Q: We are about to start a public works project that will have several of our employees working in the street right-of-way. What safety measures are required in these types of situations?
LMC: Each employee exposed to or working adjacent to moving motor vehicles must be provided with and is required to wear a high-visibility warning vest or other high-visibility garment, as required by Minnesota Rules, 5207.0100. A high-visibility garment is defined as being a Performance Class 2 garment or greater as specified by the American National Standards Institute and International Safety Equipment Association in ANSI/ISEA Standard 107-2004.
In this kind of situation, the city is also responsible for supplying, installing, and maintaining all necessary traffic control devices such as cones and barricades. The specific requirements are outlined in the Temporary Traffic Control Zone Layouts Field Manual, which is a section of the Minnesota Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices and available at http://bit.ly/1PQqHns. The Minnesota Local Technical Assistance Program offers workshops and online training where city employees can learn more about work zone safety. Get the list of available workshops at http://bit.ly/1Kmd2Ck.
Q: Our city council voted in December to raise the levy by 10 percent to have enough funds to do some long-delayed infrastructure projects. Our tax rate looks like it will actually go down a bit. How can that be?
LMC: The city tax rate depends not just on the amount of money that the city council decides to collect in property taxes, but also on the tax base. Whether the tax base grows or shrinks from year to year determines if a levy increase will result in property owners seeing a higher or lower rate in the calculations of their bills. For example, let’s say a city’s levy is $100, and the tax base is $1,000. That $100 spread over the $1,000 in tax base results in a tax rate of 10 percent. Now, the next year the council keeps the levy flat at $100, but five new houses have been built so that the tax base is now $1,200. The new tax rate would fall to 8.3 percent. This is because the tax burden is spread among more property. If your city is growing its levy, but still seeing a tax rate that is flat or actually decreasing, it is because your tax base has seen significant growth. In our simple example, if the city were to increase its levy from $100 to $200, but the tax base doubled to $2,000, perhaps from a new industrial park in town, the tax rate would still be 10 percent.
Q: An employee was out for three months using unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and another three months using unpaid leave authorized by the city’s Leave Without Pay policy. He wants to know if the city will pay its share of his Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) pension contribution for this time period, so he doesn’t lose the service credit. Can we do that?
LMC: You can, but it is not required. According to PERA, “The employee may purchase service credit for up to one year of unpaid or partially paid leave authorized by the city, including leave under [fmla], during which no employee and employer contributions were made to PERA. The employee must make his employee contribution as well as the employer’s contribution. The city may elect to pay the employer share, but is under no obligation to do so.” Before paying, consider how the city handled past requests and also whether it wishes to set a precedent for future requests. Be consistent. For example, you might establish a policy to pay only for leaves of up to three months. Be careful also not to inadvertently discriminate against veterans or members of a protected status, such as an employee covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Q: Does state law prohibit residents from burying their deceased pets in their backyard?
LMC: No, but this is an area where the city can step in. State law provides that “domestic animals” that have died must either be buried as soon as reasonably possible at a depth adequate to prevent scavenging by other animals, or thoroughly burned or otherwise disposed of in a manner approved by the Board of Animal Health. However, that same law states that the term “domestic animals” doesn’t mean those typically maintained in the owner’s home. (According to the Board, the law does not apply to dogs, cats, or ferrets.) The law closes by clarifying that local governments may regulate the disposal of the carcasses of these household pets. Cities regulate disposal of deceased pets in different ways, including mirroring the state law for burial depth, prohibiting burial of household pets altogether, and choosing not to regulate the subject.
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