City to receive $3.5M grant for 23/Saratoga overpass

MARSHALL – They saved some of the best news for last at the Marshall City Council meeting on Tuesday. Toward the end of the regular agenda, Marshall Public Works Director Glenn Olson said he had gotten word the city has been selected to receive a $3.5 million state grant to improve safety at the intersection of Saratoga Street and Minnesota Highway 23.

The money, from the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s Corridor Investment Management Strategy (CIMS) program, would go toward construction of an pedestrian overpass bridge at the Saratoga/23 intersection. Olson said MnDOT would be formally announcing this year’s grant recipients in the near future.

“This is great news,” said Marshall Mayor Bob Byrnes. The overpass had been a goal of the Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce Transportation Committee for the past few years.

The CIMS program focuses on state highway projects that improve the quality of life, economy or environment in Minnesota. This year, MnDOT said a total of $30 million in grant funding was available for projects throughout the state. Olson said that makes Marshall’s award a significant one.

Marshall City Administrator Ben Martig said there would need to be some additional financial planning for the overpass project, as the grant would have a local matching component. However, it was still a good thing for the city.

“This is a huge award,” Martig said.

Earlier in the meeting, a request for a permit to have five people rooming in a Marshall house prompted some discussion by council members. James and Michele Engels purchased a home on South Bruce Street as a residence for their son and four other young men while they attended Southwest Minnesota State University. City ordinances require a conditional use permit to have more than two boarders in a single-family house.

Michele Engels said she and her husband had been told, incorrectly, that the city would allow four roomers in a house. When they learned otherwise, she said, they applied for a conditional use permit.

Olson said the Marshall Planning Commission recommended approval of the permit, with conditions including that the tenants of the house not park on the street or the lawn, and that the permit expire after five years, or when the Engelses sell the house.

Council member Glenn Bayerkohler said he was concerned about the precedent that granting the permit would set. Having roomers in the house could also cause parking problems or be disruptive to the neighborhood, he said.

“I don’t think I could support this,” Bayerkohler said.

Council member Mike Boedigheimer disagreed. Many Marshall families with older children have multiple cars parked in front of their homes, he said. The only difference in this case would be that the residents are boarders.

Marshall City Attorney Dennis Simpson said the Engelses were also different in that they asked for the city’s permission to have roomers. The city has often had to deal with people sharing dwellings who did not apply for permits, he said. Council member John DeCramer added that the Engelses appeared to be responsible owners for the property.

Council members voted to 6-1 in favor of approving the permit. Bayerkohler cast the dissenting vote.

The council also heard and approved a report of the city’s 2012 audit. Kyle Meyers of the public accounting firm Abdo, Eick and Meyers said the city’s general fund had a year-end balance of about $8.5 million in 2012. The general fund had a 50 percent reserve, he said. Meyers said the year-end general fund balance was the result of the city having higher revenues and lower expenses than originally budgeted.

“Most (municipal) funds were in pretty good shape,” he said.

An online survey to measure Marshall city performance picked up some more respondents last week, although at 158 participants, numbers were down from last year. Marshall city intern Kyle Box presented council members with the survey results.

Survey respondents rated most city services favorably, Box said. The exceptions were in the areas of street maintenance and snow removal. More than half of the surveys turned in rated the condition of Minnesota Highway 19, Minnesota Highway 68 and U.S. Highway 59 in Marshall as “poor,” Box said. Ratings for the quality of municipal street conditions and snow removal were also slipping compared to last year, he said.

The council also accepted a bid of $7,000 from D&G Excavating to demolish a vacant house on the corner of West Main Street and 7th Street. The house had been critically damaged after a tree fell on it in the July 1, 2011, storm. Olson said the residents of the house have been relocated, but the property’s owner, Larry Hyatt, retains ownership of the lot.