Mitchell City Council moves to pay for Longhorn repairs; OKs EZ$ beer license
The futures of a pair of Mitchell bars, one closed by a wall collapse, the other seeking permission to remain open, were under discussion Monday night by the Mitchell City Council at City Hall.
The council took the first steps to spend about $60,000 to pay for repairs to the old Longhorn Bar at 101 N. Main St., which has been closed for almost six months after a wall slumped and part of a ceiling collapsed. Jason Bates, the owner of the building, would be required to pay the money back, either through a tax assessment or through a civil suit, the council decided.
Before the council meeting, the Public Health & Safety Committee discussed tearing down the building or finding another solution for the decaying structure at the corner of First Avenue and North Main Street. The council later voted to declare the building a public nuisance to allow city government to have control of the building's future.
The city has been asking Bates to remove or repair the building but despite an extension of time, he has not submitted a plan to deal with the building, which was erected in 1879 and is reportedly the oldest building in Mitchell.
The previous owner, Charlie Bates, Jason Bates' father, reported the collapse Nov. 15 and McGannon then inspected the building. He said the city sent a letter Nov. 23, saying a bowed wall indicated the building should be not be occupied.
McGannon sent a second letter March 7, after seeing that small pieces were falling off the building onto city sidewalk. He asked for an action plan within 30 days.
On April 10, Jason Bates spoke to McGannon and Mayor Lou Sebert and was given an extension until May 15 to come up with an answer. No such plan was submitted.
The third letter from the city was sent May 23, notifying Bates the city was ready to declare the building a public nuisance and tear it down.
He came before the committee Monday night and said he needed help.
"I've exhausted every avenue I have. I can't get a loan without insurance ... I don't know what to do," Bates said. "I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place."
He is suing his former insurance carrier, he said, and his lawyer feels confident about his chance for success. When Jason Bates bought the business from his father, the insurance lapsed.
Bates said it would cost about $40,000 to tear the building down and about $56,000 to repair it. He can't get the loan without insurance and no insurance company wants to cover the building.
Right now, there is no insurance covering the building, Bates said when asked by Councilman Dan Allen what would happen if someone was struck by a falling object.
"That's a hazard right there," Allen said.
Bates said he's been told new walls could be erected to support the building and allow the removal of the crumbling wall. He said if the city helped him, he would not walk away from the bill.
"Whatever the city decides, however long it takes, you will get your money back," Bates said.
He said he has sought assistance from a downtown building assistance program supervised by Mitchell Main Street & Beyond but said that won't work, nor will any historic association assist him.
"I'm stuck," Bates said repeatedly. "I don't know what to do."
But he said tearing the building down could damage the VFW building that may share a wall with the old Longhorn building.
Pat Ziegler, commander of the adjacent VFW, said he wants to make sure the post building is not damaged during the process. That would bankrupt the VFW, he said.
"I haven't seen any evidence it's not a common wall," Ziegler said. "I think at least part of it is common, probably most of it. I have to be on the record protecting the VFW."
The VFW had considering buying the old bar building, tearing it down and erecting a park there, but efforts to secure a grant to do so fell through, according to Bates.
Some of the councilmen expressed irritation that the bar issue is still lingering.
"We can make little old ladies mow their lawns and fix their homes," Councilman Mel Olson said to Bates. "How come we can't make you fix the Longhorn?"
Council President Jeff Smith, who is not a member of the committee, said he was reluctant to help pay for such a project and become "the bank of Mitchell," but he also realized it's a unique situation.
"If there is a way of doing it, I would support it," Smith said. "I would like to save a historical building."
City Attorney Randy Stiles was asked to compose an agreement between the city and Bates to allow the process to move ahead.
"Fix it, assess it, get a guarantee," McGannon said.
The business known as Longhorn Bar is now located across Main Street as part of a combined business with Big Dummy's, which is also owned by Bates.
The council quickly approved a malt beverage license renewal request from EZ$ bar and casino, which is physically linked to Thirsty's at 1801 N. Main St. in the Palace Mall. Both bars are managed by Thomas Somerville.
Three Thirsty's/EZ$ employees have been arrested for assaulting customers in the past eight months, including Somerville. Charged were dropped against one bartender while Somerville pleaded no contest to disorderly conduct and another employee, William Watkins, was convicted of assaulting and seriously injuring a customer and was sentenced to 13 years in prison, with five years suspended.
On May 21, the City Council approved all applications for malt beverage licenses except EZ$ and said it wanted to hear what was being done to reduce the trouble, which some council members said was giving Mitchell a bad name. However, Somerville did not appear at Monday's meeting.
Mitchell Public Safety Chief Lyndon Overweg said improvements have been made and the bar's management has assured him the problems will cease.
"I have visited with them and they have made some changes," Overweg said.
The council approved the license after Smith made an immediate motion to approve it as it was being read, saying he had spoken privately with Overweg, who had spoken privately with the bar's management.
After the meeting, Smith said he didn't see a need for a public discussion on the license renewal. He said if Overweg was satisfied with the bar's practices, he was, too.
The Thirsty's liquor license will come before the council at the end of the year.
Runoff elections discussed
The council held a discussion on adding runoffs to city elections.
