New Ulm City Manager Gramentz leaving Dec. 31
NEW ULM — City Manager Brian Gramentz announced his plan to resign from his position at the end of the year.
The resignation came as unexpected news. The council was informed of this decision prior to the start of Tuesday’s meeting. No warning of his resignation was included in the council’s agenda. The last item on the council’s agenda was a closed session to evaluate the performance of Gramentz, but this was postponed.
Council President Charlie Schmitz said the council received a notice from the City Attorney that Gramentz had offered a letter of resignation and separation agreement with the city. The resignation is effective Dec. 31, 2018.
City Attorney Roger Hippert said the separation agreement was not made public at this time due to attorney-client privilege. No decision was made regarding the separation agreement because it was not on the current city council agenda. The council did agree to place the agreement on their next agenda. Any decision made regarding the agreement will come forward during future public meetings.
Earlier in the year the city approved the hire of an assistant city manager. Chris Dalton started working as such in April.
The council approved a recommendation for mini-roundabouts to be constructed on North Highland Avenue at Oak Street and at Center Street with the Oak Street location as a priority.
The recommendation was submitted by the Safety Commission. The construction of the new high school complex has increased the peak morning and evening traffic at both intersections during school days. An engineering study was undertaken to determine if a multi-way stop control was warranted.
The final report undertaken by consulting firm WSB concluded an all-way stop control was not warranted, but recommended a mini-roundabout. WSB’s analysis showed mini-roundabouts would improve safety without adding significant delays. The bare bones mini-roundabout is estimated to cost $150,000 per intersection, said the engineering firm. City Engineer Steve Koehler believes that with pavement and utility costs the actual cost per intersection was around $300,000.
Councilor Les Schultz said several individuals have contacted him in support of the roundabouts. He has personally seen the backups caused during the school opening and closing hours.
“I think this will keep the traffic flow moving in the morning and afternoon,” Schultz said. “I strongly support this, not only for safety reasons but for traffic flow.”
Schmitz questioned if a roundabout on 5th North and Highland was needed.
Schultz said this was a problem intersection, but it was not as bad as the other two.
Koehler agreed a roundabout should be constructed at 5th North as well, but the urgency is not as great since the 5th North intersection is a four-way stop and there is less of a delay with turns.
Schultz made the motion to accept the Safety Commission’s recommendation for mini-roundabouts, saying, “I think safety has to be priority when it comes to our kids.”
The motion was unanimously approved by the council. The earliest construction could begin on these roundabouts is 2019.
No Pay Increase
The council discussed, but made no adjustments to, their compensation and pay. The question of compensation was first discussed at the July 18 city council meeting. Since then a survey of 19 cities were conducted to compare New Ulm’s compensation rate. New Ulm was the 12th largest city in the survey and tied for third highest pay of those surveyed.
Councilor Schultz said his concern is that if a they did not discuss cost of living adjustments (COLA) on a regular basis, the council and mayor could fall behind on compensation, and a higher pay increase would be needed to catch up. The idea is to make smaller adjustments to compensation similar to what is done with city employees.
Schultz made a motion to have the finance director remind the council to review COLA every other year. The motion passed, with Councilor Lisa Fischer voting against.
Schultz then made a motion for a $200 increase to the council and mayor’s salary. Schultz chose this number because it matched the employees 2.5 percent COLA increase. The motion failed for lack of a second.
The council will consider a compensation increase in two years.
Cottonwood Park Recommendation
The council agreed to move forward on establishing an Upper Cottonwood Park. Last week at the Park and Recreation Commission meeting, commissioners recommended moving forward with the process of establishing a new park. Several area residents attended the meeting to express their support for the project.
There are seven undeveloped park areas in New Ulm, and the Cottonwood/Dacotah West area is one of the areas in the city underserved by a neighborhood park.
