From the Mayor's Desk

In keeping my pledge to periodically update everyone on city activities, I looked over last year's minutes and selected the main items the council worked on this past year.

CAMPGROUND: A 10 site RV campground was constructed on the northwest corner of the fairgrounds. The campground offers full water, sewer, and electric service. Wi-fi will be installed in the spring of 2021. We held a contest to select a name for the new RV campground and the name that was chosen was Cottonwood Park. Several campers used the facility this past fall and several letters thanking the city for providing this service were sent to city hall. If you need to make a reservation please give the city administrator a call.

CITY STREET IMPROVEMENTS: Several blocks of streets were repaved (mill & overlay). Three blocks were done on Main Ave. E. and one block of Summit Ave. SW and one block of Polk Ave. SW. These streets were in need of repair and should be in good shape for years to come.

WAGE AND HOUR STUDY: Council agreed to a contract with Baker Tilly (a consulting firm) to do a wage study for the City of Fertile and update job descriptions. To retain good employees, we need to make sure we are paying a competitive wage and have the proper job descriptions in place. This study was delayed due to the corona virus but should be done very soon. When completed the personnel committee will meet and prepare a report with recommendations to council for further action.

FARMER'S MARKET: Council approved the use of JD Mason Park for the weekly Farmer's Market. The park allowed for more space for social distancing that was necessary due to Covid-19. A 50-amp outlet was also installed on the east wall of the park building to allow food vendors to park and serve food during the Farmer's Market. This has been a big attraction during market days.

BUILDING REMOVAL: The JR Dale warehouse on the corner of Second Street and Main Ave. W. was removed and the area filled in and seeded. A big thank you to all those involved in completing this project.
NEW EMPLOYEE: Chris Zimmel was hired for the Public Works assistant position after Dan Lene left for a new position with Polk County.

COUNCIL APPOINTMENT: Matthew Massmann was appointed and sworn in to fill the Council seat that was vacated by the resignation of Reid Jensrud.

SMALL BUSINESS GRANTS: The City offered Small Business Grants of which 16 applied. Eight local businesses qualified by showing a loss due to Covid.

CARES FUNDING: Provided over $48,000 in CARES Act funding to Fair Meadow Nursing Home to cover Covid related expenses.

CLINIC CLOSING: Altru terminated their lease for their clinic space in the Community Center. The City is in conversations with another medical provider to move into the available space. We are hoping this happens soon.

SNOW EQUIPMENT: Council approved the purchase of a new pusher blade for the new road grader. The new blade will angle both ways and form a V plow or a V pusher. The equipment committee recommended the city look for a payloader to add to the city's fleet. This is currently in progress.

SCHOOL TRAFFIC: Council approved a request from the school to install two stop arms to close Second Street SW to traffic during bus loading and unloading times. This will make the area behind the school much safer for children when arriving and leaving school.

CITY OWNED CEMETERY: The City hired Valley Cemetery Maintenance Service to lift, clean, and straighten nearly 150 grave markers at Pleasant Hill Cemetery. Maintenance of stones and markers at the cemetery had been minimal over many decades and there were many headstones that were in danger of toppling over and many footstones that had sunken below ground level. Valley Cemetery also did a lot of work in Concordia Cemetery. A lot of people did not know the city has a cemetery including some on the council. It was in grave need of repair. In the process we also found the city has more lots to the west (3 rows) that need to be improved this summer as well as signage will be put up so everyone knows where the boundaries are.

SHOP CLEANUP AND AUCTION: For the past two years City maintenance staff have been working on cleaning up and organizing the two City maintenance shops. Since there were several items that the City no longer had a need for, the City contracted with Resource Auction in September to hold an online auction to sell these items. The online auction was held in October and the City made over $17,000 on the unused equipment. WATER / SEWER: The water main and sewer main were replaced on one block of Blaine St. SE. This is straight north of the Industrial Building at the Fair Grounds. The sewer line in this area completely collapsed a month before the project started and caused a lot of problems to local homeowners. The water line was a 2" line. As part of this project a 6" water line was brought into the fairgrounds from the north side to loop into the water line coming up to the 4H building. This now creates a full loop which increases water pressure and eliminates a dead-end line which can impact water quality as well as greatly improving water supply in case of a fire for the fairgrounds. The city also installed a fire hydrant north of the new fairground building that comes from the north side of the Garfield Shop. This will greatly improve the ability to fight a fire at the new building and give access for water at the grandstand and midway. The city also installed a new water salesman (a place to get water in large volumes for spraying etc.) on the east end of the Fire Station. It is available 24/7 using quarters.

