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Council sets aside money for boat dock area

Mitchell City Hall. (Republic file photo)

The Mitchell City Council opened the door Monday to potentially allowing for a boat slip area on Lake Mitchell for renting and docking boats or pontoons during the summer.

During the council's regular 2019 budget work session, in which no official action was taken, the council did vote 6-2 to preliminarily allocate $50,000 toward the development of a boat slip area that would have a concrete walkway to the dock area, security lights and an indeterminate amount of docks.

The idea was brought forward by Councilman Jeff Smith, who acknowledged he didn't want the city to be in the marina business, but believes it would be a service that would be valued by those who wish to use the lake. Smith said that 70 percent of the lakeshore is publicly owned, meaning the opportunities for a private individual to open a marina or boat slip area of their own could be slim. He said this could be that chance.

"We're always saying that the lake is for all citizens and not necessarily those who just live out there," he said. "If that's the case, let's find a way for this to happen and it could maybe get even more people interested in improving Lake Mitchell."

Smith's proposed site was on the south side of the lake, between the West End boat ramp and a turnaround area about 1,000 feet to the east, but the council's action was not tied to that site. He proposed operating the area from Memorial Day to Labor Day and taking the money made from the boat slips and putting back toward the restoration of Lake Mitchell.

"I'll say this: If there's ever a private business that wants to put a marina or something out there, the city is immediately out of this business," Smith said. "But in the meantime, I've had several people over the years say, 'That if I could just put a lift and a dock out there, I would just love it.'"

Council President Steve Rice and John Doescher were the two individuals to vote against the allocation of the money. Rice was particularly pointed about his lack of desire for the city to be involved with operating such a business.

"I just don't believe the city should be in that business at all. If that was a business that had potential, free enterprise would be in that business already," said Rice, who said he believes there's already business operations in which the city shouldn't be involved.

Doescher's concern was with the city ending up taking on a large portion of the maintenance. Councilman Marty Barington said earmarking the money on Monday would give the public time for feedback on the proposal. At least in the last few years, talks of a public boat dock plan in 2014 and 2016 never got far for city leaders.

The city council will meet at 6 p.m. Aug. 20 to continue budget talks, along with holding its regular meeting.

Other primary points of discussion included:

• The council had a spirited discussion about the plans to spend $45,000 on playground equipment, likely at the Day Camp site at Lake Mitchell. In the end, the council voted 6-2 to leave the money in the budget. Councilwoman Susan Tjarks argued for the upgrade, in part because the equipment is older than 20 years old. Steve Rice countered that the Day Camp isn't open to the general public without a fee, and Barington said that it's important that the city continues to try to upgrade one park's equipment each year. (The city has 21 parks).

• Plans for bathrooms at Sandy Beach moved forward on Monday, as Barington and Mayor Bob Everson presented a plan to take $65,000 out of the contingency fund from the 2018 budget and work on building the bathrooms over the winter. A design will be worked on and the funding could be formally approved in September or October.

• A request for $130,000 for a new ambulance for the Mitchell EMS Division was supported, as the city agreed to take the funds out of reserves set aside for a potential second fire station in the city. That purchase could still be done this year as part of the 2018 budget.

• The council voted 5-3 against a plan to spend $13,000 on professional services related to the Mitchell Recreation Center and possible sponsorship studies. Barington, Tjarks and Smith were the supporters of the plan.

• Among the notable requests for subsidies for area organizations, the council voted against providing $30,000 to the Mitchell Area Development Corporation to fund a workforce development position after funding sources from area businesses and a state grant ran out; and denied a motion to raise the funding to the Prehistoric Indian Village from the proposed $13,500 to $17,000, which was their allocation last year.