Area resident Tracy Windschitl spoke on behalf of residents in the area who wanted a park. She said there are about 40 children currently underserved by a neighborhood park. This neighborhood does include a daycare and several grandparents in support of a neighborhood park.
The nearest park is Adams Park, which is a wilderness park. The nearest playground is behind the former Target building. To reach this park, kids must walk along the highway, which has no sidewalk. When the Cottonwood river floods the road, the nearest park is Hermann Heights.
The city’s comprehensive plan has a standard that no resident should have to travel more than four blocks from their home to get to a park.
Park and Recreation Director Tom Schmitz said the city does anticipate further development in the Dacotah West subdivision and the comprehensive plan does include a proposal for a park.
It was suggested a temporary park be created, but not dedicated as a city park. Once the neighborhood is further developed, a permanent park could be established and the temporary park could be removed. In addition, there is $180,000 in a parkland account for the purpose of creating a new park.
Councilor Larry Mack made a motion for staff to pursue existing covenants in the Dacotah West development to determine if and where a neighborhood park can be established.
Schultz said he was contacted by a Goosetown resident upset that no new park was coming to the Goosetown neighborhood. The Park and Recreation Commission had previously passed motions to move forward with a south Goosetown Park, but no further action was taken. Schultz received a similar call from a person in the Diocese subdivision.
Schmitz reminded the council there were seven undeveloped park areas, but Cottonwood stood out because the nearest neighborhood park was further away and difficult to access, while other undeveloped areas were within a walking distance to parks.
The council unanimously agreed to look into the Upper Cottonwood Street area for the creation of a new park.
Bolduan Given Lease for Franklin School House Building
The council approved a lease agreement allowing Ron Bolduan to utilize the former Franklin School House building for Minnesota River watershed cultural and natural history displays, learning center and programing.
Bolduan has operated a nature learning center in the building for the past six years, in conjunction with the previous tenants.
The council expressed enthusiasm for the project. Christian said he has seen thousands of kids utilize the program run by Bolduan on a volunteer basis.
Schmitz said he was amazed by what was done inside the Franklin building.
“It’s mind-boggling, everything you have in there,” he said. “Its something every community wishes they have and we have it right in front of us!”
Mayor Robert Beussman said the Preservation Committee is interested in keeping this program going since the Franklin building is the last school house in the town.
Bolduan said the program draws students from a four to five-county region. Often the kids are bused in from schools in other districts.
In addition to approving the lease, the city has agreed to pay utilities in the building. The city previously paid utilities from October to March, but agreed to expand this arrangement.
Schmitz said Bolduan provided such a benefit to the community that utilities were a minor cost.
The council set a public hearing date for 4:30 p.m. Sept. 4 to consider a noise variance for amplified music during the Midwest SPL and DB Drag Show at PROformance Auto Start & Security, located at 1218 N. Front St.
The Midwest SPL and DB Drag Show are contests in which individuals test their vehicle stereo systems against each other. This includes a top prize for loudest decibel reached. PROformance has held similar contests in New Ulm in the past, but not without controversy from neighbors complaining about the noise.
Hippert confirmed the Dan Horner, the owner of PROformance and applicant for the variance, had been prosecuted for noise violations in the past.
City code requires neighboring properties within 500 feet of the event be notified by mail of the public hearing, but the council voted to expand the notification to 1,500 feet.
The event is located in a commercial and industrial area. There are no residential homes within 500 feet, however in the past the city received complaints from residents from within the 1,500 foot range.
The public hearing will be held at the next city council meeting. The variance is for an event scheduled from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 8.
Earlier in the meeting a public hearing was held to consider a noise variance for Green Mill & Best Western Plus to allow live bands to perform in the parking lot during Rocktoberfest-Oktoberfest on Oct. 5-6 and Oct. 12-13.
The council did receive comments from neighbors on Cottonwood regarding the noise generated by last year’s event. Gramentz said the variance does not set a decimal level, but allows for a time period.
The council unanimously approved the variance.