Steve Gander: East Grand Forks hitting on all cylinders
Things are good in East Grand Forks. It seems that we are hitting on all cylinders and running efficiently. We continue working to optimize the performance of each of our departments to serve our citizens according to their preferences.
City governance begins with public safety. Law enforcement has come through a difficult time nationally and regionally through the tragic events of the summer of 2020 and the death of Officer Wallin in Fargo earlier this year. The profession has seen record numbers of early retirements with historically low numbers of people entering the field. Consequently, we have been running our department with fewer than the optimal numbers of officers, causing each officer to work more than their normally scheduled hours. This puts a strain on the officers and their families.
If you think of it, thank a police officer this week. Locally, led by Chief Mike Hedlund, we have dedicated ourselves to improving communication within our Police Department. We have always had massive appreciation in this community for our police officers. Our efforts at recruitment and retention of police officers have been paying off. We have recently hired two highly qualified officers, and are one away from having a full staff.
Our fire department is in excellent shape. We run a hybrid department of full-time and paid-on-call firefighters. Our number of firefighters in both categories is great. They are well-trained and their gear is state-of-the-art.
I have been attending meetings with the EGF Firemen’s Relief Association. This organization is established to provide retirement benefits for paid-on-call firefighters and full-time firefighters who meet certain criteria. The group also helps firefighters who have unusual crises in their families, and brings the group together in a common social bond. If anyone from the community has interest in serving as a paid-on-call firefighter, call Chief Jeff Boushee and he will answer any questions you may have.
Our Public Works Department, led by Director Jason Stordahl, has had a busy year. It seems that we have road construction going on everywhere – along DeMers Avenue, along Fifth Avenue NE, along Bygland Road and 13th Street SE, and elsewhere.
These projects include necessary maintenance, pedestrian safety upgrades, and improving access under ADA guidelines. We are still hammering out the details of improving 20th Street and Fifth Avenue. I am optimistic that we can work that out. We owe it to those residents to provide quality, safe streets.
The topic of south-end bridges is alive and well. We await the findings of the ongoing bridge study to provide the information we need to make informed decisions. I am confident that the study will indicate in greater detail what earlier, more cursory studies have identified – namely that we need a southern perimeter bridge to serve agricultural, commercial, and certain other traffic, along with an inter-city neighborhood bridge to better connect the two communities.
When completed, these bridges will add efficiency to agriculture and commerce, increase safety within Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, prevent the problem of jamming so much traffic along Fourth Avenue past Phoenix Elementary, and avoid overloading Reeves Drive, Belmont Road, and Bygland Road. The neighborhood connection will eliminate 12,000 wasted miles a day in redundant north/south traffic.
We anticipate seeing the completion of our new boat launch with other improvements in the LaFave Park/Griggs Park area in the next year. This will be an important step in moving forward with our summer recreation opportunities. It ties in nicely with our State Campground and will provide a great location for our kayak launch as well.
We look forward to growth in our business sector. We are studying transportation needs in our industrial park, making it easier to get in and out of the area, and making movement within the industrial park easier. Through the efforts of EDA Director Paul Gorte, we are taking inventory of available lots within the industrial park, and planning for expansion when the time is right. This is driven in part by cost, and we are looking at funding sources through state economic development and elsewhere.
The city of East Grand Forks is undeniably in a lean budget cycle. Aware that our residents have been affected by high inflation rates over the past several years, watching their money lose its buying power, under the leadership of Council President Mark Olstad, we have created an Ad Hoc Finance Committee to dissect every service we provide, examining its cost and benefit to our citizens. This will enable the City Council to prioritize which services we continue to provide, and to what level of service. It will also guide us to possibly adjusting user fees to reflect the actual cost of providing that service. Through this process, we will be able to keep property taxes as low as possible to our residents while providing the services most important to them.
On a final note, we thank David Murphy for his service to East Grand Forks as its city administrator for almost 10 years. He did a great job fostering cooperation and collaboration between departments and got a lot done for our residents.
We look forward to the future with Reid Huttunen as city administrator. Reid brings a proven track record of building consensus through a credible process toward important objectives. Reid understands teamwork and is tenacious enough to see projects through to completion.
Steve Gander is mayor of East Grand Forks.