October 25, 2022 |
The Town of Saratoga would like to use a new MOU for the upkeep of Oddfellows Park as a template for other “adopt-a-highway” style agreements.
Municipal street crews use the small strip of town-owned land at the intersection of East Main Avenue and South River Street near the North Platte to pile snow plowed during winter storms. The area is designated as a public right-of-way. The park was established and maintained by the Oddfellows, a fraternal charity. At some point, the organization stopped taking care of the park. The name remained. Feeling that the lot was being neglected, employees from Bridge Street Bargains volunteered to mow and beautify the space with fresh flowers. The business said it had a hand-shake agreement with town officials requiring public workers to water the plants.
At the September 6th Saratoga Town Council meeting, Mayor Creed James read a letter from Carol Beach, who expressed the opinion that the town wasn’t upholding its end of an agreement she said existed.
Pictured above: File photo of Saratoga Town Hall/Police Department. Photo by Cali O’Hare/Bigfoot 99.
The council discussed the town’s obligations with Public Works Director Jon Winter. Winter said the space was never his department’s responsibility. He added that his crew may have helped take care of the park in the past, but he wasn’t aware of any formal agreement with Bridge Street Bargains. No paperwork of such an agreement existed. Beach did not provide any formal agreement, either.
With prompting from Councilman Jon Nelson, council agreed to see if the park could be preserved with town assuming the upkeep and maintenance. Councilman Nelson said he would speak to the owners of the neighboring restaurant.
At the following town council meeting, on September 20th, Nelson said that Danny and McCall Burau, owners of the nearby restaurant, agreed to mow and water the park with the stipulation that they be able to use it as an extension of their outdoor space.
The town would still use the park as a dumping site during its snow removal operations in winter months. The Buraus wanted their customers to be able to use the area as if it were restaurant property, bringing their food and drinks there. This brought questions attending members of the public who thought the Buraus were trying to expand their business into the park’s boundary. Councilman Nelson admitted he “mis-spoke” when he said the Buraus could use the park for “retail operation.” The park was to continue as a public space.
With that cleared up, Nelson said he would work on a Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU, to have, in writing, exactly what everybody’s responsibilities would be.
At the October 4th council meeting, Nelson read his draft MOU. It outlined that the restaurant owners would mow the grass and that the town would still use the lot for snow storage. Nelson said the agreement did not give the Buraus any right to exclude people from the park for any reason.
Except for a few details, other council members appeared satisfied with agreement.
Nelson presented a nearly complete MOU at the October 18th council meeting. The new draft included a noteworthy addition. Nelson said McCall Burau asked that this agreement be used to allow more people to assume upkeep for other areas of the town.
Similar to the state’s “adopt-a-highway” program, where people remove garbage from a designated stretch of roadway, the MOU would allow a sign to be put up saying who maintains the space. Nelson said the signage is a nice way to showcase those willing to take on those responsibilities.
Mayoral candidate Chuck Davis asked if the agreement would allow a business to move their operations into that space. Councilman Jon Nelson said nothing in the MOU would allow that to occur.
The council voted to allow the Memorandum of Understanding. The Buraus will take care of the landscaping in the Oddfellows Park while the town will empty the garbage can and continue to use it for snow storage.
Councilman Nelson would like this MOU to be a blueprint to allow other citizens to take more ownership over the appearance of the town. Also, having people “adopt” these public spaces will free up public funds.