The Scandia City Council set itself up for a busy work session on June 7 with several topics to consider, including parts of the city dog ordinance, solar gardens, establishing a Swedish sister city for Scandia and hiring probationary firefighters.
The work session began with discussion on hiring two new probationary firefighters for the city. The need was determined by the retirement of three firefighters in 2016. There were four candidates originally, but one dropped out and another was too far away in distance from the fire station to be able to meet the response requirements. Passing a physical and the Scandia Fire Department fit test are stipulations for employment. The hire date would be July 1. The council voted unanimously to offer the jobs to the remaining two candidates if the physical and fit test are satisfactorily completed.
The council discussed the possibility of changes to the city dog ordinance during a few previous sessions. At issue is the definition of an at-large dog and what the penalty should be for a violation of this ordinance. Currently, the city ordinance describes an at-large dog as one that is not under restraint. According to the ordinance, “A dog is under restraint if it is controlled by a leash not exceeding six (6) feet in length; if it is under the voice or signal command of a responsible person whom the dog will immediately obey; if it is within a vehicle being driven or parked on the public streets; and if it is within the limits of its owner’s premises.” The current penalty for an at-large dog is a misdemeanor crime and has a penalty of 90 days in jail, a $1,000 fine or both.
City Administrator Neil Soltis has been working to address the at-large definition.
“The minimum should be changing the definition of restraint,” he said.
There was discussion by the council of changing the definition of restraint and changing the penalty to a petty misdemeanor, which would result in a $300 fine or less. It could then be made a misdemeanor if an additional offense occurs. Councilman Robert Hegland said he has been ticketed for a dog at-large for having his dog loose in his own yard. The council will take up the at-large dog issue at an upcoming meeting.
At its Aug. 16, 2016, meeting, the council approved a conditional use permit for the construction of a community solar garden on Oldfield Avenue North. Most of the issues with this agreement have been resolved by legal counsel with the exception of three items: the dedication of the road right of way, the amount to be escrowed for the construction of the berms and the installation of the landscaping, and the height of the fence.
The city staff recommended to approve the agreement subject to presenting information of the right of way dedication in advance of the issuance of the building permit. During the discussion, the council debated the benefits of a prevalence of solar gardens in town.
“How many solar gardens are we going to have in the city?” Mayor Christine Maefsky asked.
“Is the rest of our city property going to become solar gardens?” Councilman Steve Kronmiller chimed in. “Just like we don’t want to be the land of mini-malls, I don’t think we want to be the land of solar gardens either.”
“We talk about wanting to be a green city,” Councilman Chris Ness pointed out.
Maefsky asked Soltis about how long the city can impose a moratorium on solar gardens so the council has an opportunity to look at all aspects of them. Soltis said that he would check into it.
Ness added: “I think screening would be more along the lines of what we want to do. It’s the neighbors of the solar gardens that I want to watch out for, not the people who drive by out of curiosity.”
City Prosecutor Joe Van Thomme gave a presentation on code enforcement, which included examples of how other cities address enforcing ordinances through either civil law or criminal law. Van Thomme said his firm represents 12 cities and that jurisdictions are increasingly using criminal remedies versus civil remedies as solutions to law breakers. He said that the goal of every municipality is compliance with ordinances in the areas of nuisances (animals, junk cars, etc.), buildings (condition of the property, etc.), and zoning (home use, crime, etc.).
Van Thomme said that cities take action for code violations of all types because they affect quality of life for residents, property values, public health and safety, and community acceptance of ordinances. He added that cities have to set up a process that they use each time to be consistent, noting that documentation and effective, consistent notifications are essential. With that in mind, he suggests to each city he represents that the city use a code violation investigator who will start the process and document all actions taken. Currently, in Scandia, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office handles local investigations and issues citations if necessary.
A sister city is defined by Sister Cities International as a city, county, or state relationship which is a broad-based, long-term partnership between two communities in two countries. A sister city, county or state relationship is officially recognized after the highest elected or appointed official from both communities sign off on an agreement. A small citizen group came forward to the mayor first, and then the council, to request that Scandia adopt a sister city from Sweden called Lessebo, which is located in the county of Kronoberg with approximately 3,000 inhabitants. Scandia had tried to establish a sister city many years ago, but it was never formally recognized. The council was unanimously agreeable to working toward establishing a sister city.
It was suggested that the city establish a good neighbor award. Hegland suggested it be done on an impromptu basis and not regularly. The council unanimously voted to go ahead with the discussion on this program.