Keeping things safe at City Hall
Expansion is around the corner in Winnebago, where plans are in place to fortify City Hall security, invest up to $30,000 in additional campground space and advance talks of a new rebate system for selling unused housing lots around town.
And all of that came amid directives to list city duplexes with Barslou Realty, revamp Muir Library’s overdue fines system and establish events leading up to the annual ‘Bago Fun Fest. So the Winnebago City Council, without Mayor Jeremiah Schutt, who was absent, had itself a busy Tuesday.
Here is a rundown of the activity from the city’s Municipal Center:
City Hall security
Installation of a 3/8-inch sheet of tempered glass over the front-door service window at the Municipal Center was authorized by the council after police chief Eric Olson shared safety concerns regarding the building.
Relaying recent accounts of disgruntled citizens who entered City Hall to question police about charges that had been filed against them, Olson noted the unique, albeit hazardous, nature of Winnebago housing its Public Safety department inside the Municipal Center.
“My point is that we have a police department within City Hall,” he said. “The girls up front are left to deal with people that are sometimes upset, and they have no security measures to stop a threat.”
The lack of security at the front entrance of the building, Olson said, is in contrast to setups at the Blue Earth Police Department and Faribault County Sheriff’s Office, which include doors and glass-enclosed counters.
And while City Hall has only escorted visitors off the property on occasion, Olson recommended installing a glass barrier to at least prevent anyone from potentially hopping the counter of the service window.
“Even though we’re a small town, it can happen anywhere at any time,” Olson said. “It just takes one person to be that bad.”
Councilman Scott Robertson was quick to defend Olson’s request, saying the city has long needed additional security at the Municipal Center.
“We should have done it a long time ago,” he said. “And it’s an awful cheap price to keep somebody safe.”
A $1,295 cost for the 3/8-inch safety glass is the price Robertson was referring to. That estimate, courtesy of Vets Glass in town, would pay for a tempered window, which Olson said would not be fully bulletproof but would be enough to slow any threats to the staff.
A 3-0 vote, with councilman Rick Johnson calling for the tally in place of Schutt, approved installation of the glass under the discretion of deputy city clerk Jessi Sturtz and city administrator Chris Ziegler.
Ziegler warned the council before the vote that he expects to get “pushback from the public” in regards to new glass making the City Hall entrance seem more “impersonal,” but it did not stop the group from taking to Olson’s request.
With as much as $30,000 from the city’s liquor fund reserves, the council also intends to pursue construction of eight new sites at the Winnebago campground, located at 541 Fourth St. SE.
Sturtz and Ziegler previously informed the council that many of the campground’s recreational spots had been reserved prior to an April 1 opening, and now, pending state approval, the total number of sites could virtually double by the start of May.
“We’ll apply for state approval, but if it’s a mirror of what we have currently, there should be no problems,” Ziegler said.
With recommendation from the Winnebago Utility Committee to consider quotes for electrical, water, sewer and gravel costs, the council voted to move forward with the plans.
Sturtz said revenue from the campground, which is drawing interest from prospective long-term residents, would be redirected to the liquor fund reserves, which currently are roughly $85,000.
Lot sales program
Almost a month after Johnson proposed the creation of an all-new vacant-lot rebate system, through which Winnebago would permanently keep all unused lots for sale and reimburse the costs of those properties to incentivize home builders, the council got the green light from city attorney David Frundt to approve such a program.
Final approval, of course, is not what the council was after on Tuesday. But the group was in agreement that Johnson’s idea should continue to be explored.
“What I have,” Johnson said, explaining the idea, “is the price (would be) set by the City Council on a city-owned, empty lot, and if a single-family house is built or moved in with a foundation and the property is completed in a year or two, whatever we decide, they can apply for a refund and get 100 percent give or take of the property purchase price back.”
Frundt presented the council with similar programs from other cities and said he could work with Ziegler on outlining an official plan, which would be authorized at a later date.
City duplex sales
After a closed session to discuss the future of city duplexes that had previously been for sale, the council cast unanimous support for relisting the properties through Lonnie Trasamar, of Barslou Realty.
The city had previously rejected an offer for the duplexes from Jim and Judy Ness, of Homestead Realty, deciding in April to have a potential realtor represent Winnebago as sellers.
No more library fines
Fines for overdue books at the city’s Muir Library are no more, at least for the most part, after the council voted to adopt proposals from library director Heidi Schutt.
“Libraries have really changed from being a strict place of research for higher society to a place where everyone is welcome no matter their income level,” Schutt wrote to the council. “I want our community’s library to be accessible to everyone, and charging overdue fines and restricting patrons from checking out materials is doing the opposite.”
Councilman Paul Eisenmenger backed up Schutt’s requests after sitting in on library board discussions, saying that research indicates an absence of fines actually results in better rates of returned materials, not to mention more library visitors in general.
“For someone, maybe a $5 or $6 fine for a book is actually a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread,” Eisenmenger said. “The library sees about $1,400 to $2,000 a year on fines, so that’s not a lot.”
A subsequent 3-0 vote authorized Muir Library to forgive and stop collecting fines for overdue materials but still charge replacement costs for unreturned or damaged items.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the Winnebago City Council also:
Declared the 733 Main St. S. property, home to a former ice cream shop and the intended site of a future seafood restaurant, as in default.
“We’re looking to collect on the mortgage,” Frundt said. “A farm was used as collateral, valued at around $60,000, and a $60,000 loan was taken out for the seafood restaurant.”
Named May 25 as the date for a new tire recycling event, exclusive to Winnebago citizens, and confirmed the inclusion of a new laser light show at the city’s annual ‘Bago Fun Fest, which is set to be held in June.