Councilmen Greg McCurry and Olson had sought to have an item on the runoff placed on the agenda, but it wasn't added to it. But McCurry brought it up during the public input section of the agenda.
"I do favor runoffs or secondary elections," he said. "I would favor following the state law on it."
McCurry said he would like to see the winner required to receive at least 50 percent plus one vote.
Olson said it was important to hold the discussion before today's election, which includes six candidates for mayor. Even if someone has a strong showing, that candidate might get only 30 percent of the vote, he said.
"I think it's good to have the discussion now," Olson said.
That way, he said, it would not be perceived as an attack on whomever wins the race.
Carpenter said he was elected to his first term in a three-way race with about 43 percent of the vote.
"I would have hated to have turned around the next day and do it all over," he said. "I think I had a wide enough margin and to do it again a few weeks later would have been torture."
Olson agreed with that, noting he once won a council term with 49.88 percent, just a few votes short of a majority.
Carpenter said it's difficult to get people to run for office now, and adding another level may scare prospective candidates away. Smith said perhaps only the mayoral race could include a runoff portion.
"That is the CEO of our city," he said. "That's why I think we have to take a good look at it."
Stiles said he would have to look into it.
The council decided to place the issue on the agenda for July 16 to allow the new council to discuss it.
The council also:
* Approved Resolution 2998, the purchase of water service for BankWest from Davison Rural Water System Inc.
The city will buy an existing water line to the new bank building at a cost of about $7,100, according to McGannon, since the property is now in the city limits. Sebert said it's a matter of precedent, since he feels the city should provide water service to anyone in the city.
BankWest, which will pay about $200 a year in water bills, did not seek this, McGannon said. He said it was a policy decision made by "my boss," Mayor Sebert, so he didn't want to offer an opinion.
Olson said allowing some businesses or residents to be on rural water could create a "hodge-podge" of various utilities, and Tracy agreed.
Allen voted no, calling it a "bad business decision," and McCurry agreed with him. Olson said he views it as "an investment in the future." Carpenter said when the city annexed the land, it made a commitment to provide water service.
It passed 5-3, with Allen, McCurry and Councilman Marty Barington voting against it.
* Heard reports from the Public Health & Safety and Finance committees, which met before the council.
The Public Safety Committee approved fireworks permits for the Heart and Sole Cancer Walk and the Exchange Club for its July 4 show.
The council approved Resolution 2999, a contingency transfer for a trailer for the city band. The Finance Committee had recommended approval of buying the trailer and related items for $3,709.
City Band Director Joe Pekas said there was a "dire need" for the trailer to replace one that was damaged by the spring hailstorm and was no longer available.
* Approved Resolution 2997, the plat of D. Nemec Tract A in the southeast quarter of the southeast quarter and the northeast quarter of the southeast quarter of Section 36, T 104 N, R 61 W of the Fifth Prime Meridian in Davison County.
The property is outside the city limits but within the three-mile radius and the council must give approval.
* Held the second reading of and approved Ordinance 2405, a supplemental appropriation of $33,000 for the Sanborn concrete joint repair project.
* Approved a pavement maintenance entitlement transfer for the Mitchell Regional Airport with the South Dakota Department of Transportation.
* Approved a statement of extension to the Joint Cooperative Agreement with Planning & Development District III for 2013 in the amount of $11,248.
* Approved the application and merchant processing agreement for Power Pay to provide credit card services to the landfill.
* Approved paying estimates.
* Sat as the Board of Adjustment to:
Set a June 18 date for hearing on the application of Joe Schlimgen for a variance for a side yard setback of 1 feet rather than the required 3 feet at 308 W. Fifth Ave. The Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval.
Approve the application of Dennis and Janelle Ven Osdel for a variance for a side yard setback of 1 foot, 6 inches instead of the required 3 feet at 1116 E. Fourth Ave.
Approve the application of Mayor Lou Sebert and James Sebert for a variance to construct an accessory building with a height variance of 25 feet instead of the mandated 17 feet, and a size variance of 3,200 square feet instead of the mandated 1,050 square feet, at a site legally described as Sebert Tract 1, a subdivision of Lot A, the southwest quarter of the southwest quarter of Section 23, T 103 N, R 60 W of the fifth prime meridian in Davison County.
Approve the application of James and Kim Sebert for a variance for a back yard setback of 10 feet instead of the required 30 feet at 507 Charles St.
Approve the application of Lou and Carol Sebert for a variance for a back yard setback of 8 feet instead of the standard 30 feet, at 513 Charles St.
The Seberts plan to build two adjacent homes and a storage shed. Mayor Sebert read the information for the requests for the project for himself and his wife and his son and daughter-in-law, but did not cast a vote, since he only does so in case of a tie.
* Voted to cancel its special meeting on Monday, June 11, since three councilmen will not be present. The agenda items may be discussed before or during the June 18 regular meeting.
* Set a special meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday, June 12, to canvass Tuesday's election returns and discuss the future of the old Longhorn Bar.
n Tabled a proposal to set a Sept. 11 date for the city of Mitchell surplus auction.
"I just don't think we should have it on September 11th," Olson said.
A new date will be discussed in two weeks.
* Acknowledged the volunteer listing on file.
* Approved a request from Mitchell Main Street & Beyond to conduct a raffle with the drawing to be held on Aug. 26.