9/17/2021 1:00:00 PM Taylors Falls Council meeting emotionally charged
The very good news that the city of Taylors Falls has finally received a strong offer for the empty city lot on mainstreet— was overshadowed by a staff member’s near breakdown in chambers Monday night this week. City Attorney Patrick Kelly was in the audience for the purpose of facilitating action on the lot purchase agreement, and had to verbally hush the Clerk Treasurer; who rose from her chair to comment on a workplace pay equity complaint and her allegations of discrimination. Kelly interrupted, and reminded the clerk the state investigation is open and she must not make public statements until there’s a decision.
Kelly gave the unusually jam-packed council chambers a lengthy explanation for the pay equity issues that have arisen. Minnesota government positions are reviewed every three years for compliance to employment standards meant to ensure equal compensation for equivalent job duties held by male or female.
Kelly said everybody is working together to gather input and address the shortcomings in the pay equity report and in updating job descriptions, etc. The pay equity program is often run afoul of by small cities and townships which have very small staffs and not alot of time to devote to administrative tasks and data upkeep needed to comply, he added. Wages in question get reduced or increased and generally that’s the end of it when non-compliance becomes an issue. In the clerk-treasurer’s situation the wage went up.
Elizabeth Neally took the floor with the mayor’s permission, and gave remarks that left her pale and shaking and she was almost unable to return to her clerk seat. She said she didn’t even want the pay hike and asked the state if she could decline it— which she could not. “I knew it would be a huge problem,” she stated.
A minute or two later she was supported by citizen Sandra Berg, in leaving the council chambers by the side emergency exit door.
Neally has been with Taylors Falls for three years.
Council also responded to public comment at a different meeting on the future of the sheriff patrol services. A member of the public had suggested that Lakes Area Police were on-deck ready to add Taylors Falls to their service territory.
Retired council person and former sheriff’s dispatcher John Tangen, used public comment to report that he spoke with the chief and Lakes Area has no plan to takeover Taylors Falls. He said his math shows a fulltime police presence would cost the city $535,000 annually. Covering time off for vacation, etc. is on top of this amount. This is nowhere near what the city budget can support, he said.
Mayor Mike Buchite added that the city gets investigative services from its sheriff contract plus the flexibility in hours the county department can fulfill, cutting back in winter and beefing up services during warm weather peak tourist season.
Motel not open The mayor also stated there is no truth in another rumor about Springs Inn.
There has been a Certificate of occupancy issued but the city has not granted a motel license. The city zoning administrator needs to inspect and check off a list of operational conditions before it can be opened to paying residents. Mayor Buchite said if anybody sees comings and goings that look like it is an open, operating motel— they should contact law enforcement.
Meanwhile the major items actually on the agenda, included: The city accepting a $150,000 offer for the lot on the north of the Drive In. Previously a MNDOT property the city plans to split off the northerly 40 percent and keep it and sell the south end or 60 percent of the parcel to a real estate agency. The down payment is $10,000 and Brick & Banister of Maple Grove MN has until April 2022 to close.
Broker Amy Dills shared the concept for the site is a boutique hotel with taproom and Finnish sauna among other bespoke amenities. There will be soils tests and site layout configurations done between now and next spring to ensure the sale is a viable investment. The project will request a Taylors Falls tax abatement program.
Council member Ross Rivard said this could help all the buildings on mainstreet. The lot has been on the market for 10 years, since a three pronged package was agreed to, giving the state space at Taylors Falls Fire Hall property for a sand-salt shed and the county HRA/EDA providing funding. Nancy Hoffman attended the council meeting for the county and said the sale conditions are up to the city and buyer. The sale price should be sufficient to settle any debt.
The purchase agreement was approved 4-1, with Council member Troy Aanonsen abstaining. He did not declare a reason.
Council authorized culvert replacements for about $18,000 at Pine and Basil Streets for Lawrence Creek Contractors. The company will also do sidewalk repairs along First, in two 300 foot sections for about $27,700.
The fire department has been awarded a FEMA grant for $109,519. Council told Chief Jake Vodenka Reed the department should be very proud of its application. The money will buy new air packs, bottles, masks and related equipment. The city share of the expenditures is $5,475.
The budget and levy preliminary numbers were adopted. The city tax rate will dip to under 60 percent. Mayor Buchite said when he took office the rate was around 100 percent. The departments do a good job and make budgets work for the citizens, Buchite said.
In public comment citizen Katherine Johnson expressed her concern not all the council attended budget workshops, which Taylors Falls convenes early in the morning for a few weeks leading up to the budget adoption vote. The mayor said he had health issues and he kept in contact with e mail and information from Vice Mayor Ross Rivard. Council member Mary Jo Murphy said she communicated with Council member Larry Julik Heine and made suggestions through him as she was unable to attend morning workshop sessions. Johnson asked for information from city council by-laws on meeting attedance.