The paving of 42nd Street, railroad quiet zones and the future of the Imperial Mall were among a dozen topics discussed Saturday during the Hastings City Council’s annual retreat at Central Community College-Hastings.
City Administrator Joe Patterson looks for input from the mayor and council members on priority issues every year before the budget preparation begins in earnest.
This year that includes the paving of 42nd Street between U.S. Highway 281 and Baltimore Avenue.
“That is probably the most often asked about question I get when I’m out and about, is ‘when you are going to do something about that?’ ” Patterson said. “It’s not some of the other things we have as priorities. It’s definitely, for many, many people in the community, a priority to do something there.”
A common way to pay for a street improvement project is to assess the cost of the project to adjacent property owners. Patterson said in this case that probably wouldn’t work.
He said southwest of that stretch of 42nd Street is a flood plain. North of it is farm ground.
“The bottom line is if you try to assess it and create a paving district the owners will kill it because of the wetlands and the non-developable property or the fact they’re farming it and see no practical need for it to be paved other than it will increase traffic by their land,” he said.
He said one potential funding source for the project would be using the defederalized money Hastings receives from the state that can be used for projects on arterial and collector streets.
The state gets federal money and allocates 90 percent of those funds to local governments. The state uses the other 10 percent to cover administrative costs.
Plans to pave 42nd Street are 95 percent complete.
“It wouldn’t take a lot to get to that point,” Patterson said, referring to paving the road.
Railroad quiet zones are another priority for the city where planning is beginning to take shape.
Quiet crossings along the BNSF Railway in Hastings were among uses of the city’s recently renewed half-cent sales tax that were promoted during the campaign process.
When the council approved the city’s one- and six-year street improvement plan in February, it did so by placing railroad quiet zones in the plan for 2020.
At their most recent work session, council members learned from Director of Development Services Don Threewitt about the process to implement the quiet crossings. That process begins with the formation of a quiet crossing committee including city officials, consultants for assistance based on need and expertise of advice, and citizens at large.
Mayor Corey Stutte said Saturday he hopes to make appointments to that committee during the council’s next meeting.
Council members asked for updated cost estimates and traffic counts for the railroad crossings in question.
Stutte said it’s likely that the railroad will want to close some of the crossings.
While automobile traffic is an important factor looking at the crossings, so too is pedestrian traffic. Alcott Elementary is close to the BNSF line and many students using the crossings to get to school. Stutte said he will ask Trent Kelly, director of technology and operations for Hastings Public Schools, to serve on the quiet crossing committee to provide the school district’s perspective.
Councilman Butch Eley asked for a quiet zone fact sheet to be prepared for public dissemination.
“A lot of people I’ve talked to think ‘well, they’re just not going to blow the whistle anymore,’ ” he said. “They don’t understand things are going to change and they may close some (crossings). The sooner we can get some kind of media plan or ‘this is how this works’ it’s going to save us from a lot of pushback closer to doing it.”
Stutte said he believed Threewitt and City Engineer Dave Wacker could put together such a fact sheet.
The importance of long-range planning came up in nearly every project council members discussed during the retreat.
Hastings looks to update its comprehensive plan in 2018. The city will also evaluate the merits and obligations of possible annexations.
Long-range planning also includes looking at the future of west Hastings with properties such as the Imperial Mall, Village Inn property and Hastings Municipal Airport.
The airplane on display at the airport entrance was brought up as needing maintenance.
Patterson said Randy Chick, executive director of the Community Redevelopment Authority, told him the CRA is willing to pay for a consultant to do a long-range redevelopment plan for the mall.
Council members also asked for an update on the Hastings Southeast Project, which will make improvements to U.S. Highway 6 and South Elm Avenue in southeast Hastings.
Patterson said Wacker could that provide an update at a future council work session.
Councilwoman Jeniffer Beahm, who represents the First Ward and south Hastings, which includes Highway 6, said the project has the opportunity to provide more amenities in that area.
“We are focusing a lot on the north end of Hastings, which is great, but I want to make sure we’re taking care of what we already have,” she said, referring to the ongoing North Park Commons residential and commercial development on the north edge of Hastings.
Stutte said he wanted to schedule a joint meeting in the near future with Hastings Utility Board members to discuss renewable energy options in the city.
Council members also discussed once again addressing the city’s fireworks ordinance, possibly making changes to the days and hours when discharge of fireworks is allowed.
Councilwoman Sarah Hoops also offered a recommendation to streamline the city’s current mission statement.
Among other topics discussed Saturday included updates on reorganization and comparability.
The city will address employee salary comparability this year.
A committee of department heads have been meeting weekly to work on finding the best way forward when it comes to consolidation between Hastings Utilities and other city departments.
“You couldn’t, if you tried, make it more separate than it already is,” Patterson said. “That’s the challenge of getting it back together.”
He said he hopes to capture efficiencies of consolidation to help provide the best employee benefits offered between the two organizations.
“I’m trying very hard to not have any employees lose something they currently have,” he said. “At the end of the day (council members) are going to take a look at that and say ‘we agree, we don’t agree’ and if you don’t agree you can modify it.”