SKATING RINK: The skating rink has gotten a lot of use this season. It has provided a great outdoor activity for our youth given the Covid restrictions. The city staff have started using the Olympia ice machine and they are very pleased with the job it does. More new skates will be purchased to give a greater selection for those who would like skate.

SLIDING HILL: Many folks have donated sleds for our youth to use to go sliding. A rack has been built to house the sleds on site so anyone can come and use them. There has been some talk of a rope tow to help bring you up the hill. We will look into that and see if it is feasible.

AIRPORT IMPROVEMENTS: The City acquired property on the north end of the runway along with an easement as part of the new zoning to allow for a future runway expansion. The runway is currently 3000' long and there are plans to eventually lengthen the runway to 4000' to allow for larger airplanes to land. A runway rehabilitation and widening project was started in fall of the year and will be completed in the spring as soon as road restrictions cease. The City worked with a private party on planning for the construction of a new hangar in 2021. The City has been working with Short Elliott Hendrickson (SEH) and a planning committee to update the Airport Layout Plan. Over the course of three different meetings input was sought from airport stakeholders on future improvements at the airport. The plan was approved by the planning committee and then the City Council at the February 2021 meeting. The plans are now with MnDOT Aeronautics for final approval and signature of the new layout plan. The new plan will give the city and airport users direction on future improvements and a complete layout plan for future development. Currently one hangar has started construction with several more expressing interest. This project has brought a lot of excitement to the aviation community in the area.

RESIGNATION OF CITY BILLING CLERK: Our billing clerk gave her notice that she would be retiring at the end of February. She had originally planned on retiring in June. The city council discussed this at length at the February council meeting. After reviewing our city code, which gives the administrator authority to hire this position, the council agreed, that due to time constraints to get a new employee trained in before our current employee retired the administrator should move forward and fill the position as soon as possible.

STREET PARKING: City code allows up to 24-hour parking on city streets without being moved. Last summer quite a few vehicles were overextending the time allowed. Letters and phone calls were made and car owners complied. With the winter season upon us and snowplowing required this becomes even more critical. Currently there are several vehicles that the plows must go around that need to be moved. The city council discussed this at the December meeting and directed city staff to put a colored sheet of paper under the windshield wiper with instructions to move the vehicle in 24 hours or it will be towed. If the forecast is for snow, please move your vehicle off the street until the plow goes by. If your vehicle is on the street, the plow has to swing out, making the street narrower, and they have to come back a second time to remove the snow.

I have covered the highlights of the past year! If you have any concerns or questions please contact the city administrator. If you have ideas or suggestions on things to improve the city in any way please contact the city administrator and we will add it to our list. Thank You very much, Dan

As the year comes to a close I would like to give you an update on the projects the city has been working on this past year.

1. City water project: The project is pretty much complete. There is a little paving to be done this coming spring and a few punch list items to complete. We had a few issues at the end with notification of shut off which occurred due to emergency repairs needing to be done. All in all I would say the water project went very well. People were generally pleased with the increased pressure. We have had good water quality since we found the bad valve at the water treatment plant.

At the start of the project we knew that we had a fairly major leak in the system. Because Fertile is built mostly on sand the water leaks would just dissipate downward in the sand and could not be found. With the increased pressure two places came to the surface. These were repaired and the daily gallon usage was reduced substantially. We don't think we have any large leaks at the present.

I have been asked did we really need this water project? Absolutely! Due to inadequate pipe sizing and a lot of town only fed from one direction the three major enterprises in town had almost no water to fight a fire: The School, Fair Grounds, and Fair Meadow. For example the School, Concordia Church, and the houses along that street only had a 2" line feeding them. The school now has a 6" line which can adequately handle the fire suppression system they put in when they did their upgrade. This alone saved the school almost a half million dollars.

