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County Will Continue Mowing Ditch Grass

By Staff | Sep 4, 2008

Palo Alto County Supervisors discussed options on a request for a stop sign and the hiring of part-time workers to mow roadsides in their Sept. 2 meeting. An update on a new grant program was also given to the board at their meeting at the Palo Alto County Courthouse.

A week earlier, Palo Alto County Engineer Joel Fantz advised the board that his office had received a request from Matt Fehr to have a stop sign installed at the intersection of 570 Avenue and 400 Street, west of Highway 15. The intersection recently was the scene of a collision and had recently been re-graded by the Secondary Road Department.

After learning that three of the supervisors had visited the intersection, Fantz indicated that using traffic count information, the intersection would meet state guidelines from the Department of Transportation for the placement of stop signs.

“I guess I would recommend the stop sign for the north and south bound traffic, as that has the least amount of vehicle traffic,” Fantz said. “There is an awful lot of traffic that goes east and west on that roadway. It is actually one of our higher traffic gravel roads.”

As the discussion continued, it was noted that there are two entities that base semi trucks along the north and south roadway, which would be affected by the stop sign.

“To be honest, we have too many stop signs in the county now,” Fantz admitted to the board. “But, it’s also a very difficult thing to remove a stop sign once one is in place.”

“Would a Yield sign be an option instead?” asked Supervisor Ed Noonan.

“A Yield sign would be OK,” Fantz replied. “We use them at non-standard intersections around the county and they are helpful.”

“I think maybe we need to think about this for another week, check with the landowners out there and see if maybe a Yield sign would be good enough,” proposed Supervisor Ron Graettinger. “Let’s table this for a week.”

The board agreed to table the discussion to gain more input from area residents, but noted that intersections were still a concern throughout the county.

“That’s very true,” Fantz agreed. “Not only here, but all over Iowa, at rural intersections at this time of year, the accident rate goes up everywhere, including in Palo Alto County. People just have to take more care at rural intersections.”

The discussion turned to the mowing of road shoulders in the county. While limited mowing has been done, the construction season for the Secondary Road Department has put decreased emphasis on mowing. A summer hire mowed along the paved roads, but a majority of the county’s gravel roads have not had the roadsides mowed. With the wetter than normal spring and cooler summer, grass growth has been heavier than normal.

In discussion a week earlier, Supervisor Keith Wirtz questioned the possibility of hiring a part-time temporary person to do some mowing to prepare for the snow season.

“We did some advertising on a limited basis with the idea of looking for a couple of good people, or maybe even three people,” Fantz told the board. “We’re thinking somewhere around $9.25 an hour, but I’d limit the position to 32 hours a week.”

According to Fantz, these positions would be somewhat independent, and would work different hours from the regular road employees – starting at mid-morning and working later in the afternoon.

“What about the idea of an independent contractor? Someone with their own mower. Would there be any interest in that idea?” asked Noonan.

“You bet,” replied Supervisor Jerry Hofstad.

Fantz noted that many counties hire independent contractors to perform such services as mowing, graveling or even grading roads, so the idea is not untried. “Would you have any idea on a cost? I sure wouldn’t be opposed to that idea.”

“I think that could be the way to go,” agreed Graettinger. “I don’t think we could do it now, but it would sure be something to look at for next year, to go out and take bids for that.”

“I think that’s a good idea too,” agreed Wirtz. “I’d wonder what a dollar amount would be, too.”

“I’d say lets put this mowing out for bids next year,” Graettinger said.

“I agree, put it out for bids next year,” Hofstad added.

In the meantime, the board directed Fantz to proceed with hiring some temporary part time help for mowing this season.

In other business, the board held a telephone conference with the Kossuth and Emmet County Boards of Supervisors and approved the hiring of Brent Johnson of McClure Engineering of Fort Dodge to develop plans, a cost estimate for cleanout work and a reclassification for Tri-Joint Drainage District 84. The motion by Kossuth County Supervisor Eugene Elsbecker was seconded by Jerry Hofstad and approved on a unanimous vote of all three boards.

The board also met with Maureen Elbert of Kossuth-Palo Alto Economic Development to discuss the Rural Innovations Grant (RIG) program, a new federal funding program that Elbert has been working on through the Economic Development’s membership in Mid-Iowa Growth Partners. Elbert noted that a preliminary application must be filed with the Iowa Department of Economic Development and Iowa Workforce Development, the overseeing agencies, by October 1, in order to be considered for future grant funding through the RIG program.

A concern had been raised by Northwest Iowa Planning and Development Council (NWIPDC) head Ted Kourousis, advising the board not to join into the Mid-Iowa Growth application. However, The Mid-Iowa application has been in the developmental stages since February of this year, while NWIPDC has not begun the process. Another factor to consider, according to Elbert, was the fact that an entity, such as the county, cannot be in two different plans.

“I’d move we sign off of NWIPDC and go ahead with Mid Iowa Growth Partners for the RIG grant application,” Ron Graettinger said. “With the October deadline coming up, I don’t think we should wait. Mid Iowa is ready to go and Northwest Iowa isn’t.”

Elbert and Emmetsburg Community Development Director Steve Heldt, who was also in attendance, both indicated that Mid Iowa would share its information with Northwest PDC to assist with their RIG application without any reservations.

The motion was passed on a 4-1 vote, with Noonan casting a nay vote. “I’d like to hear NWIPDC’s take on this, but I understand the time constraints.”