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DECA and Rock Solid get send off, new Two Harbors ordinance under consideration

Two Harbors Mayor Randy Bolen presented robotics team members Isaac Burton and Owen Cruikshank with a proclamation at Monday's city council meeting. Bolen declared April 22 DECA and Rock Solid Robotics Day in the city. Photo by Tammy Francois.1 / 2
Two Harbors Mayor Randy Bolen presented DECA members Ashley Lax and Skylar Lysaker with a proclamation at Monday's city council meeting. Bolen declared April 22 DECA and Rock Solid Robotics Day in the city. Photo by Tammy Francois.2 / 2

Mayor Randy Bolen proclaimed April 22 DECA and Robotics Day in Two Harbors in honor of the two teams' outstanding achievements. This week, both groups of Two Harbors High School students are travelling to championship tournaments - DECA to its nationals in Anaheim, Calif., and Rock Solid Robotics to the FIRST Robotics world competition in St. Louis.

Students from both teams were present in the council chambers as the mayor read the proclamations.

"On behalf of the city of Two Harbors and the community, congratulations," Bolen said, adding: "These kids have done something special, so it's an honor to show our support."

He did that in a more tangible way: with a check to each team to help defray travel costs. A portion of the money was donated by city employees and the rest was won by the city councilors after they beat Lake County commissioners in a curling match in February. The councilors and commissioners put money into a pot and agreed that the winner would take all, with the winnings ultimately going to a good cause.

As the students and their advisors filed out of the chamber, the council prepared to get down to business.

Still smarting from last meeting's revelation that a footpath slated for construction this summer would cost over $100,000 more than anticipated, the council considered another proposed walkway, discussing details at length in an effort to avoid further assaults on the budget. The project would create a paved walkway with lighting on the north side of Highway 61, along a segment that is currently not well suited to pedestrian traffic. The improvements would allow residents and visitors a safer route to businesses, shopping, local restaurants and watering holes.

The city approved the submission of a grant proposal to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, which if awarded, would cover some of the cost. Funding may be available from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board to cover the remainder of the cost. The next IRRRB grant cycle ends in October, said City Administrator Lee Klein, so there's time to gather information and prepare a grant proposal. Several councilors expressed the importance of ensuring that all costs are known before final decisions are made.

The city of Two Harbors is considering an ordinance that would make landlords responsible for the utility bills unpaid by their tenants. Similar ordinances have been passed in Duluth and Hermantown. Klein said that many communities, particularly smaller communities that can least afford to absorb the costs of unpaid utility bills, are taking this route.

"It's becoming more common. I've been surprised, especially in communities where there isn't staff to chase this around," he said. Klein noted that the ordinance would keep the city out of difficult decisions regarding the shut-off of utilities, and time consuming collections efforts.

Currently, cities are bound by prohibitions that prevent them from turning off some utilities during cold months, allowing tenants' unpaid bills to mount.

If the ordinance is passed, landlords would have the option, for example, to include the cost of utilities in a tenant's rent or receive notice from the city if a tenant's utility bills are past due. Utility bills that remain unpaid may be added to the landlord's property taxes.

Anticipating possible resistance from landlords who object to being held accountable for the bills of their tenants, City Attorney Steve Overom emphasized the importance of allowing time for landlords to ask questions about the new ordinance, and for the city to hammer out related details to ensure a smooth transition for property owners and tenants.

The proposed ordinance was presented to the council for a first reading, with Roger Simonson making a motion to refer it to the city's utilities commission for consideration. A public hearing would precede a final vote by the council.

The council passed a motion to authorize an advertisement for bids for the fixed base operator hanger project and a resolution to accept a proposal from Rasmussen Well Drilling for a new well, both at the airport. The estimated cost of the new well is $8,720.

The police department received approval to add updated equipment to its new squad vehicle, at a cost of over $7,800. This figure comes in at approximately $1,000 below budget.

Finally, as more snow fell outside, the council approved the extension of early bird rates at the golf course until May 31. Councilor Robin Glaser quipped that it may be necessary to extend the special offer until July 4.