2. Snow removal: the city purchased a plow truck with wing and salt spreader as well as a newer road grader. The staff is getting used to the new equipment and are making adjustments to increase efficiency. The first snow gave them a good test. They will continue to make adjustments to obtain the most efficient and speedy snow removal possible. I know there has been some discussion about not doing driveways. The city crew is still removing the snow the city plows place in the end of driveways.

3. Nursing Home: The staff at the nursing home have done a great job this year. The home is in the black, has a budget, and is paying back the funds they borrowed from the city. I am very pleased with the progress.

4. Airport: As many of you have commented the new lighting system that has been installed really lights up the airport. It almost looks like Christmas. The lights can be turned on and off by airplanes as they approach for landing. They can also go from the current low setting to medium and high if weather requires more visibility. The runway resurfacing is scheduled for next summer. The state funds these improvements at 95% cost share.

5. Highway Beautification project: The city has been working with MNDOT, Polk County Highway Department, and the Community Club to do work on the west side of highway 32 as you enter Fertile from the north. The project would start at 102 / 32 junction and go south to Highway One. TDS is also taking part in the planning. MnDot will do the design and cost share on their property and we are working with Polk County as well to do something along the trail. The project would involve removal of current brush, leveling, and planting native grass, wild flowers, and several rows of trees. It will also look at planting some trees in the empty spaces as you come in from the south end of town.

6. Skating rink: The rink is up and running. We had a great open house on Saturday. The ice groomer machine is still being worked on and as of yet we have had no word on when we can go down to the cities to get it. All the dasher board glass is up. We would like to thank the Aakhus's for their work this summer getting the rink ready for the season.

7. Campground: planning is progressing. We have asked the Fair Board to help with the planning process. They appointed two members to be part of the team to design the layout. I have been asked by a couple of individuals why do we need a campground. I was in city hall this spring and in one day we had eight phone requests and one walk in asking for a campsite. The current design shows about 12 sites.

8. Dale Building: The city is going through the legal process to get this building cleaned up. There is a public hearing scheduled for 7:00 pm at the January council meeting which is part of the process.

9. Personnel issues: The personnel committee has been working on developing a step program and updating job descriptions for our employees. The council is also looking at seeking independent outside professional help with this effort.

10. Street Paving: We had scheduled several streets for an overlay last fall. The asphalt plant left the area in mid fall and went to Roseau. It immediately rained 10 inches up there which caused quite a delay in their return to the area. We have the street overlay scheduled for this spring.

11. Alleys: Normally the city did a little spot graveling each year. After inspection this spring we decided to try to gravel all the alleys. They look much better now.

12. If you have any questions or concerns please contact City Hall.

As your mayor, on behalf of the City of Fertile, I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

I promised when I ran for mayor that I would time to time give an update on progress the city has made. I was moved on Tuesday evening while attending the welcome home for Jon Hovde. When I arrived at the city hall around 8:15 pm I was overwhelmed by the number of people who came out to honor Jon and welcome him home. People lined up on both sides of the street as far as you could see in either direction. We live in a great community. We all wish Jon and his family the best and our prayers are with them.

Two years ago, when I was elected mayor I asked the council and staff to write down everything they would like to get accomplished in the next two years. We came up with 18 items. I would like to list them and give a quick update:

1. Nursing Home: The nursing home has made a major turnaround. They have a budget that includes paying back the city over a 5-year period. They have made many changes that affect costs without lowering patient care quality. Myself and the council are very proud of their accomplishments. The Nursing Home has 130 employees who along with the City of Fertile rely on their growth and success.

2. Law Enforcement: It was determined that adding a police presence was not financially feasible. Discussion about a coordinated camera system around town might be an alternative but no action has been taken.

3. Unkempt property: Letters have been sent out for dead trees, abandoned cars and debris, and dilapidated buildings. Dead trees and abandoned cars etc., are a constant problem and the city is in the process of taking action to address dilapidated buildings.

4. AELC: The City of Fertile is in the process of making an application to get the Fertile Sand Hills designated as a "Park of Regional Significance" which will give us the ability to apply for grants to the greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails commission for funding recreation and interpretive improvements at the AELC. A public meeting will be held later this fall or winter.

