Beautification project could be completed during Hwy. 108 project

Photo by Chad Koenen
The Henning City Council heard an update on a potential beautification project in downtown Henning. 

By Chad Koenen


The Henning City Council got its first look at a plan to beautify the downtown Henning area as part of the 2024 Highway 108 project.

During its regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, Aug. 1, the city council heard from representatives from MnDOT, as well as beautification committee members. Since the road was being torn up and replaced, the project was a chance for Henning to redo portions of its downtown area. 

“It’s a chance of a lifetime to sort of rebuild and redo some things (to enhance) downtown,” said a representative from MnDOT. 

Representatives from MnDOT said the goal of enhancing the downtown area was to make it appealing for local residents and to help and get people to stop in town.

Among the items being discussed by the committee was using boulevard trees and vegetation to help with traffic calming and creating a location for bicycles or pedestrians. In the business district, the committee felt that the use of color in the boulevard with a mix of vegetation, benches and other structural elements would support tourists and community members walking, biking and relaxing within the corridor. 

Representatives from MnDOT said they have not looked into firm costs for the decorative projects, but the plan was just a concept being developed. The representatives said the concept was a starting point and was something they wanted the city and affected business owners to be comfortable with in regards to things like benches and weeding vegetation. 

Several committee members said the goal was to provide low maintenance planters and trees to enhance the downtown area. Many of the questions about the trees and flower pots revolved around who was responsible for maintaining, watering and weeding the vegetation.  

“(Our goal was to) make what is going to happen as attractive as possible instead of big concrete sidewalks.”

Heather Ewart

Councilwoman Tammy Fosse said there have been a number of ideas for how to take care of the vegetation along the Highway 108 project for things like weeding in the future, but there are not firm plans to date.

Henning Mayor Darren Wiese encouraged the committee to hold a public meeting and visit with the affected downtown businesses about the project to get their input about what may be put in front of their business. 

Public comment

For the first time in several months the city council answered questions and provided information during the public comment period of its meeting. 

The first person to address the city council was Chelsey Waskosky who provided the city council with a copy of a recent article in the Fergus Falls Journal. The article cited an unnamed city council member who reportedly contacted the newspaper about what they felt was a lack of employees in the city. The unnamed person also said the police chief was helping to mow in town and highlighted an ambulance department investigation that was closed last year.

Waskosky said her concerns revolved what she termed as inaccurate statements in the story, which later said 11 of the 14 members of the ambulance crew had a positive view of where the ambulance service was going. 

“Why would someone, who I thought was suppose to be for our community and represent it, want to cast a shadow over the town, the city employees and emergency departments,” said Waskosky. “What satisfaction, or good, comes from this article. I feel this article has tarnished the City of Henning, the community and city departments.”

Wiese credited the work of the current city employees who have all stepped up over the past few months. He said Henning Police Chief Mike Helle has always been willing to help out when necessary and that includes plowing snow in years past as well. He asked the city council members to work together and move on for the greater good of the community.

“The continual the city is in a crisis mode needs to stop. It is shameful that we are reaching out and we are continually trying to put a (negative) cast on our city and we need to move on,” he said.

In addition to Waskosky, the city council heard from Judi Strege during the public comment period. 

Strege questioned how much the city was paying for new employees, as well as contracting its services with things like Missouri River for electrical services and a private company for meter reading. She contended the new city employees were hired at a higher rate than past employees who have left the city. 

Wiese said not all of the new city employees were hired at a higher rate than past employees. As far as reading meters, Wiese said the company the city has contracted with has found some past discrepancies in meter readings and may have also discovered issues with the city’s software. 

Utility Supervisor Ted Strand said the city currently has a retainer with Missouri River for $2,500 a month and has a contract with Perham to service the natural gas projects as necessary until the current staff can be certified. Strand said the staff is working towards getting additional certification. 

Strege also said the previous employees in the city office and utility department got along well, were all certified and all quit their positions.

City councilman Wes Johnson said the city needs to come together and work together to move forward. 

In other news

• Discussed holding a public hearing in September regarding a potential road closure of School Ave. The road could be closed if the current school building levy is approved by school district voters in a November. Wiese said the hope was to get input from the community regarding the potential road closure. 

• Accepted a donation from Brian Brogard for a used truck that could be utilized for the utility department. One of the utility trucks being used by the city is in need of repair and Strand said the donated truck would give the city time to find a new truck down the road. 

• Heard an update from Strand about an audit of some of the larger gas customers in the community. Strand said the Perham Utility department asked the city to check for accuracy and found three meters that were pumping gas through more quickly than could be accounted for by the meter. Those meters were installed quite some time ago and would need a new meter to account for the additional gas being pumped.

• Heard a concern from Willow Creek Executive Director about the need for additional staff to keep up with a growing number of people on services. Currently Willow Creek hires mostly part-time employees, but Augustus said she would like to see five full-time positions at Willow Creek after a pay study is completed. 

• Approved issuing a credit card for the dietary manager at Willow Creek to use for food, as well as changing overtime rules to 40 hours a week, as opposed to 48 hours a week. 

• Approved issuing a credit card for the utility department manager with a limit of $1,000 and $10,000 for the city clerk/treasurer.