LF Council plows under winter restrictions for parking in city

City staff asked to come up with a new plan

By Terry Lehrke, News Editor

Since March, the Little Falls City Council has discussed some kind of parking ban on city streets during the winter months, wanting it to be in effect for this winter season.

Very often, when snow is heavy, city crews have to plow around cars parked on city streets, making them narrow and creating a safety hazard.

City staff was asked to look into what other cities did as far as restricted parking on streets, to get a handle on the issue before the next snow season.

An all-out parking ban on city streets from Nov. 1 through April 1, between the hours of 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. was considered. However, City Attorney Toni Wetzel said restricting parking on all city streets would not be wise. Many residents live in apartments, especially in downtown, where parking is limited or several blocks away.

At its Nov. 18 meeting, a resolution was introduced to restrict parking on a number of highly-traveled city streets, between the hours of 2 a.m. – 6 a.m., from Nov. 1 through April 1.

The Council was set to vote on the restricted parking resolution Monday.

When it came time to vote to accept bids for the $11,000 worth of signs needed for the areas where parking would be restricted, Council Member Loren Boyum asked that the parking resolution be voted on first.

He said constituents had called asking the Council to consider an alternative plan, perhaps using a calendar system year-round, where certain days residents would park on one side of the street and on other days, the opposite side of the street. Boyum pointed out signs on each city block would then be unnecessary.

City crews would be out plowing twice to catch each side of the road, Council President Don Klinker said. Council Member Jeremy Hanfler said city crews often had to go over streets twice already.

Council Member Frank Gosiak said he could understand how city staff could be confused with direction given by the Council, adding he had received calls as well.

Mayor Cathy VanRisseghem said she felt $11,000 was a lot of money for signs and expressed her concern that Fourth Street had not been included in the plan presented.

Council Member at Large Brian-Paul Crowder noted that the no-parking along Lindbergh Drive was unnecessary, since no one parked along that road anyway.

“How we plow and if it’s on odd and even days is a Council decision,” said Public Works Director Jerry Lochner.

Hanfler asked how many signs would be needed if parking restrictions were based on odd/even days. He was told that signs may be needed only at entrances of the city for such a plan, although that wasn’t certain.

Council Member Greg Zylka said he felt the fix was becoming more complicated than the problem.

Klinker felt the plan presented could work, since it’s worked in other cities and was the lone yes in the 7-1 vote against the proposed restricted parking resolution.

The Council directed staff to research a plan for an odd/even day parking system and to find out what signs would be needed.

Little Falls Council Briefs

 In other business Monday, the Little Falls City Council:

• Approved 6-2, to increase sewer and garbage and recycling rates. Effective with the Jan. 20, 2014 billing, sewer rates will increase 5 percent to $3.10 per month; garbage pickup will increase by 2 cents to $7.21 and recycling by 1 cent, to $3.24 per month. Voting against the increase were Council Member at Large Brian-Paul Crowder and Mayor Cathy VanRisseghem;

• Voted 5-3, to approve an increase in the hourly rate for City Attorney Toni Wetzel, from $120 to $150 per hour, the original rate she was hired for in 2007. In 2009, the rate was reduced due to the economic downturn. Voting against the increase were Crowder, Council Member Frank Gosiak and VanRisseghem;

• Voted 5-3 to approve City Administrator Dan Vogt’s contract for 2014 at $65 per hour, compared to the $50 per hour rate in 2013. Vogt had proposed the $65 per hour rate during a budget meeting saying he had put in fewer hours than calculated for 2013 and that the cost to the city for his services would not change. In addition, the city still saves money, he said, as no benefits were paid for the position, as would be for a full-time administrator. Mayor VanRisseghem said she’d like to see Vogt at the office more often and at all meetings. She felt a $5 an hour increase was sufficient, but was against the $15. Council President Don Klinker said Vogt helped with the labor negotiations, saving the city nearly $30,000, the cost of a mediator. VanRisseghem, Crowder and Gosiak voted no to the increase;

• Approved a contract renewal for building inspections with Inspection Services of Central Minnesota;

• Accepted with regret the letter announcing the retirement of Public Works Supervisor Jerry Lochner, effective in May 2014;

• Approved a job description for a street and park foreman, which combines street supervisor and parks, grounds, maintenance supervisor into one position;

• Learned from Wetzel that the city cannot break its contract with garbage haulers to accommodate requests from residents who will be annexed into the city beginning Jan. 1, 2014, and want to continue to use their current hauler and not pay the city drive-by fee. Annexed residents will pay the same rates as other city residents, whether they choose to use another hauler or not; and

• Learned from VanRisseghem that a fundraising group called “Friends of the Splash Pad” had formed and was a totally separate entity from any city committee, looking to raise funds for the splash pad/skate park in Little Falls.

The Council’s next meeting is Monday, Dec. 16, at 7:30 p.m., with the work session scheduled for 6:30 p.m.