5/21/2021 1:28:00 PM North Branch audit shows popularity of liquor stores
Customers of North Branch liquor stores in 2020 should be proud of doing their civic part.
The city council learned last week the two stores were able to transfer monies into the city general fund at the equivalent rate of a four percent levy increase.
Mayor Jim Swenson extended a thank you to those who “gave a little bit” in purchasing beer, wine and spirits for the net result of not having to increase the levy.
North Branch Municipal Liquor Stores Supervisor Deb Dahlberg gave the money transfer news in her annual report, and also introduced employees and managers to the council.
She predicts that delivery —which was begun in response to covid-19 orders— will be fine tuned and continue to be offered. Curbside pick-up demand is decreasing though, and this may go away, she added.
Sales numbers were elevated in 2020 because bars and restaurants were closed, yet sales in the first quarter of 2021 have been about two percent better than even 2020.
While North Branch store net profits are lower than state averages for municipal stores, revenue growth is promising, she noted.
Also— a new credit card system was installed to save in monthly fees, and energy savings of about $200 per month are expected with installation of new cooler doors, etc.
The council also accepted the city’s audit, presented by Miranda Wendlandt, CliftonLarsonAllen representative. She noted that the 2020 audit was all done remotely, electronically.
In reviewing the city’s coronavirus relief money expenditures, she said auditors found no problems in this area of spending.
There were corrections needed elsewhere, most notable for land sale proceeds and addressing revisions in the agreement with Chisago County on the Interstate Business Park loan. North Branch still owes the county $1.2 million for when the two partnered on business park land acquisitions.
The city has a healthy balance at 7.5 months of expenses covered, Wendlandt shared.
In other matters: ~ Council accepted the gift of a domed roof section for use on a structure being created in Riverwalk Park. Natural Spaces Dome Homes donated the item.
~ Council members Patrick Meacham and Kelly Neider were appointed to serve on a working group looking into transitioning Water & Light services under municipal functions. They join several people named by the Water & Light Commission (Press story May 13) who are tasked with taking a comprehensive look at what the city can take-over through contracting.
There also was a 4-1 vote to allow the former Water and Light utility bookkeeper (who resigned) to become a city contract employee at $75 an hour.
The staff member tendered her resignation on the Friday before the week utility payroll was scheduled to be done. Council member Kathy Blomquist voted against the agreement on services because she felt the payroll issue was the urgent matter. This agreement lasts until the end of December 2021.
The resignation created a “critical void’ as City Administrator Renae Fry termed it but worries extend beyond payroll. If the utility doesn’t do its customer billing, North Branch doesn’t get stormwater, and sewer fees which the utility collects for the city in its bills.
Council member Blomquist said the general manager is being left out of this agreement contracting for services from the city. For instance, the bookkeeper reported to him, and now she won’t be.
Mayor Swenson said, “It won’t be a problem.”
There was one person in the open microphone portion of the agenda who had input on this still evolving utility structural upheaval. Nancy Zachrison advised to go slow on this utility takeover.
There are residents such as herself, who don’t have anything to gain and potentially the city will have expenses to take on. She has a private well and no municipal water and gets power from East Central Electric. As a city taxpayer she said she does not support having the utility “forced on us.”