Unhappy with cost, city OKs 800 MHz plan with county

By Jon Tatting—

Though the Rush City Council got some answers on the 800 MHz radio system upgrade, it’s the cost involved in the county’s user agreement that remains a concern.

Following a question and answer discussion with chief members of the sheriff’s office, councilors on Feb. 13 ended up approving Chisago County’s 2012 Communications System Subscriber Agreement, which identifies Rush City as a subscriber in the 800 MHz upgrade.

The upgrade involving the county’s support of the Minnesota Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response (MN ARMER) is expected to go “live” on June 26, 2012.

Sheriff Rick Duncan and Captain Bob Shoemaker were on hand to answer a few questions that were brought up by the council and the Rush City Fire Department, which also had members present at the meeting.

One inquiry asked how the upgrade will affect public works’ radio communications with emergency services. Shoemaker, insisting that “no one will be left out of the equation,” said there will be a phase to the system that will focus on public works.

That and the county will have some radios on hand that can be checked out to public works departments and/or officers in time of disasters or major events.

Another question asked if it’s fair to assess broken or damaged radios to all users throughout the county rather than the user group that broke or damaged the device. Shoemaker said in his experience, radios are rarely damaged or lost and shouldn’t be a problem.

On the cost issue, councilors asked why Chisago County is planning to charge $480 per radio per year, including this year, while other counties such as Anoka and Isanti are assessing much less or not at all. How did the county settle on $480, and how are smaller, financially-strapped cities suppose to afford it? they inquired.

Shoemaker said the cost is a question for the county commissioners who set the amount. Meanwhile, the terrain in Chisago County is much more diverse with many hilly areas and valleys, he added, so a more expensive system is needed for countywide coverage.

Later in the meeting, City Administrator Amy Mell noted the fire department’s existing pagers and some radios can be narrow banded to meet the mandated upgrade, while it may only need a limited amount of new radios.

Still, another expense down the road could involve upgrading the community’s emergency siren, but time will tell when an adjustment is needed.

The council was pleased when Shoemaker announced a new communications tower has been approved to be constructed in Nessel Township. Though the tower will be for just emergency paging at first, it will be upgrade-ready when the time comes, Duncan emphasized.

The sheriff also talked about CodeRED, a new emergency notification system the county may purchase this year. The system, already used by 11 Minnesota counties, sends messages to land lines, cell phones and e-mails to warn subscribers about an array of dangerous situations.

Concerning the 800 MHz radio system upgrade, interoperability is the reason we signed up for it, stressed Shoemaker. For public safety, law enforcement, fire departments and others including the Department of Natural Resources will communicate more efficiently.

When problems occur in the emergency field, communication has always been the main issue, said Shoemaker. “They (the radios) are like cell phones on our belts.”

Dollar store coming

Councilors approved the final plat and development contract for Rush Creek Bluff First Addition, which is planned to be occupied by a new Dollar General store on the southeast corner of County State Aid Hwy. 1 and O’Neill Avenue, just east and across from the Holiday Stationstore near Interstate 35.

RSBR Investments out of Albert Lea, Minn., submitted the plat applications back in December. The property, zoned highway business, is owned by Rumpel Family Farm.

The investment firm is expected to close on the property soon, with construction to follow this spring.

Ag leases

Following discussion on an agricultural land issue, the council authorized the city administrator and Councilor Al Hoffman to negotiate a price per acre for the 2012 growing season with those who are currently renting, farming three city-owned parcels of cropland.

Councilors also agreed to put the land up for bids or auction in August 2012, so farmers can bid on each parcel separately under a three-year lease arrangement beginning in 2013.

Contributing to the discussion were Chuck Peterson and his son and Mark Moulton, who are currently renting two of the three city-owned areas at issue for crop farming.

At their last meeting, councilors learned an agricultural lease rate needed to be adopted. City Administrator Mell noted the city is now required to pay property taxes on the ag land that is leased for crop farming, and the most recent rate charged to lease the land was $40 per acre.

In other news:

• The council agreed to hold its next regular council meeting on Wednesday, March 1 at 7:15 p.m., instead of the fourth Monday in February, at the Rush City High School library. The meeting will follow an open house, concerning the 4th Street turnback project, from 5 to 7 p.m. also at the high school library.

• Mell noted the contractor involved in the 4th Street turnback (State Hwy. 361 reconstruction and utility project) wants to start work on this year’s phase, focusing on 4th Street, as early as March 5. Road work will start between Field and Bremer and eventually head west toward the interstate.

• Councilors approved Deb Dahlberg to fill a vacancy on the city’s planning commission.

• The council approved an ordinance changing the minimum off-street parking requirements for mortuaries, funeral homes and crematoriums.

• The council approved a minor subdivision request by Michael Carroll to allow the property at 355 S. Bremer Ave. to be combined with adjacent parcels for the expansion of the funeral home at 115 W. 4th St.

• Councilors approved a resolution indicating that the part of CSAH 40 (525th Street) that sits within the corporate limits of Rush City is revoked to the city of Rush City. The county wishes to provide a CSAH truck route to the Rush City Industrial Park and so requires additional CSAH mileage.

• Councilors authorized the city to join the Minnesota Water Agency Response Network (MnWARN). Participation is voluntary and membership is free. The initiative is designed to enhance the abilities of utilities to help those of neighboring communities in time of need — from broken water mains to loss of power to large-scale disasters.

Upcoming events:

• The Rush City Area Chamber is holding its 4th Annual Bowling Tournament on Saturday, March 17 at Chucker’s Bowl and Lounge. Proceeds will benefit the Rush City Music and Art Festival. For more information, contact Jeana Mikyska at 320-358-4639 or director@rushcitychamber.com.

• Hop on over to Chucker’s Bowl for Easter Bingo on Sunday, March 25 at 2 p.m. All proceeds will benefit the Rush City pool. People are encouraged to bring a food shelf item. Also offered will be a drawing, ham prizes and more.

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