Sartell City Council member Mike Chisum said it best: “They (roundabouts) are not a tourist attraction; they’re not a claim to fame; they’re a traffic tool . . . a glorified stop sign.”
Chisum made his comments at the March 27 city-council meeting just before voting against a roundabout-landscaping proposal. On a 3-1 vote, the proposal was approved by Mayor Sarah Jane Nicoll and council members Ryan Fitzthum and Pat Lynch. Fitzthum, however, noted he has serious reservations about the cost involved and – with the mayor – will meet with the landscaper to find out more about the project and its estimated cost. Council member David Peterson was not at the March 27 meeting.
What the council approved at the March 27 meeting was a proposal to landscape three roundabouts in Sartell – two on Pinecone Road (Scout Drive, Second Street S.) a cost of up to $80,000, the other (Heritage Drive) at a cost of up to $20,000.
After that decision, many readers contacted the Sartell-St. Stephen Newsleader to express their vigorous disagreement with the decision, saying that is way too much money to spend just to landscape roundabouts – any roundabouts. Some noted they had landscaped their yards with new grass, trees and shrubs for a fraction of that cost. Why should a roundabout be so expensive? Some readers said that money would be better spent on other city needs, such as road repairs or park amenities, for examples.
This talk about landscaping of roundabouts began at the city council in February 2016. At that time, a committee was formed to study the matter. The impetus, said Sartell Financial Director/City Administrator Mary Degiovanni, was to arrive at a lower cost and to have city input as to how the roundabouts would be landscaped. Years ago, a roundabout at Heritage and 50th was landscaped at a cost of $60,000, a decision that was in the engineering contract of which the city had no control as to the roundabout-landscaping specifics. That is why the city wanted to find a less-expensive solution with its own input, Degiovanni noted. The money to pay for the landscaping is money left over from the Pinecone Road repair and reconstruction project.
She also said nearby cities, like Sauk Rapids, have spent similar amounts of money – in some cases, far more – to landscape their roundabouts. However, just because other cities spent that much, does that mean Sartell should, too?
Degiovanni and Mayor Nicoll have emphasized the roundabouts should be aesthetic, attractive to motorists. However, who cares – while circling a roundabout – whether they are pretty or not? What is wrong with simple grass and perhaps a few shrubs? The plain green-grass mound of a roundabout, to most motorists anyway, looks perfectly fine – even attractive. Just who is going to stop to admire the spiffy landscaping? Wouldn’t it be far better to spend that money to landscape areas of the city, like Town Square, where pedestrians could admire the beauty while strolling or biking?
Degiovanni said even a minimal landscaping – grass, a tree or two – would still cost about $20,000 per roundabout. Most people who’ve landscaped their lawns, even with automatic sprinkler systems, would balk at that amount. If the roundabouts are hooked up to water, as we’re told they are, why would installation of an automatic soaker system add so much to the cost?
The public has not been given specific plans as to the landscaping, not even an artist’s conceptual drawing. What landscape features could possibly cost that much? Residents deserve answers.
The Sartell city financial director (Degiovanni), city staff, council and department heads recently received glowing praise in an annual audit for excellent handling of finances and for keeping taxes and costs down. They truly deserve residents’ thanks. However, is this roundabout-landscaping project an example of keeping costs down? It certainly doesn’t seem so.
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.