FAIRMONT - In February, Fairmont's city administrator decided the time had come to start enforcing the downtown area's two-hour parking limit.
That was under Jim Zarling's tenure. The city's new administrator is taking a different approach. On Monday, Mike Humpal announced his recommendations on downtown parking to the City Council.
Effective immediately, two-hour parking is eliminated on Main Street, one block east of Downtown Plaza. Parking stalls along US Bank's drive-up window lanes will switch from two-hour parking to eight-hour parking. Last but not least, more parking stalls will be available for businesses and individuals to lease.
Humpal met with the downtown association recently and discussed his pending recommendations to the City Council.
"They seemed to go over well," he said.
The city will continue to pay a parking monitor, who will work about 12 hours per week. Two-hour parking is in effect from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Humpal said the city is looking into improving the visibility of its existing signs. According to the report he gave Monday, there are at least three parking signs per block on Downtown Plaza, and two per block on the side streets.
Seven public parking lots, with 374 stalls, are available in the downtown district. Including street parking, there are 663 parking spots. City staff are investigating the costs to purchase or lease a parking lot on the corner of Third Street and Downtown Plaza.
Humpal plans to lease out a few stalls in the various public parking lots, for $20 a month. The only stalls previously available for lease were in the lot behind Martin County Human Services. The leased spaces will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.
"That should give business owners more flexibility," Humpal said.
From February through July, 142 parking tickets have been issued. At $25 each, the city has collected $3,550 in tickets. At that rate, it won't be enough to cover the cost of employing a parking monitor to work 12 hours per week for a year, which comes to about $8,716.
"We'll try this for another year," Humpal said.
In other business Monday, the council voted to hold a public hearing 5:30 p.m. Aug. 27 at City Hall to discuss whether to allow citizens to keep chickens within city limits.
"The city of Fairmont for many years now has prohibited keeping chickens," said City Attorney Elizabeth Bloomquist.
However, as a citizen recently pointed out when a police officer told her that her pets are illegal, the ordinance does not specify that chickens aren't allowed.
Following the public hearing on Aug. 27, the council will vote on whether to change the code to specifically ban chickens.
"What if we don't want to change the ordinance?" asked Councilman Darin Rahm.
Bloomquist recommended the ordinance be changed regardless. The wording as it stands now is subject to ambiguous interpretation and should be clarified if the council wants to allow chickens, she said.
"Do we have an issue with chickens?" Rahm said, asking if the city has received complaints.
"No," said several residents who were sitting in the audience, including two women who are fighting to keep their pet chickens.
Mayor Randy Quiring did not allow anyone in the audience to speak, saying they would have an opportunity to voice their concerns at the public hearing on Aug. 27. Councilman Joe Kallemeyn offered to stay after the meeting to hear the residents' concerns.
Section 4-3, pertaining to general restrictions on livestock, is the portion of the City Code that the council will review in two weeks.
"I think clarification needs to be made," said Councilman Harlan Gorath, noting that rabbits could be considered livestock.
Following the meeting, city staff explained that though chickens are not specifically banned in the City Code, citizens are not allowed to keep any animal that isn't expressly permitted.
In other action, the council:
o Approved a purchase order for a new rescue truck for $220,000. The truck is for United Township, which will reimburse the city for the expense. The city has an agreement with the townships to provide rescue services, and had previously agreed to pay half the cost of the truck. In 2014 and 2015, Fairmont will repay the township the $110,000 it owes. Repayment will be possible then, when Fairmont's debt for another fire truck is scheduled to be paid off.
o Authorized staff to acquire property by paying off outstanding taxes and then demolish the vacant house at 614 N. Orient St. The residence is considered non-habitable and a health hazard. The cost of demolition and the back taxes is estimated at $11,000.
o Authorized staff to enter an agreement with Martin County to pay for half the demolition costs, up to $10,000, to raze a dilapidated vacant apartment building on the corner of East Fourth and North Dewey streets.
"Sounds like a win-win to me," said Councilman Andy Lucas. "I know I've had a lot of complaints about that place."
o Approved a request from neighbors living in the vicinity of Holden Place to block off their cul-de-sac for a neighborhood party 5 p.m. Aug. 26.
o Approved a request from Grace Lutheran Church to section off the block of South Grant Street in front of the church for Rally Sunday Carnival from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 9.
o Amended a business subsidy agreement with US Foods, Inc. The company has purchased Hawkeye Foodservice Distribution and wanted to continue the benefits and responsibilities Hawkeye agreed to with Job Opportunity Building Zone. Humpal said the only change that will come about with the business acquisition is the names on the trucks will change from Hawkeye to US Foods.