Council addresses late sewer,water bills

The Vergas water tower stands out against the turning leaves along East Linden Street on a crisp autumn day Thursday, Oct. 13. 

By Robert Williams

Editor

Vergas city clerk/treasurer Julie Lammers was notified by Amy Baldwin, Otter Tail County Community Development Director, that the property located at 140 East Linden Street, the Otter Tail County highway department garage, will be ready to be given to the city in January. 

Otter Tail County attorneys are updating the title and the deed paperwork to transfer the title. 

The Otter Tail County highway department garage located at 140 East Linden Street will be gifted to the city by the county in January. Plans are to remove the building and create a parking lot of up to 24 spaces. 

Reviewed options for the property included a city garage, city office, sale to businesses and  parking. According to mayor Bruhn, the use of the property must meet specific criteria. It must be owned by the City and used by the public.

Office space would have required a full remodel. The garage is not large enough to store plow trucks. The City is unable to sell or lease the property. 

Parking was the most logical option, especially after being brought to the forefront by the comprehensive plan for Vergas completed earlier this year. The plan found parking to be the greatest need in Vergas.

Bruhn and the Municipal Committee recommended to receive the property, apply for an Otter Tail County 50/50 community growth grant to remove the garage building and create a parking lot with up to seven parking spaces rented to Altona Square residents.

Three of the main areas the growth grant is aimed at are affordable housing, redevelopment and commercial rehabilitation.

Baldwin assured Lammers that Vergas could rent individual parking spots as long as some parking was available for the general public. The lot would hold approximately 24 parking spots.

Seven of the eight apartments in Altona Square are currently occupied, only the bottom level, handicapped accessible unit remains on the market.

“We’re really trying to address that parking issue,” said Bruhn.

Costs to remove the building and create the parking were estimated to be $25-$30,000 if there is no asbestos in the building.

Building history, along with potential fees for the seven dedicated parking spaces are being investigated, along with contacting the owners of Altona Square to discuss the lot further.

Sewer, water fees

Late sewer and water fees have become a regular occurrence at city meetings around the area recently. The Vergas City Council ruled against forgiving a late fee on water and sewer fees of one local homeowner at the monthly meeting Tuesday, Oct. 11.

The council based its decision on Minnesota statute and city ordinance. Property owners, including landlords, are responsible for making sure the fees are paid. The decision was the second such ruling in the past three months. The homeowner claimed any miscommunication was on the city’s behalf. The board admitted there was some miscommunication and timing issues with two separate bills at the rental property.

Council member Bruce Albright recommended the board adhere to the ordinance and noted forgiving one late fee could lead to having to forgive others. There are currently 16 properties in the city with aged balances totaling $6833.58, roughly $1,500 of those are over 90 days past due.

Municipal building

Renovations continue at the former Attic Shoppe, soon to be reopened as A Step Up by JoAnne Knuttila. The board approved a Municipal Building Committee to accept a bid of $1,500 from Loren Menz to complete a change in the landing of the staircase that leads up to the store. Widseth was consulted to review American Disabilities Act Compliance and no elevator or handicap chair is required for the staircase but the wall at the bottom of the stairs needs to be moved for a landing.

Conditional use permits

A permit was approved for grading and filling the subdivision roads at Lawrence Lake Acres by JRMH Holdings. Jon Olson of Apex Engineering Group updated the board on design efforts having reached 90 percent of completion of the street design on the extension of Glenn Street to connect with West Lake Street. A public hearing on the work was already held in late September.

Discussions will continue into the next meeting, including water and sewer improvements at the development. The timeline may stretch through the winter on finalized plans.

Frazee Avenue

After being denied by the Planning and Zoning committee on a change of zoning for a property on Frazee Avenue, Albright explained specifics on conditional use permits and zoning specifics as it pertains to the uniqueness of Vergas, which only has one commercial use zoning classification. The property owners have requested to install office space and storage on a residential lot. The Zoning committee recommended to approve the permit but leave the zoning as residential. Albright noted there is very little difference between commercial and residential zoning. 

“With a conditional use permit there isn’t a whole lot of difference,” Albright said. “The setback may vary by small amounts but they are very similar. It isn’t like with commercial you get this whole new set of ordinances.”

The permit was approved unanimously.

Preliminary 2023 budget

The board was given a preliminary 2023 budget for the city with total disbursements of $429,608. The current budget plan is nearly identical to 2022 ($428,764).

Hwy 4 and CR 35

Recommendations for use permits were approved for two parcels near Highway 4 and County Road 35 on the outskirts of town. Potential owner Mike Lorz reviewed his plans for the property during the September public hearing. There is no intention to subdivide the property and  they would like to work with the neighboring property owners. 

A tree buffer between residential properties was discussed.

Concerns were raised about potential noise from off-road vehicles.

Lorz stated the commercial project is for large condominium storage areas where people would be storing items and there should not be a lot of traffic other than in the spring and fall when they will be dropping off items

Pickleball court maintenance

The fundraising has been completed and all bills paid on the Vergas Pickleball courts. Pickleball committee members Shannon Charpentier and Maria Sontag thanked the board for their assistance and approval of the project and also offered to care for the city-owned courts as a committee, along with presenting plans for future landscaping, along with the maintenance.

“Everyone knows when you build something there’s more to do,” Charpentier said. “We really want to be in partnership with (the city). We’ll constantly be raising money for little things that happen. If we can help with funding we sure will.”

The duo proposed that the pickleball group wants to manage and take care of the courts.

The group also wants to install a new sign in the future to direct people to the courts. 

A final resolution has yet to be drafted by the city on the pickleball courts. The resolution, upon completion, will address court maintenance duties. Landscaping will be addressed after winter.

Mayor Bruhn gave the pickleball committee full approval to prepare the courts for winter and take down and store the nets.

Streets and Sidewalks

The streets committee recommended to the board to authorize Widseth Engineers to complete the feasibility reports for the extension of Green Street and the improvement of West Lake Street. The board elected to table a vote until receiving an exact amount of the fee for the reports.