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Baxter City Council: Looks at street designs and affordability

BAXTER--How the city of Baxter will manage transportation projects--for cars, bicycles and pedestrians--and determine spending priorities is part of this year's budget cycle.

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BAXTER-How the city of Baxter will manage transportation projects-for cars, bicycles and pedestrians-and determine spending priorities is part of this year's budget cycle.

Tuesday the council met in a work session with the budget and transportation dominating the discussion. One of the considerations for the council was getting a list of street projects as early as possible so residents could plan for future assessments.

Council member Todd Holman said he understood they may not be able to commit to estimated numbers until costs are known, but emphasized the public interest in knowing what projects are on the five-year plan. Staff also noted there can be switches when one project is moved ahead of another for a variety of reasons.

"I think the bottom line is the sooner we know the better," said Mayor Darrel Olson.

Council member Quinn Nystrom suggested inserting upcoming projects for 2017 into the upcoming city newsletter.

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The city has a strong emphasis on developing parallel corridors to Highway 371, although some of those key connections such as Fairview and Forthun roads and Cypress Drive north to Woida Road are not listed in the city's five-year capital improvement plan. Josh Doty, community development director, also noted the comprehensive plan's goal to work toward on-street bike lanes, as well as off-road trail systems. Holman said the bike lanes and what was accomplished with Isle Drive extension project was amazing and it seems as though that should be carried all the way to Highway 210 and connecting to Foley Road. Trevor Walter, Baxter public works director, said those priorities are the things they need to hear in planning for projects but now Foley Road is not slated to be widened to include bike lanes. Holman said they should have paved shoulders all the way. Walter noted paved shoulders are not planned throughout and widening the road comes with additional costs, including right of way acquisitions. Council member Mark Cross noted the trails are cheaper options.

Among future projects, Memorywood Drive is slated for a 2018 full-depth reclamation in 2018 with 12-foot driving lanes and 5-foot paved shoulders and is expected to look like the Fairview Road project currently underway.

Holman noted Brainerd's walkable bikeable commission and said it seemed Baxter would be well-served if it created something like it. The commission could tie all those pieces together in fine detail unless the council thought it should be doing that work. Holman said commissioning a study hires expertise but civic engagement is an afterthought. A commission, he said, would be a way to involve people. Walter said a focus group was an option as well.

Right-of-way acquisition and street width have huge ramifications for costs and costs for assessments and the city's taxpayers overall, Cross said. On a high-level look, he said having complete streets with bike lanes and trails on collector roads was wanted where possible, but the question is if the city can afford it.

Council member Steve Barrows said they could start at the higher level and dream and then take things out and reduce along with way. It comes down to every single project having fiscal and physical restraints, Cross said.

Doty added it's hard to get to the fine detail without a feasibility study and the city's commissions do not go into all the cost considerations as that has been the council's determination if projects are fiscally viable.

In other business, Jeremy Vacinek, city finance director, reported Baxter's fire contract is expected to decrease nearly $5,000 because of the personnel restructuring, but that reduction is offset by a 5 percent increase in equipment funding. The contract was $313,273 in 2016 and is expected to be $308,333 in 2017.

Vacinek said levy limits were not discussed this year at the Legislature and there are no significant changes in state aid or taxes expected this year.

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The city will need to set its preliminary levy by Sept. 20 so a special meeting is planned Aug. 30 to review the budget.

RENEE RICHARDSON, associate editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Dispatchbizbuzz .

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Related Topics: TRANSPORTATION
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