From the Mayor's Desk

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!