COUNCIL TAKING CLOSER LOOK AT MAIN STREET
JEREMY WALTNER – PUBLISHER
A serious discussion about possibly rebuilding Main Street has returned to the Freeman City Council’s table.
Meeting in regular session for the first time this year Wednesday, Jan. 6, city officials revisited a 2013 feasibility study that shows reconstruction from the North County Road south to Fifth Street and asked Paul Korn of Sayre Associates, who completed the feasibility study and was present at last week’s meeting, to update it to include one block of Railway, from the corner of AMPI southwest to the Lions Park corner.
“There is a plan out there,” said Mayor Mike Walter, who told the council shortly after taking office last summer that he wanted to see Main Street rebuilt. “We need to advance the ball down the court.”
While the 2013 feasibility study remains unchanged in the engineering and scope of the project, it has been updated to reflect today’s costs. As proposed by Sayre Associates, the project would cost an estimated $2.65 million. That’s a 33% increase from the 2013 estimate of $1.98 million.
And that does not include the cost of adding Railway to the project, something the council indicated it would like to do. Not only is that stretch of Railway in bad condition, a new roadway could include a storm sewer system similar to what is proposed on Main Street north of Third that would carry water west to a retention pond along Cedar Street. That would significantly reduce the amount of water going north, therefore improving drainage.
“You’re solving multiple problems by (rebuilding) Railway,” Korn told the council.
“If we’re digging up (Main) for storm sewer, you might as well add that block,” councilor Lonnie Tjaden said. “It’s junk.”
“If we’re going to do this project, I think we should do Railway, too,” said councilor Charly Waltner. “We’re going to have to fix it anyway.”
The council ultimately voted 6-0 to have Sayre Associates include Railway in the feasibility study; Korn estimated that would add an additional $400,000 to the $2.65 million estimate. That estimate does not include engineering studies, Korn said.
The city currently has about $4.75 million cash on hand; city finance officer Adam Van Ningen said about $3.5 million of that could be available for a project like this.
There would also likely be grant money available.
Carol Eisenbeis, who works for the city in marketing and development, told the council that funds could be allocated through USDA (which often comes in the form of a low interest loan), a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and/or a Department of Transportation Community Access Grant.
District 3 Planning and Development is working with Eisenbeis and Sayre Associates in getting the grant paperwork in place. In order to receive funds for a 2022 project, applications need to be submitted by spring. That requires a public hearing and publication prior to those applications being turned in.
Walter told the council there is a sense of urgency.
“If we’re going to do something, we need to move in the next couple of months,” the mayor told the council.
A rough timeline put together by Sayre Associates shows the several next steps:
1. A final decision from the council on the scope of the project
2. Updated survey/feasibility study/cost estimate
3. Geotechnical analysis and pavement recommendations
4. Applications to potential funding sources
An open house for public input and meetings with land owners would follow and, according to Sayre Associates’ timeline, bids would be solicited beginning in fall of 2021 with construction from April to October of 2022.
While the council appeared to be in favor of taking the next step, councilor Charles Gering said he would like to hear from the taxpayers.
“I’d like to see what public support is for this project,” he said at last week’s meeting. “They’re the people who are going to pay for it.”
“I agree with you, but we need to know tonight if we’re going to take it to the next step,” Walter said. “We have deadlines and we don’t have a lot of time.”
And, he noted, “They’ve already paid for it. That’s why that money is sitting in the account.”
“We are sitting on a lot of taxpayer money,” she said. “It is a disservice not to show them what we could be doing for them, and hopefully be able to pair that with grant money, as well.”
Several other points were raised during last week’s discussion.
Councilor Doug Uecker asked why the 2013 feasibility study included two phases — from North County Road to Railway Street and then from Railway to Fifth Street. Korn said the council wanted flexibility in funding the project, which was ultimately abandoned by city officials six months after the feasibility study was conducted. Officials at the time expressed concerns about the cost of the project and determined it was not a priority.
Uecker and others said it makes more sense to complete the full project all at once; it would make for better unit pricing and could be more appealing for potential grants, he said.
Korn noted that the construction process would be designed to minimize the direct impact on business owners who have storefronts on Main Street. The area north of the business district, which includes much of the utility work, would be completed first and sidewalks would be left in place as long as possible. Still, he said, there would be an impact. Customers might have to use rear entrances when possible and the city acknowledged it may have to do some work to improve the alleys that run on either side of Main Street.
Becker also asked about the possibility of narrowing the width of the sidewalks to give Main Street a wider gate. “It would be possible,” Korn replied.
The Freeman City Council is scheduled to meet again next Wednesday, Jan. 20.
Snow emergency concerns
Last week’s council meeting also included a discussion about the city’s snow removal policy as it relates to a snow emergency — specifically, cars that are parked along the street during those hours. The city last declared a snow emergency on Tuesday, Dec. 29 — with plowing to begin at 6 p.m. — until 6 a.m. the following morning.
A city ordinance says that vehicles must be removed from the roadway — including the area directly in front of sidewalks — during the hours of a snow emergency.
Councilor Charles Gering said he has neighbors who don’t have anywhere to move their cars to and Freeman resident Ron Helderbrand, who was at the meeting to question a citation he had received, said he has rental property tenants who have a similar situation.
“I don’t know where to tell them to go,” he told the council. “My renters don’t have any place to park.”
“What are we going to do for these people who have nowhere to go?” Gering said.
Helderbrand noted this is the first time it’s ever been an issue.
“I’ve spent 25 years digging my car out after the plow has gone by,” he said.
“I can’t solve your problem,” Mayor Walter responded. “I don’t know what you’re going to do. My responsibility is to make sure the streets get cleared.
“It’s going to cause hardship for some.”
Councilor Terry Jacobsen said those who use city streets for parking need to find somewhere else for their vehicles, like a nearby alley.
“I don’t’ know any solution other than that,” he said.
Walter added that the city has established multiple ways to inform the public about a snow emergency when one is issued to give the public plenty of time to take care of the vehicles. Those methods include the city’s website, traditional and social media outlets and a text alert system that sends a notification directly to residents’ phones.
“We want you to be informed,” Walter said.
Helderbrand said he was unaware of the text alert system and has since signed up for it.
Duane Walter, city water superintendent, said that the notifications were largely effective.
“This is one of the best and easiest snow removals we’ve had,” he told the council. “Most of the people in town did hear (about the snow emergency) and moved their vehicles.”
Also Jan. 6, the council held the first reading of a new ordinance that would establish a 1 cent municipal gross receipts tax on establishments that offer lodging, sell alcohol, and prepared food, beginning July 1. The tax is commonly referred to as a BBB (Bed, Board and Booze) tax, which was initiated by the state in 2007.
Uecker brought the idea to the city as a way to replace a 15% tax assessed to businesses that sell liquor in city limits. That currently includes two establishments — Hootz and the Freeman Shopping Center. Uecker noted that, not only would the 1 cent be spread out more evenly across businesses in town, “I believe it will far outdo our liquor tax” in revenue.
Uecker noted that 88 out of 251 cities in South Dakota have a BBB tax.