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Council keeps Pratt as city engineer, eyes local sales tax

After months of discussion and debate, the Detroit Lakes City Council has made a decision surrounding the city engineer position and services.

The council voted Tuesday to keep Jon Pratt as city engineer, and to now bid each project out for Apex Engineering and Ulteig Engineering to compete over.

The council also agreed to look at the how the process was going after one year.

The discussion came about after City Engineer Jon Pratt left Ulteig to join Apex. In the past, the city engineer has always been employed with Ulteig, even though the city designates a person, not a firm, as the city engineer.

Ulteig and Apex have been involved in a legal battle for quite some time, which has added to the discussion for the City of Detroit Lakes.

Tuesday night at the council meeting, Alderman Ron Zeman said, "Why would we as a city want to be involved in this?"

He added that the city shouldn't be getting involved with a company that is involved in a criminal suit.

Ulteig is accusing former employees of stealing files from Ulteig to form Apex.

Zeman said he's also concerned for those working at Ulteig.

"We got them here and now we're treating them like this," he said.

He continued, saying that the city knew the background and quality of work with Ulteig and knows nothing about Apex except that it's a new company in town.

Alderman Al Brevik said that he agrees with Zeman, and didn't like the city being thrown into the lawsuit and feeling the "squeeze."

The council was reminded that the city has nothing to do with the lawsuit.

Mayor Matt Brenk said that a decision needs to be made because the city has projects coming up soon.

The council passed a motion to keep Pratt as the engineer and let Apex and Ulteig bid on each project.

The council also approved a resolution that would state the terms and conditions for all engineering services contracts.

The resolution will ultimately give the city the ability to use any future findings from engineering projects. Once the city pays for the services, the engineering firm would not be able to withhold any information from the city -- the city could use all documents as it needed.

Future sales tax

While the City of Detroit Lakes already has a food and beverage tax, officials have been looking for a wider base for tax collection, in the form of a local sales tax. It would replace the food and beverage tax.

The city has been throwing out the idea of a sales tax for quite a while, but keeps pushing it to the back burner. Tuesday, it was pushed back a couple more months.

With a possible vote on a new school in town, some thought it would be wise to hold off on the sales tax vote.

City Administrator Bob Louiseau said that the city needs to come up with more precise information before asking the public to vote on the tax. They need to decide on how much the tax would be, how much it could generate and what the money would go toward.

The city had hoped to have the profits go to several projects around town including special assessments, fighting aquatic invasive species, trails, the Pavilion restoration and Washington Ball Park.

If the city "took time to study those issues," it would be better, Louiseau said.

City Attorney Charlie Ramstad said that he would have to look into the language of the state statute more because it says that the sales tax can be passed for "a capital improvement." That means it may not be able to be used for multiple projects.

If it is only one, he said, it's "pretty severe limitations."

"We need to keep moving forward, but in a slower manner," Mayor Matt Brenk said.

He asked that Ramstad look into what the city can pay for with the tax.

Alderman Bruce Imholte asked that the issue not be pushed back until this fall though.

Brenk asked that the city continue to look at the matter monthly until a final decision is made.

Liquor store manager

The city has been scrambling to fill the position of liquor store manager after Brad MacMaster turned in his resignation last month.

The city has advertised for the position, and reported that they have had 50-plus applicants so far.

The council voted to approve an updated job description of the manager position, which included detailed lists of duties and qualifications.

Mayor Matt Brenk said he will also be determining an ad hoc committee to review options for the use of the former liquor store.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.