5. City Administration: The council continues to work with city staff to be more efficient and responsive to citizen needs.

6. Water issues: We have started to do an improvement project to address low water flow in several areas of town due to too small of pipes. This is a big problem if we need water to fight fires. Staff is also addressing the red water problem. We have located some equipment that has malfunctioned randomly in the water treatment plant. We have also changed the flushing sequence to try to help the situation.

7. City Streets: We have developed a 20-year plan, done more crack sealing, and are looking at purchasing a used snowplow truck. We are also developing a snow removal policy. We held a joint Township and city meeting regarding maintenance on the west mill road.

8. Industrial Park: Fertile Repair's building is going up, Mid Valley Electric has built a building for their electrical business, and Fertile Oil has plans to put up two buildings south of their storage plant. Several other businesses have expressed interest.

9. City Park Upgrades: The city warming house, public bathrooms and splash park were up and running this summer. The children really enjoyed the water. It was great to watch the fun they were having. The skating rink is under development with the purchase of the outside walls and we let the contract to pour the footings this week. We should have a beautiful skating rink ready for this winter season.

10. Community Center upgrades: The council approved upgrading the flooring in the auditorium. This is planned for the end of November.

11. Council Chambers: We had trouble with Department reports not being heard. We now have a microphone to remedy that. We try to have extra materials for anyone who asks for them. The sound system now works so everyone can hear.

12. Dump Station: It has been installed in the northeast corner of the Northside Service Station. We have a sign by the highway, but we are looking for a larger one, so it is easier to see.

13. Leaf Burning ordinance: There are a lot of people allergic to smoke. The council voted down establishing a no burning ordinance with the hope that everyone would use the leaf dump site on the east side of the industrial park rather than burn their leaves.

14. Engineering: We called for a request for proposals and hired a different firm.

15. Business promotion and support: Entrepreneurs have added seven businesses recently including Mac's café, Solon Gullickson building, Mill Street Cafe, Paper Cuts, a massage parlor, Dollar General, and winter golf. The Red River State Bank, Vern's Carpet, Riverview, City Hall, and the Smokehouse have also made major improvements. We are very proud that businesses see opportunities in Fertile and are willing to move forward with their endeavors. With the recent Blue-Ribbon award, the school received, which is quite prestigious and a great honor. It makes Fertile a great place to raise your family and enjoy the many amenities we have to offer.

16. City Web site: A lot of work has been done to make it more user friendly and current. This is an ongoing job. We asked the administrator to get our minutes on the web site within two weeks of the meeting as draft. That way everyone can check on what has been happening at council meetings and if they have questions they can attend the next council meeting.

17. Airport: We have developed a long-range plan for upgrades of runways, lighting, departure building, and fuel. We have an airport commission made of dedicated airplane enthusiasts. The current project is developing a new airport zoning ordinance for the airport before we can move forward.

18. Public Works: The city hired a new employee, Dan Lene, to replace Dana Knutson, who retired. We have also worked on personnel policies, developed an inventory list of items that are not used anymore for an auction sale this coming spring. This should free up a lot of valuable space for the work area.

I have already asked the council to start preparing a new list to carry forward in the next two years. If any constituents have any ideas of items the city might want to address please contact myself, council members, or the city office and let them know your ideas. We would greatly appreciate all the help we can get.

Again, I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support and encouragement. Last Tuesday really showed what a great town Fertile is. I was very proud to represent a city with such great people. Again, Thank You, Dan

As I promised when I ran for Mayor, I would give you a periodic update on the City happenings.

The City Council has been busy at work implementing the splash park with bathrooms and a warming house for the skaters. The foundation is poured and awaiting building construction. A new skating rink is in the planning and grant writing stage. The plan is to move the skating rink to the new location this fall, but that depends on the warming house being completed in time. A dump station for campers has been installed at Northside Gas Station. All that remains is to put up signage. We are very proud to announce that the city has hired Daniel Lene to replace Dana Knutson in the City Maintenance Department. He will start on Monday, October 2nd. Welcome, Daniel.

Our biggest task has been a coordinated effort with Health Dimensions Group (HDG) and the administration of the Fair Meadow Nursing Home (FMNH).  We have made a large amount of progress towards helping FMNH with their debt and operating excesses. 

