Mayor Bruhn addresses the state of the city 

Julie Bruhn

By Robert Williams

Editor

City clerk/treasurer Julie Lammers performed the swearing in of council members Paul Pinke and Dean Haarstick and mayor Julie Bruhn gave the state of the city address at this month’s Vergas city council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 10, at the Event Center meeting chamber.

“This past year has been focused on the future of the city of Vergas,” said Bruhn. “Our major accomplishment was the creation of the comprehensive plan. Though this is not required of us by Minnesota statute, there was a clear value and it speaks volumes to our investment in this community. The plan is a shared vision looking forward to the year 2026 and serves as the core document for priorities and planning the budget for the city of Vergas. It also positions Vergas for further grant opportunities where information is required to demonstrate community gaps and needs that support requested funding.   

Contributed photo
Blaine Green of Widseth Engineering presented the results of an assessment of the city streets of Vergas noting the distance in miles of what pavement maintenance work needs to be done in the future and costs as a relative budgeting tool.

“The component of land use contained in the physical development of the city was a recurring theme intertwined in several sections of the plan,” Bruhn continued. “Major needs identified in the plan included parking, housing, business development and support. Parking was the most expressed need, citing parking has discouraged business activity, impacts those with limited mobility and presents a safety risk. There has been some progress in addressing parking with new diagonal parking on First Street and a planned parking lot at the site of the Otter Tail County highway building that the city will acquire this year.”

The mayor continued addressing how the city has addressed housing issues by approving two housing developments, along with more rental space added at Altona Square.

In discussing business development, Bruhn acknowledged the community’s desire to keep the “unique downtown charm and character of Vergas.” 

Attracting new business and providing more commercial rental space were atop the list of needs.

Vergas Streets

Bruhn also spoke about the complete streets plan that was approved this year and how Vergas is looking to the future by using technology to help track street maintenance and future improvements.

“An important component to the future is continuing to leverage technology in advancing city operations and communications,” she said. “One important tool is the purchase of the geographic information system. This database supports our ability to make decisions with accurate street information, utility maps and the layout of city land space.”

Blaine Green, of Widseth Engineering, gave a complete streets presentation regarding the status of every street in town after a comprehensive inventory performed with Utilities Superintendent Mike DuFrane.

The most striking revelation from Green of the street inventory was the need to maintain those streets in need of slight repair first to keep present and future costs down, rather than immediately tackling streets that need the most repair.

Each street was examined thoroughly and Green’s report showed current conditions and relative costs for maintenance.

“It’s meant to be a really powerful tool for the council and the residents too,” said Green. “It’s a great addition to the whole comprehensive plan. This is a lot of data and presented in a way that is easy to digest.”

The street assessment and Widseth’s pavement management system focused on the bituminous streets within city limits, with separate classifications for gravel and the county roads.

“Adding that strength, building on what you have, you’re preventing your good streets from falling into the bad streets,” Green said. “If you do the worst first you end up chasing your tail and more streets are falling into disrepair than you’re able to keep up with.”

Lawrence Lake Acres

After much discussion over the past few meetings, a public hearing, and another 45-minute discussion between city residents, buyers from the development, council members and both Blaine Green and Jeff Kuhn of Widseth Engineering, a variance was granted for private wells to be constructed in the Lawrence Lake Acres development rather than city sewer and water. 

The development met all the criteria for variance approval and the variance was filed Nov. 30, giving the city until the end of the month to approve or deny.

John Hanson, the developer, was not in attendance, but relayed during the discussion that he desired a decision be made either way so that he can proceed.

Costs to hook up to city sewer and water were the main reasons why private wells were desired, however, current buyers and Hanson were both in favor of city sewer and water if it was feasible. 

Hanson also declined to do a feasibility study on smaller lots in the development that would allow the cost to hook up to the city to be spread around more homeowners. One detraction of that plan was if Vergas was ready for 50-80 new homes rather than less than 30.

“If these lots get developed, it will be 28 new homes that will become part of Vergas’ taxable market value, which is a huge impact to the city,” council member Bruce Albright said. “That becomes a part of our tax base for all future projects too.”

The board passed the variance 3-1, with council member Dean Haarstick the lone nay.

Acting Mayor, 

appointments

Natalie Fischer will continue as acting mayor during times of Bruhn’s absence. Committee appointments and official council agreements were also announced.

• CDH-Vergas Fire Board Representative Julie Bruhn

• Planning Commission Representative and Appointments- Bruce Albright, Judy Kvam and Rebecca Hasse 

• Economic Development Authority and Housing Redevelopment Authority Representative and Member – Bruce Albright and Duane Ditterich

• Event Center Advisory Board Members – Vanessa Perry and Bev Flateland

• Appoint City Attorney- Ramstad, Skoyles and Winters, P.A.  

• Designate Official Newspaper – Frazee-Vergas Forum 

• Designation of official pace of advertisement of projects: www.cityofvergas.com 

• Designate Official Depositories: Vergas State Bank  

THC Ordinance

The city council took no action regarding the Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners, who proposed and passed an interim ordinance that placed an up to one-year moratorium on the sales of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) edibles and beverages in Otter Tail County. The ordinance goes into effect Feb. 1. Cities in the county are eligible to create their own rulings and ordinances.

Liquor Store

Vergas Liquor Store manager Kyle Theisen updated the council on financials up to 2021. Thiesen also discussed the store’s new website www.vergasliquor.com and its ability to accept online orders. A new point-of-sale system is being researched. The current system is based out of Vermont and support for the system is an issue.