by Dennis Dalman
A plan to spend up to $100,000 to landscape three roundabouts in Sartell has drawn vigorous disagreements from many residents who think the cost is far too high.
It’s also opposed by two city-council members (Mike Chisum and David Peterson). A third council member (Ryan Fitzthum) has expressed serious reservations about spending that much. All three said they have heard from residents who are totally opposed to spending that much on roundabout landscaping.
Sartell City Mayor Sarah Jane Nicoll and council member Pat Lynch, however, who approved the measure, have said the roundabout-landscaping project is long overdue on Pinecone Road and should be done, especially when there is already money to cover it left over from the extensive Pinecone Road reconstruction project.
Sartell City Administrator/Financial Director Mary Degiovanni, who has also advocated the project, said she, the council and a committee worked hard in the past year to get the costs lower, in conjunction with landscapers.
At the March 27 council meeting, the vote was 3-1 to approve up to $80,000 to landscape two roundabouts on Pinecone Road (at Scout Drive and at Second Street S.) and up to $20,000 for the one at Heritage Drive. Chisum voted against the proposal, saying it was way too much money. Council member David Peterson was not at the meeting.
At the next meeting, April 10, Peterson made a motion to rescind the landscaping approval from the previous meeting. Degiovanni told Peterson the rules do not allow someone to rescind a motion that was approved unless the one who votes to rescind it was one of the members who voted previously to approve it.
In an interview with the Newsleader April 14, Degiovanni said the two Pinecone roundabout-landscaping projects will probably come in at about $35,000 each. The option of planting just some kind of grass with three trees would cost about $18,000 for each roundabout, she added.
She said the tree on one of the roundabouts will be about 30 feet high, 25 feet high on the other one.
Degiovanni noted Mayor Nicoll and council member Pat Lynch both are strongly in favor of making the Pinecone roundabouts aesthetically pleasing, being both are on the Pinecone corridor, a strong business area of the city.
Chisum and Peterson strongly disagree.
Costs too high
In an interview April 15 with the Newsleader, Chisum said he has yet to hear one Sartell resident who is not opposed to spending that much money for roundabout landscaping. On the contrary, he hears from people very opposed to it, he added. Chisum said residents should call, email or write city hall and the city council to express their feelings, one way or another, about roundabout landscaping.
Peterson, also in an interview April 15 with the Newsleader, said he has always been against spending that kind of money for roundabout landscaping, even when the idea was first brought up by Degiovanni at a council meeting in February 2016. Roundabouts, he said, should be planted with some kind of grass or drought-resistant native prairie grass with possibly a few hardy perennial shrubs. Money saved, he said, could be used, for example, to set up a linked, safe hiking-biking path along Pinecone Road to the site of the new high school, as well as on the schools’ grounds in that area.
If the two Pinecone roundabout-landscaping projects will cost that much, how much will future landscaping projects cost at Sartell’s many other roundabouts?, Peterson wondered.
Degiovanni said residents would be very surprised if they knew how much other cities spend to landscape roundabouts, such as Sauk Rapids – in some cases, much more than the prices for those in Sartell.
She said landscaping a roundabout properly involves soil improvements, sod-laying, irrigation, power, trees, grass, flowering plants, trees and shrubs. Those things cannot be done without serious investments, she said.
In an email April 14 to the Newsleader, Degiovanni wrote this:
“We set up a committee of Sartell commission and council reps, along with public works maintenance staff, and thoughtfully developed a plan that is lower cost than in the past and yet looks better and is more affordable to maintain. This topic has been on numerous public agendas as we have worked to refine design and lower costs . . . Yes, that means we have spent more than a year on this process as we have continually reduced the costs while still delivering an attractive result for our most heavily traveled street corridor.”
Degiovanni also noted that years ago, $60,000 was spent to landscape a roundabout at Heritage Drive and 50th Avenue. That landscaping cost was part of the engineering contract to build the roundabout. The landscaping was a failure, according to Degiovanni and some council members. To avoid a similar mess, the city decided to pull the landscaping funds from the Pinecone Road project so the city could not only get the cost lower but ensure the project would be done properly and last well into the future.
Degiovanni, in defending the landscaping costs, mentioned how Sartell had recently won high praise in its annual city audit.
“Sartell continues to spend less per capita, and (that is) why our city tax rate continues to be the lowest in the area year after year after year. We take expenditures seriously, and we think about both short- and long-term costs and impacts, and that is exactly what we have done here.”
Sartell Mayor Sarah Jane Nicoll also responded to the Newsleader. A 10-person study committee, Nicoll said, met five times to study options for roundabout landscaping and then voted unanimously to recommend approval by the city council.
Committee members worked hard to reduce expenses for a final landscape plan, Nicoll noted.
“These roundabouts are larger than most, in particular Scout and Heritage being more than 80 ft across,” Nicoll wrote. “The bare minimum to bring in the commercial irrigation, fill and sod would cost $40,000. It was the opinion of the committee that it was worth it to spend the extra money to make Scout Drive as the entrance to our city and Second Street as a commercial center attractive to help beautify our community. We also made a commitment to the business owners around Second Street, who donated the right-of-way we needed for the roundabout, that we would do attractive and enhanced landscaping. Public Works (staff) participated in the landscape-planning meetings and recommended the enhancements over plain grass to reduce maintenance.”
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.