Recently, Health Dimensions Group finished a complete audit of the operations of FMNH.  A presentation was given September 25th at the community center. The complete report is on the city web site. To their credit, many strengths were found, namely the excellent patient care and great employees.  The City Council thanks the many people employed at FMNH who give such great patient care on a daily basis.  It was recognized!

During the audit of operating expenditures and income (not including the renovations made to the building) HDG discovered that three years ago, FMNH reported a loss of $13,000.  Two years ago, FMNH reported a $250,000 loss and last year the loss reported was $338,000 as stated in the Eide Baily audit.  HDG  projected 2017 to end with a $179,000 loss.  

HDG has proposed multiple changes to FMNH and has suggested that if all the changes offered were implemented, FMNH could turn a $570,000 savings!  This is astounding news and is an optimistic outlook for the tax payers of Fertile who are ultimately responsible for the nursing homes financial condition and debt.  Recognizing that all the changes suggested by HDG may not be suitable for our operations, the City Council and FMNH administration remain devoted to working together to implement changes that will reduce costs, increase income, while keeping the excellent care FMNH is known for. 

To view the complete assessment of the Fair Meadow Nursing home, click here.

Exciting times are ahead for the FMNH Nursing Home staff!  We are pleased to present to you our plans for help the FMNH Nursing home continue to grow and thrive. The Nursing Home and Assisted Living is a vital part of our community that brings many jobs to our community.  The Nursing Home and Assisted Living is well known for its patient care, and we thank all of you for your efforts to put Fair Meadow and Fertile on the map!

There has been a fair amount of miscommunication regarding the upcoming plans for the FMNH.  We'd like to take this opportunity to set the record straight. 

Here is what we know:

1.            The FMNH was under little or no financial oversight and accountability (with minimal operational oversight) for the past 20 plus years from the City Council.  We as City Council members, understand the danger in not having oversight and ultimately, the success or failure of finances rests on the shoulders of the City and the taxpayers of the City.   The City Council is committed to taking responsibility, as it should have many years ago, for the Fair Meadow Nursing Home and it's financial status.

2.            The FMNH owes the City of Fertile $652,187.33.  As a council member, our obligation is to the taxpayers of the City of Fertile.  While it's true some of this is due to the new Assisted Living, much of it is not. Regardless of where the debt came from, the City has repairs and maintenance needs as well.  Taxpayers do not want a tax increase.  Taxpayers want and expect every entity to operate in the most efficient, cost effective manner.

3.            The FMNH has asked for additional loans from the City in December of 2016.

4.            The FMNH has stated there is no intent or means to pay back loans made under a previous administration at this time.

5.            It has been suggested to increase the tax base to rural Fertile to help pay for the FMNH expenses and its hardships.

Due to the above five facts, it is our duty to ask the Nursing Home to comply with Financial/Administrative counseling.  We have hired a Consulting firm that will assess the operation and financials of the facility.   It is our immediate hope that the FMNH will find a path to financial stability without having to seek out additional funds in loans and find a way to pay back loans that were borrowed in the past.  

1.            Create a pay scale that is not only competitive, but is inviting for employees to want to work at FMNH vs. the competition.

2.            Have a budget allowing for flexibility, maintenance, repairs, and equipment. 

3.            Have policies in place for financial accountability and employee grievances.

4.            Have money management tools that will support the management and the City Council in their decision making.

5.            Provide FMNH with a path to a surplus, so that debt can be decreased and eventually removed.

6.            Should additional tax base be needed, it is our responsibility to provide justification to the new tax base that will support the decision to increase.  A non-biased report stating that the FMNH is running its operation without waste and is using an approach in every area to keep costs down will aid our efforts. 

The decision to hire an outside, non-biased consulting firm is simply a tool that will be used to educate the council as we prepare to provide support to the Fair Meadow Nursing Home administration, as we should have been doing for the past 20 plus years or more. We are devoted to review their recommendations in concert with your administrator to make common sense decisions to continue our reputation on giving excellent patient care in the most efficient manner.    

We are very excited to analyze the final report!  Many good things will come of this and will provide additional stability for the Fair Meadow Nursing Home staff and it's residents.  We look forward to sharing the outcomes with you!