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COVID-19 concerns have Marshall council questioning spending

MARSHALL — While it wasn’t the only topic of discussion, the COVID-19 pandemic had an impact on Tuesday’s meeting of the Marshall City Council. The need for social distancing postponed a hearing on one city street project, and concerns about the pandemic’s effect on the economy led some council members to question the cost of another project.

With the uncertainty created by COVID-19 and businesses closing, council members asked whether it would be wise for the city to award a $598,000 bid to resurface several city streets.

“My thinking is, with this COVID-19, and as we get into potential economic difficulty, should we be spending this money unless we absolutely need to?” council member Steven Meister said.

Council members ended up awarding the bid because of the poor condition of the streets. But, council member James Lozinski said, it was something for the city to think about in future planning. “Coming from the private sector right now, it’s a little worrisome what the economy is going to do.”

Tuesday’s council meeting was already influenced by COVID-19. The meeting was held at the Minnesota Emergency Response and Industrial Training (MERIT) Center in Marshall, in order to use the facility’s videoconferencing capabilities. To avoid having a gathering of more than 10 people, the majority of council members took part in the meeting remotely. Members of the public who wanted to speak at the meeting sat in an overflow room next door to the meeting space.

A public hearing on planned construction on South First Street had been set for Tuesday. However, with the limits on public gatherings, Marshall Mayor Bob Byrnes said it was recommended to continue the hearing to a later date. It would give residents more time to submit comments on the project by phone or mail.

The street project would affect South First Street, between Southview Drive and George Street, said Marshall Public Works Director Jason Anderson.

“The project is a complete street reconstruction,” including new water and sewer lines, as well as sidewalks being added on part of the west side of the street, Anderson said. The project would also narrow the roadway by about four feet, down to 36 feet wide.

“There are a number of residents that petitioned against the sidewalk on the west side,” Anderson said. He had also received comments objecting to making the street narrower. One Marshall resident also spoke out against the proposed street width at the hearing.

Council members voted to continue the hearing to their April 14 regular meeting, to allow more time for people to submit comments.

Council members voiced concerns later in the meeting, when discussing a $598,000 bid from Duininck, Inc., to resurface several city streets, including Madrid Street, Paris Road, Holabird Circle, parts of Columbine Drive and Silvervine Drive, and North Minnesota Street and Willow Avenue. Council members asked whether the city needed to be cautious about its spending, in light of the uncertainty over COVID-19.

“We’re not sure what’s gonna happen with this virus. Our merchants in town, we don’t know how long they’re gonna be closed, or if they’re gonna close more,” said council member Russ Labat.

“It is our estimation that this is important work,” Anderson said. “You need to keep up on the maintenance on these streets, otherwise they’ll look really bad, really fast.”

Byrnes said his concern was also that delaying work on the streets — some of which were battered by severe wet weather in recent years — would just lead to more expensive repairs later.

Council members voted 6-1 in favor of awarding the bid, with Labat casting the vote against.

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