Attracting attention

The city of International Falls has put its demolition program on hold.

The Falls Council Tuesday approved a moratorium on building demolition applications until it can consider and adopt a property maintenance code.

In November, the city agreed to close its demolition site, following a recommendation from the city's Public Works Director Ted Brokaw. Brokaw told the council it would be a challenging application process for a 10-year permit, and the long-term financial ramifications of a site are just too great for the city.

Mayor Harley Droba said Tuesday a council committee agreed to recommend the council adopt a property maintenance code, which outlines how to establish demo policies.

"We want to remove the city's demo policy and use the International Building Codes demolition policy, with ordinance changes," he said.

Meanwhile, the council denied on a 4-1 vote a building demolition application from owners Teri Hart and Lisa and Ben Mortenson on non-homesteaded property at 1418 Main Ave.

Droba noted the city does not have the capability of placing any demolition in a city site.

Councilor Joe Krause voted no, after question whether the owners would need to resubmit an application following adoption of a new demo policy.

Councilor Walt Buller said he did not favor the application because it involved non-homesteaded property, with Droba adding that the request would have come to a council decision regardless of whether a program was in place because of the non-homestead factor.

Other business

Also Tuesday, the council agreed to increase rates for water and sewer service. The new rates are in effect after publication, and for the water use starting March 20 and billed on April 20.

The resident water base is now at $21.25, and will increase to $21.68. Each additional 1,000 gallons, up to 2,000 gallons, is now $1.12, and will increase to $1.14.

Nonresident water base is now $25.50, and will increase to $26.01. Each additional 1,000 gallons, up to 2,000 gallons, is now $1.34 and will increase to $1.37.

The last increase was in 2019, when the resident base rate increased to its current rate. The resident base from 2015-2018 was $20.14.

In addition, the council agreed to send letters to delinquent water utility customers and encourage payment. In March 2020, the city council recommended that the disconnection of delinquent water accounts be put on hold due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past 11 months, the city's water department has neither penalized nor disconnected the services of those with delinquent water accounts.

The council agreed to seek quotes for a job classification and compensation system study for the city's positions. A contract is expected to be awarded in April, with the study completed by July 1, 2022.

The city has not conducted a thorough compensation review since the 1980 when it paid for a system that would be compliant with pay equity legislation, explained city Administrator Ken Anderson.

Since then, he said there have been a lot of changes in duties and positions, and the new study would ensure reasonable compensation between the various job classifications, both internally and externally.

Meanwhile, Droba provided a dramatic build up to votes that approved a temporary on-sale liquor license and raffle permit for the Annual International Falls Bass Championship Tournament held Aug, 26-28, at Smokey Bear Park.

He told the council since the championship had not been held last year, some excitement should be surrounding it this year.

Reports

Police Chief Rich Mastin reported department activities in January. There were 428 calls for service, of those 84 required new case reports; officers conducted 151 traffic stops, issued 61 citations and made 24 arrests.

Fire Chief Adam Mannausau reported January department activities:

  • 2 fire department call outs
  • 2 city responses
  • 2 residential structure fires
  • 2 CO alarms
  • 0 rural fire responses

His Ambulance Service report showed

  • 70 - 911 calls
  • 65 - transfers

Anderson reported tax abatement for the proposed Cobblestone Hotel, which has forwarded to a financial adviser information about its request for tax abatement from the city and county. Anderson said he expected to know more later in the week.

Cobblestone has signed a franchise agreement with IFalls Group, LLC, has sought city permits for construction.

Attorney Steve Shermoen announced Tuesday he set a new court record that day: 52 criminal cases heard Judge John DeSanto, adding the cases were completed in time for him to attend the 5:30 p.m. council meeting.

He suggested, and the council approved, use of a administrative penalty between the citation and court process phase in blight issues.

He said the step may help keep cases from getting bogged down in court when people understand they have seven days after a ticket is issued to correct blight issues or will pay $150, which can be assessed to property taxes.

"It may quicken the lessening of blight in the community," Shermoen said.

Droba said the administrative penalty fits into the maintenance code discussed earlier.