BLUE EARTH - Blue Earth City Council asked a simple question and got a simple answer.
About 40 people attended a public hearing Tuesday on planned construction for Gorman and Twelfth streets. Most of those in attendance were concerned about proposed sidewalks.
When Councilman John Gartzke asked if residents want sidewalks, the answer was a resounding "No!"
Just to be sure, Councilman Glenn Gaylord asked, "Is there anyone who does want them?" He was answered with silence.
"It's a safe bet there will be no sidewalks if there were no sidewalks in the past," said Mayor Rob Hammond.
Some people who have sidewalks want them removed. City Administrator Kathy Bailey said it has been past policy to replace existing sidewalks.
Resident Ben Gjere said he has had a sidewalk, but does not want it. He pointed out that some existing sidewalks don't connect to another sidewalk in the next block, so it doesn't do much good anyway.
Dale Osmundson has a sidewalk and would like to keep it.
"I got a disabled boy and he needs a place to walk," Osmundson said.
Bailey and City Engineer Wes Brown explained the planned projects, which include water mains, water service lines, sanitary sewer mains, sanitary sewer lines, storm sewer mains and catch basins, curb and gutter, driveway aprons, road surfacing and, of course, the sidewalks.
Brown said some trees would have to be moved to make way for sidewalks.
"If the sidewalk doesn't go in, there's no reason to remove the trees," he noted.
Any trees removed will be replaced.
"Not the same size, though," Gartzke said.
Bailey explained how properties will be assessed, with actual assessments calculated at the end of the project. Property owners can file appeals at that time, she said.
Other aspects were discussed too.
Whether both streets are done at the same time depends on the weather and other factors, which won't be known for a while, Bailey said. Construction is planned to run from June to October, but might change. Anyone wanting up-to-the-minute updates was asked to provide an e-mail address.
Power-line poles will have to be moved. One woman asked why the lines can't be buried, arguing it makes more sense in fickle Minnesota winter weather.
"It costs twice as much [to bury the lines]," Brown said.
It also was pointed out that it is more difficult to find faults and to dig when the ground is frozen.
Patti Hague wanted to know how her customers, especially elderly ones who have trouble walking, will be able to get to her shop.
"We'll work with the business and property owners," Brown promised.
Bailey said emergency vehicles will get through no matter what, including driving over yards if necessary.
Dan Wiltse wasn't happy that the construction would raise assessments on an empty lot he owns. He can't build on it because it's not large enough, so he has no need for the planned amenities.
Bailey said the council could look at changing city policy to install water and sewer only to lots that are buildable, bringing down the assessment. Curb and gutter still would be assessed because it raises the value of the property, she said.
"You can't tax me out of them," said Wiltse, threatening to let the property go back to the city in five years.
Hague asked why water and sewer is assessed to be paid by the whole town but street repairs are assessed only to the property owners affected.
"It's part of the requirement to be able to bond," Bailey said.
And Gartzke noted the water department is a separate entity.
The council discussed the possibility of changing the 36-foot width of the streets to 34 feet, but Brown said there would be no cost savings.
"All the intersections are set up for 36 feet," he said, noting there would be additional costs to reconfigure the intersections.
Property owners still would be assessed at the 36-foot width, even if the actual width was changed to 34 feet, Bailey added, since the assessment policy requires the city to take the average of the last three street projects to figure the numbers.
In the end, Hammond wanted to continue the discussion at the next council meeting in two weeks, to allow time to get more responses on the sidewalks.
In other business:
o Mike Enger asked for the council's help regarding smoke from a wood-burning furnace from Vossen's Auto Body.
"Whenever there's a south wind, I get engulfed in smoke," Enger said. "I'm just tired of it."
Hammond wanted to consult with the city attorney and hear from the owners of Vossen's.
o The council approved forgiving all but $19.10 of a sewer charge to Michael Saraco. A pipe in his house at 226 S.?Linton St. leaked after it was supposed to be shut off. The leakage went to the sump pumps, not through the sanitary sewer, so it should not have been assessed to the sewer charge, the council decided.
o Search warrants have been obtained for the city to inspect the Avalon building and the three buildings owned by Hot Springs Citizens for Progress along Main Street. Bailey has requested quotes from structural engineers.