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Mitchell City Council sticks with property code enforcement despite complaints

Complaints about the city's nuisance law enforcement efforts were made during the Mitchell City Council meeting Monday night at City Hall.

Mitchell residents Jeanne Hauser and Lori Willoughby spoke during the public comment section of the meeting and said they feel the city's nuisance property code enforcement is too strict. They were the latest voices added to a growing chorus of complaints about the city's approach to so-called nuisance properties, which has been perceived as more aggressive this spring.

A 14-day time frame for corrective action is unreasonable, Hauser said, and one of her rental houses that was cited is very large. She said she has problems taking care of the properties, especially the taller ones.

"I'm scared of heights," she said. "I need more time than what they're giving me. I think you're picking on me."

Code Enforcement Officer Jeff Lanning said he offered to extend the deadline to June 1 and will work with her on the problem if there are signs of improvement.

Willoughby said she doesn't have the money to paint a house she owns that was cited, especially when property taxes are due and the economy is in a slump.

She said she fell off a ladder a few years ago and "broke my back" and struggles to complete physical tasks, especially with an older property.

"There's challenges everywhere," Willoughby said.

Mayoral candidate Roger Haley advised people to "reach out to your community" and people will offer a helping hand, including the Brush of Kindness group.

"In two days, we can do an entire house," he said. "Scrape and paint it. We can do it."

Willoughby said Lanning should be willing to meet individually with each person before writing notices.

Lanning talked with the two women outside Council Chambers and they spoke about how to meet the city's requirements.

At the end of the meeting, Mayor Lou Sebert said the headaches are worth it if the city is getting cleaned up.

"I think if you want to win, you have to stay fairly firm," Sebert said. "If we continue on in this method, we will be successful in this effort."

Councilman Mel Olson said Lanning doesn't set the timelines. They are in the ordinance, Olson said, so holding him personally responsible is unfair and wrong.

Liquor license transfer

The council approved the transfer of a retail (on-sale) liquor license and package (off-sale) liquor license, and a retail (on-off sale) malt beverage license to include Sunday sales, from Jason Bates, the owner of the Longhorn Bar and Big Dummy's, to a limited liability corporation Bates has formed.

Two weeks ago, the council had some concerns that if the license was placed in the LLC, and not in Bates' name, the city may be stuck with the old Longhorn Bar building located at 101 N. Main St., across the street from the new Longhorn and Big Dummy's.

The city has asked Bates to repair or tear down the bar, which has been closed for structural reasons since November. The city has placed barricades around it and asked Bates to deal with the building's problems.

Mitchell lawyer Doug Dailey, who spoke for Bates, said the council had no legal authority to hold up the license transfer.

"Essentially we consider this just to be a transfer of ownership for tax and business purposes," Dailey said.

He said under state law, the council could only judge the transfer on the suitability of the applicant and the property, and not for any other reason. Bates has been previously approved, he said.

Police Chief Lyndon Overweg said he had no concerns with Bates and the transfer was quickly approved by a unanimous vote.

Outside the meeting, Bates said he plans to restore the building. He said he has received some bids.

Polka Festival debate

Mayoral candidate Tara Volesky spoke against the cancellation of the Corn Palace Polka Festival.

"I think it would go," Voleksy said. "I think you could grow the festival."

She said she if it was promoted more, attendance would increase. Volesky said a cable TV polka show producer has offered to come to Mitchell and tape shows during the event.

Corn Palace Director Mark Schilling said Polka Festival attendance dropped from more than 2,000 people in 2004 for the three-day event to 934 in 2011. It became a money loser for the city, he said.

Olson said the demographics are not promising. Most dancers are older and are not being replaced by new polka fans, he said. Schilling agreed and said there used to be two polka clubs in Mitchell, and both have disbanded.

"From what I hear from what you're saying, I think you made a good decision," Councilman Dan Allen said.

Council President Jeff Smith, an ex officio member of the Corn Palace Festival Board, said it was a difficult decision made over a three-month period. He said people should collect all the information before criticizing the decision.

Other business

In other business, the council:

* Gave its blessing to a proposed streetscape improvement program that will be launched by Mitchell Main Street & Beyond.

MMS&B board secretary Carrie English said the association is now seeking bids for the project. The goal is to create a comprehensive plan, she said.

English said MMS&B will bring a proposal back to the council by late spring or early summer. It could range from $5,000 to $20,000, she said, and MMS&B will pay for the project.

Smith said he would like to see the city replicate what Brookings has done.

* Set May 7 as the date to receive and consider bids for Sanborn Street concrete panels, phase II of City Project 2012-22; for a hearing on the application of the Palace City Lions Club for a special event malt beverage and wine license at the Horseman's Sports Arena July 19-22 for the Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo; and to consider adopting Resolution 2983, the plat of Sebert Tract 1, a subdivision of Lot A in the southwest quarter of the southwest quarter of Section 23, T 103 N, R 60 W of the Fifth Prime Meridian in Davison County.

* Adopted Resolution 2984, the plat of Lot 14 in the replat of Tract A, Wild Oak Golf Club Addition to the city of Mitchell.

