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School demolition down to the last days

MORRIS – Now that the building is down, all that’s left before contractors will be finished working at the old elementary school property in Morris is seeding for new grass.

Once the property is seeded, the fence around the site will be taken down and the property will again be the responsibility of the city until it is sold.

Given how late it is in the season, the contractor may decide and wait to seed the property until next spring.

“The requirement is that they have to seed it and the grass has got to grow, so if they want to seed it now they can see it now but if it doesn't grow they have to come back and reseed it next year,” said City Manager Blaine Hill.

Going forward, there will not be any available off street parking on the property, since contractors removed the remainder of the school’s parking lot.

Morris Police Chief Ross Tiegs suggested that the police department will put up barriers in front of the driveways on East Fifth Street to make it clear there is no parking on the property.

City signs MOU with law enforcement union regarding severance pay

On Tuesday, the Morris City Council approved a memorandum of understanding with the Morris police union to make sure language about sick leave and severance benefits were the same for all city employees.

The issue about how severance is calculated came to the city’s attention when a police officer resigned in July.

Under most employee contracts and the city’s employee handbook, if an employee leaves in good standing after 10 years of service and has built up more than 500 hours of sick leave, they will receive a percentage of their sick leave paid out as severance. The police union is the only contract without this language, said City Manager Blaine Hill.

The police union filed a grievance and argued that because the sick leave as severance benefit was mentioned in the employee handbook, it should be paid to the officer. Hill argued that because the benefit was not in their contract, the city was legally unable to make the payment.

After meeting with a mediator, the parties agreed to sign a memorandum of understanding that would change the language in the police union contract to match the rest of the city contracts, retroactive to July 1, 2013. This means the city will pay out the severance benefit.

“This one really fell through the cracks,” said Hill. “It just never rose to my attention. … To me it’s a fix and it should have been that way in the first place.”

“As long as I’ve been on the council, we’ve tried to maintain some sort of fairness across the board with all the employees,” said Mayor Sheldon Giese. “I think this is definitely a fairness issue and the right thing to do.”

Council member Brian Solvie said he agreed with the change, but questioned whether the city would get the same type of understanding if there were a union issue that was “flipped.”

“When we’re dealing with contracts and we’re dealing with unions and we’re dealing with all the things, just want to put it out there so we can refer back to how we handled it,” said Solvie.

Other business

  • The council will hold a public hearing on a facility plan for DENCO II on Tuesday, oct. 22 at 5:20 p.m. At the hearing representatives from DENCO II will explain the plan, which uses grant money from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) to add equipment that will reduce the amount of water they use to make ethanol.
  • The city of Morris will receive $75,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency as a result of damage caused during a storm in June. Most of the money will be used to cover time spent dealing with trees and other debris after the storm.
  • The council approved a payment of approximately $227,600 to Breitbach Construction for the west side improvement project. The city has paid about $913,600 on the $1.6 million project so far. Due to rain, contractors lost about three days of work on the project. It is still expected to finish on time.
  • The council approved a payment of approximately $153,600 to Dore and Associates for demolition at the old elementary school property. The city has paid about $735,000 for the demolition so far.
  • The council will have a budget work session on Thursday, Oct. 24 at 5:15 p.m.