Diamond in the rough comes to light

By Carol Walker


It’s the season of sparkle, and the Hill City Council saw a bit of it on Monday night when Councilman John Johnson revealed a few “diamonds” in his hands that he said came from the piece of coal he received at the city Christmas party. He said when he arrived home, the coal dropped to the floor, and out came the diamonds.

However, mostly serious business of the city transpired on Monday night as council members tackled real issues of importance to the community. Council members received paperwork in their packets outlining the plan to grade and install a containment pit at the 1880 Train site. Meg Warder, 1880 Train president, was on hand for questions.

According to Brett McMacken, city administrator, originally the plan was to build a concrete basin between the tracks that would contain the oil and water that came off the train cars when they were washed. That liquid would go into an oil separator that would clean out the oil, and pump the water into the sewer system. That has changed slightly.

“They would collect the oil in the basin and truck it out. They also plan to build a canopy over the basin so the rainwater does not get in and mix with the oil,” said McMacken.

In a low spot in the train yard, a second channel will send water that collects into the stream. P&Z approved the plan, contingent on the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) determining if there would be any environmental concerns should there be a flood event. The city council approved the plan with the same contingencies as P&Z.

Members of the council engaged in a lengthy discussion over a liquor license renewal for the Chute Roosters. Derek and Linette Alexander, W Mill Iron, LLC, are the new owners, having purchased it at auction in August from Joy Peterson, Lady Bird, LLC. Peterson signed an affidavit transferring the liquor license issued in her name to the Alexanders.

In reading the city code, it was determined that if a liquor license is not used the previous year the fee would go from $4,800 to triple that amount when renewed. Due to reasons not outlined at the meeting, the liquor license was not put to use last year. Since there are new owners, should a triple fee be assessed, or the regular $4,800, because they are new owners? That was the crux of the issue.

Frank Bettmann, city attorney, who was not in attendance at the meeting due to illness, communicated to McMacken that these are new owners, and though the liquor license is a renewal, it should be classified as new to them. Councilman Jason Gillaspie concurred with that opinion, but Johnson said the new owner should be responsible for any liabilities on the property, including a liquor license that was not used during the past year, thereby diminishing revenue for the city. Councilpersons Jim Peterson and Kathy Skorzewski also leaned toward Johnson’s opinion.

“Why not issue a new license, since it is a new owner,” asked Peterson.

McMacken said that is uncharted ground for the city. By state law, the city is entitled to three liquor licenses, based on population, and they currently belong to Mangy Moose, Slate Creek Grille and Chute Rooster. Would designating this a new license mean it was to be opened up to any other entity that might be interested? McMacken was not sure.

Skorzewski said perhaps it needs to be examined from the spirit of the law versus the letter of the law. The letter of the law dictates a triple fee, meant to be a deterrent for a license holder who purposely did nothing with it.

“Can we table this until the next meeting so Frank will be there and we can ask for his opinion,” asked Johnson.

It was decided not to do that since Bettmann had already conveyed his opinion through McMacken. The council approved the transfer and renewal at the regular $4,800 annual fee with Johnson voting no on the renewal.

“I tell you, we are going to pour money into the restaurant, new windows, make another good quality restaurant in Hill City. When we do, I will buy you a steak, Johnny,” said Derek.

McMacken announced that Danielle Schade of Custer has been hired as the new Developmental Services Coordinator for Hill City, and he is confident she will be an asset to the city.

When it comes to the budget, the city is in good shape this year with only minor adjustments. The city budgeted about $1.163 million for potential expenses for the year and as of Monday had spent $830,000. The surplus is due to the lack of a finance officer for many months of the year, and hiring the Development Services Coordinator at a later date than expected, as well as FEMA funds that have not been used in their entirety and roughly $2,000 to $5,000 in each city department that was budgeted but not spent.

However, three departments are seeing a shortfall and because of that, money must be transferred in from the contingency fund.  The council approved transferring $3,750 to cover expenses for malt beverage license fees owed to the state, election account and the city administrator account for the purchase of two computers and a professional services fee.

In other business, the council approved the final change of plat application for Wayne Hartmann on Chute Rooster Dr. and Jim Peterson on Main St.

The next city council meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 27, at 5:30 p.m. at city hall.