fixed the problem and the city is now taking steps to demolish the house.

The city has given the owner two weeks to show bids for the demolition work. If the owner doesn't comply, the city will get its own bids and start the abatement process to recover the costs.

The city is also working with Horizon Public Health to resolve the problem.

The council expects to know by its next meeting what will happen to the house, which was recently listed for sale but later pulled from the market.

Meanwhile, council members expressed frustration why the process has taken so long. "It's ridiculous to have all these rats running around," said council member Jerry Olson.

Police are busy

The Osakis Police Department had another busy month, responding to 401 calls for service. Chief Chad Gulbranson said officers made four drunk driving arrests. One driver has a blood-alcohol level of .30, nearly four times higher than the legal limit. Another drunk driver was pulled over and arrested after he reached speeds of 130 miles per hour. A 14-year-old boy was in the car with him.

Gulbranson also reported that the the men's bathroom at Park Osagi was spray-painted with graffiti.

After the department posted an image on its Facebook page and offered a reward, police received a tip on the juvenile who did it and he fixed it. The juvenile also faced "repercussions" from his grandmother, Gulbranson said.

Other action

In other action, the council:

• Approved a low bid of $78,978 from Ferguson Brothers Excavating for shoreline restoration work on Lake Osakis. The watershed district is covering about $30,000 of the cost, which puts the city's share at about $50,000. The project is expected to keep the shoreline from deteriorating and stop trees from falling into the lake. The work will be done this fall.

• Changed a section in the planning and zoning code dealing with the size and exterior colors of accessory structures. The change allows smaller accessory structures to have any exterior color but still requires larger buildings of 201 square feet or more to be similar in color as the main structure.

• Changed the meeting time of city council meetings. Starting in January, the council will meet on the second Monday of the month.

• Voted to include Eagle Scout Matt Ramey of Osakis on the city's award board at City Hall that recognizes donors of excellence. For his Eagle Scout project, Ramey recently constructed a flag pole display at Park Osagi.

• Learned that the Osakis First Responders had 30 calls in August, which brings the total calls for the year to 130, 20 less than the city budgeted. There have been only eight "no shows" this year, said first responder Jason Schultz.

• Learned that the Osakis Fire Department responded to six calls in August — three false alarms, a hay bale fire, a two-car crash and a car fire on Interstate 94. The department received 10 applications for three firefighter openings. Interviews will be held soon.

• Approved a request from Public Works Director Greg Gottwald to purchase an attachment for a payloader that will be used for beach clean-up and at the city dump site. The cost is $4,900 — much cheaper than the original cost estimates of around $20,000. Gottwald said it took some looking to find the right offer, but it paid off. Gottwald will also purchase a $1,954 attachment for a skid loader that will help with pump maintenance.

• Agreed to pay $151,047 to complete the final payment for the 2016 downtown street project. This will put the city's share of the project about 2 percent over the contract amount.

• Approved a new system for city employee payroll. The K-Pay system will use electronic timekeeping and processing of payroll at a yearly cost of $1,232, with one-time set-up and training expense of $300.

• Paid bills from consultants for resolving wastewater issues with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Flaherty and Hood received $2,063 and Hall and Associates received $4,377.

• Agreed to pay $3,828 in membership dues to the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities.

• Approved a request from Black's Resort to block Lake Street on Oct. 5-6 so the resort can move docks.

Al Edenloff

Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  

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