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Morris City Council discusses jobs, dogs, alleys in meeting at MAHS

MORRIS – The Morris City Council offered a lesson in local government to Morris Area High School ninth graders when they met in the Morris Area High School auditorium on Tuesday.

During the meeting, the council reviewed the results of a jobs and wages study, approved an agreement with the Stevens Community Human Society and discussed a future spring weight restriction for local alleys.

Unemployment remains low in Stevens County

Stevens County has weathered the recent recession better than many areas, but a looming population drop could have serious consequences for the area’s economic development.

On Tuesday, Michael Haynes, Stevens County Economic Improvement Commission executive director, presented a snapshot of the results from a jobs and wages study for Stevens County.

From 2000 to 2012, Stevens County’s unemployment rate has averaged four percent. Economists estimate that an area needs six percent unemployment for employers to have an adequate supply of qualified labor, said Haynes.

Over that period, Stevens County has gained jobs faster than any other surrounding county, except for Douglas County. But jobs created in Douglas County are low-paying service jobs at big box stores. In contrast, the average weekly wage in Stevens County in 2012 was $715, higher than any surrounding county, Haynes said.  

“We’ve got well-paid people and everybody that wants to find a job can find a job – that’s good news,” said Haynes.

The highest paying jobs in Stevens County are in the manufacturing sector.

“That’s where we would like to focus all of our energy of job creation,” said Haynes. “Manufacturing jobs create other jobs and they also have the highest wages in the county.”

At the same time, about 25.5 percent of the total jobs in Stevens County are with the government, which includes all local, state and federal entities. Over this period, Stevens County lost 77 government jobs.

The challenge going forward will be population. Stevens County is predicted lose well over 30 percent of the population over the next 46 years.

“If we’re to keep making the jobs at the wages we have, we don’t have the bodies to fill the jobs,” said Haynes.

Haynes encouraged the students in attendance to think about returning to Morris after college or tech school. He also told the city council that focusing on quality of life issues like good roads and recreation opportunities will help encourage people to live and work in the community.

“The opportunities are here to make a living, the opportunities are here to make a career – it’s just a matter of what your choices in life will be,” said Haynes.

City amends shelter agreement with SCHS

The Morris City Council approved an amended animal shelter agreement with the Stevens Community Human Society, the organization that houses stray animals for local law enforcement, that adjusts rates and clarifies responsibilities.

Under the new agreement:

  • SCHS will not do immunizations or collect fees for vaccinations;

  • the city will be responsible for collecting fees for stray animals and selling dog licenses;

  • SCHS will charge a consistent rate for boarding animals, and will increase the cost of euthanizing an animal depending on size.

City Manager Blaine Hill emphasized that the Morris Police Department will return lost animals to owners if they are registered with the city.

“It’s the easiest thing to do to take care of your animal, especially if you have one that likes to hit the door and take off and run,” said Hill. “Eventually it’s probably going to get back to law enforcement, somehow.

Currently, the city only has 26 dog licenses on file. One of the licensing requirements is to have current shots, which may be one reason few dogs are licensed, said Hill.

The agreement will automatically renew in January unless there are proposed changes.

City considers spring alley restrictions

Public Works Director Jim Dittbenner told the council that spring thawing is very hard on alleys in the city and encouraged the council to consider an alley restriction next spring.

The restriction would likely apply to large vehicles like garbage trucks. During a restriction period, residents who are used to putting out garbage in an alley would need to put garbage cans on the street.

Although it is too late for the change this year, it maybe something the city looks into for spring 2015.

Other business

  • City Manager Blaine Hill told the council he has been approached by several individuals and organizations who are interested in having city water run to property outside city limits. City staff will be convening a meeting with those groups to discuss options before the city considers a new water treatment plant.
  • Hill told the council the city is planning a major effort to deal with junk and debris in the city this summer, including developing a process to identify, notify and clean up properties.
  • Hill said the council should review a final purchase agreement for the old elementary school property at their next meeting on Tuesday, April 22.
  • The council approved a DNR Fire Grant proposal for $5,000 to purchase turnout gear for the Morris Fire Department.