You ask, we answer

Town Talk

Editor’s Note: The City of New Ulm presents a weekly column highlighting activities in different departments in the city government. Once a month the city will answer questions from readers. Questions on New Ulm city issues can be sent to

Why does the City have rules for everything, building codes, chickens, and zoning, but not require my neighbor to paint their house?

Good question! It has to do with public safety. A majority of the services a city provides are for the safety of the residents and visitors. I don’t think anyone can dispute that we need clean, safe water to drink. The water towers make sure we have water capacity, the distribution system keeps out contaminants, and is also used for firefighting purposes. The Fire Department was created out the need to protect life and property, and this drove the need to have regulations on keeping our businesses and homes from starting a fire and burning down an entire city. Snow plowing makes the winter roads passable, allowing for emergency vehicles to travel as needed. The Street Department maintains our road system, so we can go over hill and dale to Grandmother’s house, transport products, drive to work, and get groceries. In the 1800s, the stage coach would travel from Minneapolis to New Ulm, and was allowed to tip over three times before it reached New Ulm. We expect safer roads than that today! The City Engineer works to design roadways that are not only safe, but also last 30-40 years!

Other services, like code enforcement services, are split among a few departments, such as the Police Department, Fire Department, Building Code Department, and Zoning Department. These codes and ordinances were created over time, sometimes in anticipation of something bad occurring, and sometimes after something bad had occurred. The department heads watch over their respective areas and enforce regulations for the safety of our city’s residents and visitors. Sometimes many department regulations apply at the same time, Fire department, Building Codes and Zoning Ordinance combine to cover many aspects of keeping property and people safe.

The waste water collection system and treatment plant was constructed in an effort to make the living conditions within a densely populated area disease free. Chamber pots dumped into the street or alleys in no longer acceptable, neither is an outhouse. These are lessons learned by communities many generations ago.

Other departments that offer services are the Library, NUCAT Cable TV, Park and Recreation, and Housing. While not necessarily a clear, direct connection to safety, who can argue against knowledgable, healthy and informed citizens being safer?

I have received calls from citizens complaining about their neighbors house isn’t painted, or the yard is messy, or a tree limb has fallen in the yard. These types of concerns, while aesthetically unpleasing, do not have any public safety issues related to them. In these cases, the City is unable to force your neighbor to paint their house, pick up that limb, or pick up all the children’s toys scattered across their lawn. So while we have many rules and regulations in the City, they are all based upon public safety. We still live in a free society, and sometimes that can be messy.


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