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Pequot Lakes: Council nixes idea of billboards on Highway 371

Billboards will not be allowed along Highway 371 through Pequot Lakes, the city council agreed Tuesday, Oct. 3, after learning the planning commission unanimously opposed the idea.

The council vote was 4-0; council member Scott Pederson was absent.

At Pederson's suggestion in September, the council directed the planning and zoning commission to look into allowing billboard signage on city-owned property on the four-lane highway. Pederson didn't favor or oppose billboards, but wanted input from residents and businesses on the issue via a public hearing.

Because of the council's Oct. 3 decision, a public hearing to amend the sign ordinance will not be held.

Planning commission members cited three reasons for their decision:

• Large billboard type signs are not consistent with the "north woods" and "rural" character referenced in the city's comprehensive plan.

• Large signs could create safety concerns for motorists traveling fast.

• The realigned highway was just recently completed and the city should not rush into any decisions on offsite signs on the new highway.

Police budget

The council voted to cut $10,000 from the police department's 2018 budget to help lower the tax levy after Pederson in September suggested the department try to trim its budget by $20,000.

Pederson said a canceled contract for services with Jenkins Township no longer brings in money or requires officers' time.

The department's plan to cut $20,000 included eliminating $10,000 in wages and benefits by reducing part-time officers' hours and reducing elective training and investigation hours, according to a report prepared by Sgt. Chad Turcotte and City Administrator Nancy Malecha.

The report said reducing wages and benefits would have a dramatic negative impact on the police department's operations and services.

The council voted 4-0 with Pederson absent to keep the $10,000 for wages and benefits.

"We have a great department now and we want to keep that. We don't want to reduce training," Mayor Nancy Adams said.

The $10,000 that will be cut from the police department budget will come from office supplies, operating supplies, legal fees, fuel and capital outlay (squad car).

In other business Oct. 3, the council:

• Agreed to amend the city code regarding fence height at intersections, as the planning commission recommended. Council member Jerry Akerson was opposed.

• Approved the Fire Relief Association request for a benefit level increase from $3,900 to $4,250 per year of service. Fire chief Tom Nelson said with the increase the relief association would still have a $201,000 surplus.

• Learned the police department had 381 calls for service in August.

• Adopted the 2018 law enforcement contract and joint powers agreement with the city of Jenkins for $3,433 per month, or a total of $41,200.

• Approved the 2018 agreement for prosecution services with Mallie Law Office for $875 per month.

• Hired Schlenner Wenner & Co. for audit services for 2017 for $16,400, 2018 for $16,800 and 2019 for $17,230. The city received five proposals.

• Approved job description revisions for the city administrator, city clerk/treasurer, administrative assistant and zoning specialist; promoted Deb Marty from deputy city clerk to city clerk/treasurer effective Jan. 1; and approved a job points increase for the zoning specialist.

• Agreed to hire a public works employee in July 2018 before the city gains six miles of road when it takes over Patriot Avenue (former two-lane Highway 371) and other roads, and improves Trailside Park.

• Agreed to order a snow plow/dump truck. It will take nine months to receive the truck, and it will be needed for the 2018 winter season.

• Agreed to advertise for bids for a maintenance facility that will be built.

• Agreed to have WSN put together a proposal to improve County Road 112/Old Highway 371 next year.

• Approved an agreement with SAS+ Associates and Widseth Smith Nolting engineering firm for the Trailside Park phase 1 construction project for a total estimate of $225,210. Council member Jerry Akerson was opposed.

• At a special meeting before the regular council meeting, the council agreed to declare property owned by Carter McAninch to be a public nuisance.