Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The city of Buhl on Facebook! Join today.

I have created a Facebook page dedicated to the city of Buhl. The purpose is to help Buhl residents past and present connect and communicate easily on the Internet. The site can be used for everything from discussing city business to planning a reunion or just to advertise what special event, business or personal, you want. It's also a great way to find some of your friends who may have moved away. We've already got about 40 members after a week online.

Click the following link to join: City of Buhl on Facebook

You'll have to become a Facebook member to join the group but it's well worth it as Facebook is an excellent website for finding friends old and new.

Join up today!

Jan. 6, 2009 City Council Meeting

The Buhl City Council held its first meeting of 2009 on Tuesday and we welcomed newly elected Colin Gram.

The meeting only lasted about 30 minutes because most of the agenda items were routine start of the year business.

During reports from Department Heads, Gene Plombon reported that the city crews have been hard at work trying to keep up with all the snow we've gotten so far this year. He reminded the public that Calender Parking is in effect so be sure to move your vehicles to the proper side of the street to ensure plowing is easier. Gene also said that the city crew would be pushing snow onto some sidewalks in town to try and make the corners safer.

I think the city crew has done a great job, as they do every year. All you have to do is take a trip to Virginia or Chisholm after a snowstorm and you'll see how lucky we are to have the crew we've got. They get out right away and start clearing streets.

Mike Lopac from the Fire Department discussed some bills that were due and presented the council with a check for $10,000 from charitable gambling.

Jill from the Recreation Board asked the council for approval to purchase a new snow blower for the skating and hockey rinks. She said the one they have has had some mechanical problems and it isn't big enough to handle all the snow we've gotten. The Rec Dept. had budgeted for this purchase and the council approved it. They will purchase a 33 inch cut, Craftsman Professional for $1799.00. Gram was the only no vote.

Just a reminder: The rinks are open nearly every night of the week and weekend so get up there and have some fun on the ice.

On the regular agenda there were 11 resolutions that passed (unanimously unless otherwise noted).

The council voted to: Name Gram Mayor Pro-Tem; make the Mesabi Daily News the official newspaper (I abstained for obvious reasons); designated depositories of funds; authorized the mayor and clerk-treasurer to sign certificates of indebtedness; named Mayor Craig Pulford and Plombon weed inspectors; appointed Plombon to the Elm Tree Utilization Board; named Al Jacobsen city attorney (Gram voted no on this item); named Mike Kearney prosecuting attorney; approved Pulford to RAMS; authorized the signature for disbursement of funds; named Pulford and John Markas to the board of the Central Iron Range Sanitary Sewer District.

We also appointed some people to various boards and commissions including: Councilor Shari Swanson and Markas to Planning and Zoning; Judy Houg and Frank Fabish to the Rec Board; Paula Fannell and Frank Fabish to the Library Board; Councilors Jesse White and Chris Primeau, and citizen Tom Hewett to the Buhl Economic and Development Authority.

We also discussed a haul road easement; approved a ambulance mileage reimbursement rate increase and approved paying dues for membership in the Range Association of Municipalities ($700) and Schools and the Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association ($716).

Our next council meeting is Jan. 20 at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Our Dec. 2 Buhl City Council Meeting

We had a pretty good debate at our regular city council meeting Tuesday, Dec. 2, over an ordinance that requires all applications for utility service to be in the name of the property owner on record. In other words, renters will no longer contract with the city to have utilities in their name. The bill will be in the property owners name.

The ordinance passed on a 3 to 2 vote. I voted in favor of it and this is why:

In my mind, the reason for this change is simple: Too many renters are stiffing the city on utility bills and when they do, the city has little chance of recovering that money. In some cases, the bills are huge. Sure, there are homeowners out there who are not paying their utility bills as well. But there is a better chance of recovering the money from them, which I'll explain a little further down.

There were a couple of rental property owners at the meeting who argued against the ordinance on several different points. One argument was that by approving such a measure the city was more or less encouraging renters not to pay their utility bills because since the bills wouldn't be in the renters name they wouldn't feel responsible to pay them.

How is that the city of Buhl's problem? From my point of view, I don't care who pays the bill as long as someone is paying it. And if you own a piece of property in Buhl, if your name is on the deed, then you are ultimately responsible for making sure the utilities being used at that property are paid for. How you go about doing that is your business - and it is your business. The city of Buhl is not in the residential rental unit business.

The city is, so to speak, in the business of supplying utilities to homes and businesses at a cost to property owners. If a landlord or property owner is concerned about someones ability to pay a bill or their character then they need to deal with it by either not renting to that person or requiring a deposit to cover any costs related to an unpaid utility bill. That's what rental contracts are for. And it is the landlords job to enforce that contract, not the city of Buhl.

One option offered by a landlord at the meeting was that perhaps a better solution would be to have rental property owners sign a guarantee that they would ultimately be responsible for any delinquent bills but to keep the utility bill in the renters name.

Again, it is not the city of Buhl's job to encourage or motivate renters to pay their bills. That is the job of the landlord.

And in my opinion, this ordinance IS a guarantee that the landlords will be responsible for the bills. It really is a no brainer. I believe it is the responsibility of the property owner to deal with the headache of making their renters pay. Again, all they have to do is require a utility deposit from their renters before they move in. If the renter fails to pay their bill and a notice goes out, the landlord can tell them to pay up or move out. If they don't pay up, the landlord can use their deposit to pay the bill, kick them out and get a new renter.

