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Abby OK’s expanded Hemlock St. project

By Kevin O’Brien

Hemlock Street near Abbotsford Elementary School will receive a more extensive overhaul this fall than originally planned after Abbotsford’s city council approved a proposal Monday that includes wider pavement, drainage upgrades and new sidewalk. The street running along the south end of Abbotsford’s K-12 campus has long been a sore spot for city officials, who have wanted for years to resurface the craggy roadway used by school buses to drop off kids at school.

A projected surplus in TIF funds this year has made the project a real possibility, so the city hired engineering firm Cedar Corporation to come up with a plan for resurfacing the 1,370 feet of roadway east of Hiline Avenue.

Building up the road base and repaving that stretch was originally estimated to cost about $100,000, but engineer Brian Chapman of Cedar Corp. told the council Monday that more work is needed to ensure the longterm stability of the road.

“It was going to be a real simple pulverizing and overlay project, but once our designer looked at it, it’s just so flat, it wouldn’t do the city any justice to just throw blacktop back on that,” he said.

An updated project plan presented by Chapman lists an estimated $173,000 worth of work, which includes additional ditching, 140 feet of reconstruction near a culvert, and over 300 feet of new sidewalk and curb and gutter.

Chapman said the overall goal of the additional work is to improve drainage in that area, so that stormwater runs away from the street.

“There is a lot of water standing there, and that’s the reason your pavement fails,” he told the council.

Of the $70,000 in extra work, Chapman about $25,000 of that would be done on what appears to be school district property. None of the council members seemed to object to that idea.

DPW Craig Stuttgen said the expanded project will cost about $126 per foot, which is still way below the $400 per foot it would cost for a complete reconstruction with utility line replacements.

Chapman and Stuttgen said the city would likely get much better prices if the project were bid out early next year, but because of the city’s timeline for financing other projects this year, city administrator Dan Grady said waiting until 2021 would have a bigger impact on taxes.

“While we may get a better price next year, the taxpayers are going to pay more going forward,” he said.

Ultimately, the council voted to move ahead with project for this fall, using money from the city’s TIF district, which is generated by property taxes on new developments. If the bids come in too high, the council can always decide to reject them all and rebid it next year.

$2.1 million bonding approved

With construction already underway on the westward extension of Opportunity Drive — and a major two-part project on West Spruce Street slated to start later this month — the council was asked Monday to authorize $2.1 million in new general obligation debt.

Financial advisor Sean Lentz of Ehlers and Associates spoke to the council via Zoom about options for authorizing the sale of 20-year municipal bonds to pay for this summer’s street projects.

Normally, the council would have been able to select a loan offer from one of several banks bidding on the bond sale, but because it was the Monday after a holiday weekend, Lentz recommended waiting until Wednesday to go out for bids.

Instead of having a special meeting to approve a bid, the council was presented with a resolution authorizing Grady to accept one as long as it falls with certain parameters. The most contentious of these was the maximum interest rate, which was set at 3.25 percent.

Ald. Dennis Kramer objected to this, noting that prevailing interest rates are much lower than that.

“You’d have to be living under a rock to pay 3.25 percent,” he said.

Lentz said it’s still likely that the city will get an interest rate closer to 2 or 2.25 percent, but he suggested 3.25 as a high end in case of an unexpected fluctuation in the market. He also noted that bidders will be competing against each other to offer the best interest rate.

Still, Kramer said he felt the city was being put “up against the wall” and wondered why the council didn’t have more time to consider its borrowing options.

Grady said one reason is that the city did not find out until May that it will be receiving a $442,152 grant from the state to help pay for work on Spruce Street. He said the city has already committed to projects with funding coming from multiple sources, so it can’t really afford to put off the borrowing until later.

“If we don’t approve it, we’re going to be in a world of hurt,” he said.

Lentz said the council could always decide to lower the maximum acceptable interest rate or call another meeting on Wednesday, but after further discussion, the council decided to proceed with the authorization as originally proposed.

A motion to authorize the $2.1 million bond sale, with a maximum interest rate of 3.5 percent, was approved 6-1, with Kramer voting no.

Other business

_ The council approved a $255,528 pay request from Haas Sons for the work it has already completed on the Opportunity Drive extension project. A $1,000 change order on the project was also approved. Stuttgen said the change order will actually save the city roughly $5,000 because of the type of materials used.

_ Stuttgen asked council members to start thinking about what park improvements and street projects they would like to see completed in 2021.

For park projects, Ald. Mason Rachu said the city should consider replacing the fencing at the older softball field at Nikolay Park. That touched off a discussion on whether ball park projects should be a city or school district responsibility.

Stuttgen said he would review an old ballpark agreement in his records to help clarify that issue going forward.

When it comes to next year’s street projects, Stuttgen said West Linden Street was his top priority because of flooding issues in that area, but he wanted to hear what councilors had to say.

Fifth Street and Fourth Avenue were also mentioned as possibilities, but no motions were made.

Council members did agree to meet at 5 p.m. next Wednesday, July 15 — an hour before the start of their committee of the whole meeting — to tour the city’s parks and discuss possible improvements. The tour will start at city hall and be listed as part of the agenda.

_ The council talked about getting rid of the community gardening plots at Christensen Park. Stuttgen said only one of them is currently being used, and rest are overgrown with weeds. No motions were made, but council members said they were OK with getting rid of the garden plots.