* Held the second readings of and adopted Ordinance 2400, sewer rates and charges; Ordinance 2401, a supplemental appropriation; and Ordinance 2402, amending the TIF committee ordinance.

The supplemental appropriation includes $95,000 for a new dump truck. That includes a $64,922 insurance payment to help pay for the loss of a city truck after a fire destroyed it this winter during a snow-plowing effort. The city will pay the additional $30,000 cost.

* Declined the donation of a building at 124 E. First Ave. to the city of Mitchell. The building was offered to Mayor Lou Sebert, who told owner Clyde Connell that he needed to obtain council approval.

The council said it didn't know what the city would do with the building.

Councilman Phil Carlson said he was worried about setting a precedent.

MMS&B Executive Director Molly Goldsmith said the building, which is in poor condition, has caused some people concern recently.

Public Works Director Tim McGannon said the building is in poor shape and the city will not allow it to be rented. McGannon said the city has dealt with problems there several times over the years.

If a public health and safety issue exists, the city can order it torn down or can remove it, City Attorney Randy Stiles said. That can be problematic, Stiles said, since the city may struggle to collect the money it spends.

* Approved a contract with SPN, including Roby, Quintal & Everson and L.L. Jirsa, for airport new SRE building design inspection for $69,768.

* Approved a work order for yearly bridge inspection work with Brosz Engineering Inc., which has offices in South Dakota and North Dakota, for $1,900, with 80 percent of that coming from federal funds.

The city has seven bridges inspected on a rotating basis so they are all checked at least once every three years, McGannon said. No local firms do the inspections, he said.

* Recognized the state bid for the purchase of a turf tractor from Scott Supply Co. in the amount of $29,500 for the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department.

* Declared surplus a 224 Case 585 tractor in the Parks Department for a trade-in.

* Authorized Overweg to sign the annual Joint Powers Agreement with the South Dakota Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

Several agencies in the state belong to it, Overweg said, and it will provide some reimbursement for overtime hours worked on Internet crime cases.

"We're constantly monitoring these kinds of cases with the DCI (Division of Criminal Investigation)," he said.

* Approved the application of the Palace City Lions Club for a special event malt beverage and wine license at the Corn Palace and to include City Hall on May 12 for the Red Green Show.

* Approved raffle requests from Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Mitchell Area with the drawing to be held Aug. 22 and from St. Mary's Episcopal Church, with the drawing to be held May 6.

* Approved the abatement of taxes in the amount of $19.55 to David Brinker/Edweena Brinker/Rick Brinker for a 1959 Town & Country Caravan mobile home because the mobile home has no value and is being dismantled for salvage; and an abatement in the amount of $20.51 to Amy L. Mahrt for a 1966 Liberty Mobile Home, which was moved in 2008 and the owner of which cannot be located.

* Sat as the Board of Adjustment to:

Set a May 7 hearing on the application of Doug Krantz for a conditional use permit to sell and display trailers and vehicles at 1501 W. Spruce.

Set a May 7 hearing on the application of Jerry Bertsch for a variance to construct a garage at 316 W. 13th Ave. The request is being made because the building height standard will not be met.

Set a May 7 hearing on the application of Tim and Sherry Hines for a variance to construct an addition at 605 W. 14th Ave. The request is being made because the front yard setback will not be met.

Hold a hearing and approve the application of Erika Ellwein for a conditional use permit to operate a daycare center in her home at 1017 W. Elm Ave.

Public Health and Safety Committee

The Public Health and Safety Committee approved adding four street lights on Lakeview Lane. A homeowner who has recently built a house near the intersection made the request. That is normally how the city acts, according to Public Works Deputy Director Terry Johnson.

NorthWestern Energy will pay for the pole and the lights, with the city assessed a $5 monthly fee for the electricity, Johnson said.

Traffic Commission

The Traffic Commission took action on several issues.

Hohn Trucking was given a permit to temporarily park trucks on the city street in front of its business at 401 E. Ash Ave. Company owner Ernie Hohn spoke to and fielded questions from the commission.

He said he has been parking the trucks at the location for 19 years and has had no complaints from neighbors. The city is working to make such practices legal, Overweg said.

No-parking signs will be placed at the Fifth and Main parking lot from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays from June 2 through the end of the season. The James Valley Community Center Farmers Market Committee asked for the signs. This is an annual closure, Overweg said.

Vehicles left in the lot during the closure will be ticketed and towed. The city will try to inform people who live or spend time in the area of the closures, and a flyer notifying people may be placed on vehicle windshields the first Saturday of the event, Overweg said.

Sixth Street will be closed during daylight hours in an area directly south of the Mitchell Wesleyan Church for six to nine months during a construction project, the commissioners ruled. The church made the request and will work with the city to put up signs and barriers. The project will begin in May.

It won't be the only closure in the area. Seventh Street will be closed from Sanborn to Wisconsin for a street rebuild that will last for two months, McGannon said.

Eighth Street from Minnesota to Iowa streets will be closed, as will the Cadwell entrance to Eighth Street from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. June 15 for the Heart and Sole Cancer Walk/Run. Its committee made the request.