Before the ordinance passed on Tuesday the property owner (or landlord) had the option of telling the renter to pay the bill and if they didn't, they could boot the renter out. Then the next day the property owner could get another renter and wipe their hands clean of the situation.

The city, on the other hand, is stuck with an unpaid bill and the headache of taking up valuable time to track down and try to extract cash from a deadbeat renter. The city would be out whatever amount of money the renter owed for utilities and would have little recourse but to turn the bill over to collections and hope for some recovery. Lets face it, in most cases that money is lost.

When the utility bill is the responsibility of the property owner the city has more options to get the money they are owed including putting a lien on the property. If the property owner sells their property, the city gets their money. Simple.

From a rental property owners perspective it would be in their best interest to make sure that any outstanding utility bill is paid and that's why this ordinance not only protects the taxpayers of Buhl but it also promotes responsible landlords. It encourages landlords to do background checks or credit checks to make sure the person or persons they are renting to are fiscally responsible individuals.

In the end, everybody wins. The landlord gets good renters and the city gets paid for the utilities the renter is using.

What do you think?

Monday, December 1, 2008

About me

First, a little background about me.

I grew up in Great Scott Township on Highway 25, but I spent most of my time as a youth on the streets of Buhl. Many of you might remember my grandmother Madelene Molick and a few of you might have even had your hair done in her basement. Those who did surely remember that little guy running around upstairs, in her yard, or up and down Culver Avenue - sometimes in the middle of the night!

I graduated from MIB in 1990 and was around for all the controversy that surrounded the closing of the Martin Hughes School Building. My dad, Mike White, even had the misfortune of being on the school board during that time.

After high school I went to Hibbing Community College for two years and after that to the University of Minnesota-Duluth where I graduated with degrees - a BA in history and a BA in Political Science.

After graduation I got a job writing for the Daily Tribune in Hibbing and a year later started working at the Mesabi Daily News in Virginia, where I still am today.

A couple of years back when my wife Chandra and I had our son Vinny (one of five kids) and decided to buy a house in Buhl.

It was around this time that I started helping with a newly created Buhl summer baseball program, which ironically, was the same thing my dad did many years ago. And it was more or less the first time I ever got involved in any sort of community activity.

This past summer councilor Troy Martinson bought a new home in Mountain Iron but before he left he encouraged me to apply for his vacant seat. At first I was reluctant, having never wanted to be in city government. But after experiencing a few setbacks with the baseball program and meeting a lot of new families in town through that program, I realized I needed to get involved if for no other reason than to help plan for the future of the city.

I started in July and my experience so far has been eye opening but not overwhelming. As a reporter for the MDN I have covered city council meetings in every town on the Range for over 10 years. I've seen it all - from the pitfalls of micromanagement to the difficultly cities face when trying to improve infrastructure on a limited budget.

So that brings us to today and my philosophy as a councilor. These are a couple of things you need to know about me:

1. First, my opinions are my own and I usually don't hide them. I've never been a follower and I've always been an independent thinker. I don't like gangs, cliques, tag teams, secret meetings, under the table negotiations, backroom deals or "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours." I'm me and what you see is what you get.

2. I also like to make informed decisions based on fact and I usually don't open my mouth and offer an opinion without doing my research. My goal is to look at all sides of an issue and after studying it and consulting with the experts around me (particularly the great staff at city hall) I will make a decision based on what I believe is the best course of action for the citizens of Buhl.

3. Personal issues are not important to me. Whether or not I like someone or something will never matter when it comes to my vote. That sort of attitude is dangerous and an abuse of power. Nothing constructive can come out of petty conflicts or ego trips.

4. I don't believe in pet projects when it comes to city government. Elected officials aren't elected to make sure their favorite services get preferential treatment - they are elected to serve the will of the people and do what's best for everyone to the best of their abilities.

5. I think communication with - and respect for - city staff, employees and the volunteers that make up the boards and commissions in town is very important. Volunteers are the lifeblood of a small town and deserve respect for giving up their time for the good of the community. And the employees are the experts the city council hires to manage the day-to-day operations of the city. I am not an expert and don't pretend to be one.

4. Finally, I believe Buhl needs to do a better job of long term planning. Up until this point the city has done a great job of expanding in the area of housing. Build it and they will come has worked out well.

Trust me, we are always among the first to be mentioned when the topic of new development is brought up in conversations across the Iron Range. However, looking at some things around town - from the dirt roads in front of some of the newer houses in town to the condition the baseball fields are in at this point - I sometimes wonder if enough thought was put into the whole process. Long range planning has to be about more than just selling empty lots and building homes and businesses.

It's great to expand and bring new families and businesses into town but we also have to take quality of life issues into consideration. We've got the population and now we need to give them a reason to stay. Some examples would be paved streets and/or sidewalks, expanded recreational opportunities, summer reading programs for kids, business recruitment (i.e. restaurants or other service industry), or city-wide events or celebrations like a true Fourth of July celebration. The new park equipment is a great example.

It's the extras that are going to keep all of these new families in town.

That's not to say we don't need things for the older generation as well. They are just as important and improving their lives will always be high on my list of priorities.

So there is my first blog. I've only touched on a few things for now but will expand my thoughts in the near future. I look forward to hearing from all of you about your concerns and I would encourage you to post here often.