Spring is on the way, even if it is a bit late in arriving. On March 18, Spring Grove City Council members reviewed landscaping plans for the newly rebuilt Highway 44/Main Street corridor, and got some good news from city clerk/treasurer Erin Konkel. She reported that verbal approval for up to $5,000 in landscape funding from the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) has arrived at city hall.

MnDOT's "landscape partnership" program consists of grant monies which can be used to reimburse the city for the purchase of perennials. However, the city will need to supply labor to plant and care for all landscaping materials.

"I suspect this (project) is going to happen at the very end of May," Councilman Robert Vogel said.

The council had a quorum, but with one member absent, 2-2 ties became an issue. That affected two agenda items.

The first had to do with the city's planning commission. Vogel reported that planning commission members have been looking into city policy on permit fees. In some cities where the fees for permits which are denied are refunded to applicants, some persons repeatedly apply as a way of "testing the waters" to see what is allowed. Vogel said that the problem with that is, the city sometimes has to expend considerable staff time on multiple applications and then send the fees back.

"The planning commission is unanimous in that the city should collect the fees when the applications are made, and not return them if they're denied," he said.

Councilmember Nancy Nelson said that permit fees should be refunded in those cases. "It doesn't strike me as fair to keep people's money for permits that are denied," she stated.

After more discussion, Councilmember Lorilyn Dehning moved that permit application fees be considered non-refundable. Vogel seconded. Mayor Bruce Poole and Nelson voted no, resulting in a 2-2 tie (motion defeated). City Attorney Joe Hammell suggested that the issue should be brought back when all five members are present.

Council members did agree to reappoint Lee Hoekstra to the planning commission (a three-year term), along with one-year extensions for Dehning and Vogel.

In other planning commission business, members decided by consensus to ask utilities director Paul Morken to take photos of a building demolition that appears to be stalled. Those will be forwarded to Hammel and Police Chief Paul Folz, with the latter asked to investigate whether a zoning violation exists.

Poole asked that Spring Grove EDA (Economic Development Authority) appointments, which were on the schedule, be tabled until all five council members are present, stating that "a 2-2 tie" might result over the approval of one of his appointments. Members agreed that Howard Deters should continue to serve, even though his term will expire at the beginning of April. An appointment for the second EDA vacancy was not put forward. The issue was tentatively scheduled to appear on the council's April 15 agenda.

Members did agree to allow part-time employee Brittany Stadtler to serve as on-call help at city hall.

Another unanimous vote approved two appointments for the Spring Grove Parks Commission. Phillip Griffin has agreed to stay on, while Karen Cornella will join the group.

On a related note, the parks commission was charged with monitoring the spread of emerald ash borer into Spring Grove. The insect infests and gradually destroys ash trees.

Council members also discussed establishing an "ad-hoc design committee" to oversee future plans for the Fest Building, such as repairs and/or remodeling. Volunteers from the community would be sought to serve on that board.

Dehning offered to chair the committee. ""Let's get a group together and agree on what needs to be done," she said. The idea passed with a unanimous vote.

Later, the council also voted to accept a donation for up to $2000 towards purchase of a new refrigerator for the facility from the Festival of Trees committee.

The next meeting of the council will be on April 1.