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Stoner Avenue residents change Bemidji City Council's mind on name change

Stoner Avenue signs will remain as they are for now. But sign thieves beware - the city of Bemidji is looking into better sign security and catching bandits in the act.

This is exactly what Nancy Savard, a resident who lives on the 1300 block of Stoner Avenue Southeast, was hoping for.

She and a handful of other Stoner Avenue residents attended a public hearing Tuesday evening at City Hall to voice their opinions on the second reading of a city ordinance that called for changing the name from Stoner Avenue to Franklin Avenue.

"I think there are easier solutions than changing the name," Savard told Bemidji City Councilors and city staff.

Savard said the sign near her house was being stolen on a monthly basis for a long period of time until the city put in a taller sign post and used different screws to secure the sign to its post.

"That sign has not disappeared since," she said. "And it's a real hardship for people that live on Stoner Avenue to change everything. There are solutions much easier than changing the street."

Replacing stolen signs costs the city money, which has been the council's main reason for going forward with the name change. In July, the council voted to begin the process of changing the name to deter people from stealing the signs.

Each year, 15 Stoner Avenue signs go missing. Each sign costs about $100 to replace, according to Craig Gray, city engineer/public works director.

Hollie Simmerman, a resident of the 200 block of Stoner Avenue Northeast, said she was mostly concerned about the cost and hassle residents would have to go through to change their addresses.

More than 40 property owners live along four sections of Stoner Avenue. Changing the street name would cause every resident to have to update driver's license information and mailing address, as well as financial information.

"For those families, changing bank statements and driver's licenses - that is quite spendy," Councilor Greg Negard said. "It does get to be a significant cost to the families we have on there."

One suggestion that came up often at the meeting was for the city to use taller sign posts, which would make it harder for people to take down a sign.

But Gray cautioned the council that replacing each sign post with a taller post could cost the city between $4,000 and $5,000, which would not include the labor costs of city staff to research better ways of attaching signs to the new posts.

After discussing the issue, the council unanimously voted to table the issue indefinitely and tasked Gray with finding more secure sign solutions.

For now, between eight and 10 signs still need to be replaced.

"We've tried different kinds of bolts," Gray said. "We've spot-welded the signs to the posts. We've tried a lot of what was talked about here tonight. One thing we haven't tried is the higher sign posts. I'm thinking that's probably where we'll go with it."

Also, the city cannot legally cement a sign post into the ground due to state and federal regulations.

If the city installs higher sign posts and signs continue to be stolen, Gray said, he would recommend the city council revisit this issue.

Other suggestions brought up by the city council were to purchase security cameras to be attached near signs to catch thieves in the act or to set up a more active neighborhood watch policy.

City Attorney Al Felix said anyone caught stealing a city sign could pay a fine and/or could be charged with a misdemeanor or felony.