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May 30, 2020

4/3/2020 11:51:00 AM
North Branch Council talks legislative issues for Water & Light and building permits, inspections

North Branch Council optimistically is setting the stage for a new Water and Light Commission.

The Minnesota House and Senate have started review of legislation introduced to enable the city to go to a five member public utility commission known as Water and Light.  Last week council members agreed to put a discussion about Water and Light applications and eligibility, on an April work session agenda.  

Mayor Jim Swenson said his personal communications with local state lawmakers leaves him thinking there’s “a really really strong” chance the utility commission enabling bill will get authorized in the session still. If adopted, the commission could go from three to five members this year.

Swenson asked the council to put on their thinking caps and go as deeply as they want into the appointing process, the vetting of applicants and other relevant considerations in order to add two people and “...get a commission that functions as we want it to.”

Council member Kathy Blomquist had some trepidation about the need to work on this, thinking that even if the expanded commission gets the green light, does the city recruit candidates and actively go about appointing members when due to covid-19 it won’t be business as usual the next several months.

A memo from North Branch City Attorney Patrick Doran, advised council that overseeing the commission expansion is important.  

Doran wrote, “The city and commission are tied financially...the city is directly affected by, and should be participating in, the Commission budgeting issues.”  Doran also advised holding joint training sessions with city and commission officials.

Council will bring its ideas and suggestions to a future work session.

Council members Kathy Blomquist and Brian Voss were appearing remotely by electronic means and Council member Joel McPherson was absent. The mayor and Kelly Neider were in-chambers.

Another item impacting the city, that the legislature is considering, has to do with city revenues in the form of permits.  Senator Mark Koran is slated to get a letter from a number of area cities, whose councils have approved letters expressing opposition to bills he supports.  

The Senate and House bills  could potentially impact cost of building permits, numbers of inspections, park fee contributions required from developers and other aspects of development now under local control.

North Branch will draft correspondence that coveys their opposition and explains reasons and have the letter sent officially as opposing the measures.

City Finance Director Joseph Starks cautioned council in his financial update that the income tax deadlines have been pushed back, and if the property tax deadlines get postponed or delayed--  by the virus response-- cities that depend on dispersements could find themselves in a cash flow dilemma.  Property tax payments generally are in May and October (farm and mobile home are different) and the county collects and apportions the revenue to local governments.  Starks says North Branch is working to prepare itself to be in a good position to be flexible.

In other matters the crack seal quote for this summer’s roadwork went to Seal Tech at $1.58 per pound of material needed.  The only other quote was Fahrner at $3.  North Branch solicits jointly for the work including areas needing to be done that are owned by the school district, and North Branch and Sunrise Townships -- to get desireable quantity numbers.
The contract was okayed for the handrail on 14th Avenue, alongside a storm water basin drop-off, that clarified. It is the city’s responsibility and is on city property.

There was a special session scheduled for one item-- to award a bid for 399th, held Tuesday March 31.

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