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Broken sidewalks spark discussion

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During the Monday night meeting of Chadron City Council, complaints about broken sidewalks called into question the authority council members have when it comes to reporting issues.

Council member Keith Crofutt began the discussion by asking City Attorney Adam Edmund if a council member turned in the complaint, would he or she then be allowed to vote on the presented resolutions to require sidewalk repair at 459, 461 and 601 Ann Street.

“I agree the sidewalk needs fixed,” Crofutt said, “but I feel like a council member is weaponizing this. I warned this was going to create slope.” He further added this can come right back on council, and he encouraged people to find out who is turning them in and use the complaint process back on the complainant.

Council member Joseph Johndreau was confused by Crofutt’s words, specifically the term “weaponize” and turning people against each other for code violations.

Crofutt said it is about “a specific council member using the Municipal Code to get their own desires,” though Johndreau disagreed. Crofutt further said if anyone can go through and turn in property anonymously, “I encourage anyone and everyone to do it, including council member property. Especially council member property. I think it’s devious that we’re working on finding money to help repair sidewalks, and then come around and do this type of thing.”

Crofutt emphasized he believes the sidewalk needs repaired but doesn’t agree with the complaint process. He added there’s probably not a block in Chadron that doesn’t need repaired and the council should prepare to be inundated with complaints. If people don’t want to fix the sidewalks, he said, then it falls on the City to fix them.

Vice Mayor Cheryl Welch, who admitted to making the complaint, said she took a baby for a walk in a stroller and almost couldn’t make it due to broken sidewalks. She further added she’s gone on walks before but never in a role of parent pushing a baby in a stroller.

“I can’t even imagine if I was in a wheelchair,” Welch said. She further added things have to start somewhere, and if it’s at council’s own property then it should.

Crofutt asked if Welch went to the property owners, as she asks whether council members speak to owners when they have property liens. Welch said she hadn’t, and Crofutt accused her of using her position. Welch accepted that, and said she should’ve spoke to the property owners first.

Zoning/Building Official Janet Johnson, who took the complaint, regarded it as simply a citizen lodging a complaint. Welch said, “I honestly was not thinking of it in terms of my position.” Rather, she was thinking of it more as making the city safe for walkers.

Crofutt asked if Welch were going to systematically report all of the broken sidewalks. Welch said she would not address this, but pointed out each of the council members has a responsibility.

“if we want to wait until someone sues us, that will be our error,” Welch said. “This is an equity issue. It’s a health issue. It’s a safety issue. I look very much forward to working with people to try and find ways in which the homeowner as well as the City can come together and address this problem.”

The resolutions to require sidewalk repair at the properties later passed by 3-1 votes, with Crofutt voting “no” and Welch abstaining. From this point, letters will be drafted and sent to property owners, stating they have 60 days to repair the sidewalk or as weather permits. Johnson said the Municipal Code directs that a letter be sent, but she found out a long time ago talking to a person before they receive a letter is productive.

In other action, the board approved the formal agreement to upgrade the current software used at the Chadron Police dispatch center. The total cost for the upgrade is $119,018.92. Of that, $89,018.92 is budgeted from the General Fund for the current fiscal year. The remaining $30,000 is budgeted from the fiscal year 2020-21 General Budget.

A street closing was approved, to allow for a parade on Saturday, Oct. 16, during the Annual State Firefighters’ Conference hosted in Chadron.

Also at the meeting, council approved sending a letter of intent to the Nebraska Arts Council, with regard to establishing a creative district in the city. Council heard from Northwest Nebraska Tourism Director Kerri Rempp with regard to possibly creating the district.

Rempp explained a result of the 2021 Legislature was establishment of money available to the Nebraska Arts Council, to set up creative districts for highlighting arts and culture across the state as an economic driver. It was mentioned to her that Chadron might be a good location for such a district.

Rempp has already spoken to several potential partners, including representatives of the historical downtown district and the Chadron State College campus, and mentioned the library might also be included with the district. She’s seen support from the college, Northwest Nebraska Development Corporation and Chadron Chamber of Commerce.

The first step in establishing the district is sending the letter of intent. From here, the Arts Council needs to approve Chadron to make an application. Should approval be granted, there will be a committee put together with those entities included in the district, as well as local artisans if possible.

There are also opportunities for grant dollars, Rempp noted. If a district is established, there’s a $10,000 grant. Districts can then apply for development grant dollars, which can be up to $250,000 with no match required. “For grant purposes, it’s one of the least arduous ones you don’t have to raise a bunch of money to match it,” she said.

As for what the grant can go to, Rempp said options are wide open and would include infrastructure, purchasing buildings for maker spaces, bringing in artists, creating events, making way finding signs and marketing campaigns.

The city would act as the district administrator, and Rempp explained any grant dollars that come in would need a budget to flow through. The City would also be responsible for paperwork, and Rempp offered staff time to help so it doesn’t fall on one person.

Funding for the grants would come from state-generated revenue, essentially sales and income tax. Rempp said there has not been a set figure as to the money available, though council members added it could be up to $10 million.

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