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Friday, July 28, 2017

$54,000 Gates Installed at County Park. Why?

In April the County approved spending $108,000 for two new gates at the Lake Elmo county park (page 69). The gates are nearly finished being installed and it's not the first site to get them. 

I contacted the County project manager Frank Ticknor and he kindly invited me over to view the plans at the new $17 million dollar County North Shop. The existing shop was a dilapidated building from the 1960's and needed replacing for the County fleet of vehicles. In 2015 we questioned the need to build such a over the top facility that cost nearly the same amount as the 130,000 sq foot Bielenberg sports stadium in Woodbury. Especially when most county shops are simply heated pull barns; more than adequate for their simple functions of storage and maintenance. Shop-Mahal aside, Mr. Ticknor generously gave me the 5 minute tour on the gate plans. He understood the reason I stopped in was to look into the cost. He provided proof of what I had expected to find with proper project award to lowest responsible bid, no cost over runs, etc. The gates truly appear to be $54,000 gates, motorized opening and closing, ground sensors, key pad, remote control entrance for staff, lighting, and cameras. 

Not wanting to waste his time, I respectfully asked the question that's on all our minds: Why does a humble county park need $54,000 high security gates? He stated he was not sure; however, there is a shop on the north end of the park. Pointing out, previously if staff wanted to get in the north entrance they'd have to get out of their car to unlock the gate. The new $54,000 gate operates with a key pad or with a remote (like a garage door opener). He stated the main entrance on south end also has these electronic functions and will provide the same convenient access when the gates are not in the open position during park hours. He stated the gates are more and more common around the county and encouraged me to look at the same model gate at the North Shop (see picture).

It makes sense why the North Shop would have this type of gate since they house sheriff patrol cars and equipment like the $183,000 trail groomer purchased last year (because the $80K option wouldn't cut it). But a park? I've been to all except a dozen of the 72 State parks and they all have your typical manual swing gate. In fact, these were the perfectly functioning gates that were in place at Lake Elmo before the fancy gates got put in. (see picture). 

One should not be surprised the county board rubber stamped this through. Our County debt has tripled in the last decade or so. Also, in four years of reviewing every board meeting and item vote, there has only been one project (a small public works job) to be voted down because of cost out weighing the benefits. In addition, only Commissioner Kriesel and Commissioner Weik rarely and symbolically position themselves as the sole no vote on something (about once a year). Purely symbolic is evidenced by the fact they'll vote no on a large project once and vote yes later on all future votes for it. Such as when Commissioner Weik voted no for the $6.45 million dollar bus stop in Newport, referencing the isolated location and horrible smell that permeates the air at the location; but has voted yes on the dozens of future votes regarding the site and corridor that was going to use the stop. Commissioner Kriesel symbolically voted no just once on one of the half dozen votes regarding the passage of the $170 million dollar take over of private sector garbage processing. The county appears to have no concern for cost when they approved paying $3.4 million dollars to rip up the perfectly good parking lot at the $80 million dollar County Government Center and repave it. The project was $1.1 million dollars over budget with the addition of fancy LED lighting on a facility that is only open during the day. 

The County runs 7 beautiful parks which equates to over a dozen access points that could potentially have these gates. All except St. Croix bluffs have 2 or more road access points. Is the County going to install these high security gates at more of the County run properties? It seems like wasted money as the county is considering doubling their fee on tabs to pay for our roads while we've given $51 million county tax dollars for the Gold Line and Red Rock Corridor. The County board members did not respond to explain. 

-Matt Behning