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August 18, 2022

8/5/2022 2:07:00 PM
North Branch Council accepts 2021 city audit, starts 2023 budgeting

The year end audit for 2021 was presented to North Branch City Council and the general fund balance is way above the city’s goal,  sitting at eight months annual expenditure of funds in-the- bank.  Having three to five months is considered “very healthy” council was told.

The CliftonLarsonAllen audit firm representative also noted the liquor store transferred $100,000 into the general fund. Manager Deb Dahlberg told council that supply chain issues and cost inflation are still being dealt with at the two municipal liquor stores; but all things considered,  the businesses are having good years.  The curbside and delivery services activated during March 2020, continue at store number one (east of the freeway) only, she added.

North Branch had $10.2 million in total expenses and $10.9 million in total revenue.  North Branch does have $18 million in long term liabilities.  These support borrowing for purchases, for Tax Increment Financing districts, the annual capital lease with payback of $65,000 each year for the new fire engine,  and other items.

The audit firm advised there had been an issue with electronic fund transfers not being put before council for action and to create a paper trail,  but by November of 2021 this had been rectified.

The merging of Water and Light staff into city personnel and costs associated with the dissolution are being monitored as “a component unit” of the city in the audit.  The budget just for the utility was over by $236,000— however, the city collected $587,000 more in utility revenues than budgeted so this was not presented as a financial problem.

In other matters:
~  the conditional use permit that allows Terry’s Disposal and Recycling to continue operating, had staff providing photos recommending to council to designate Terry’s is in compliance with the permit and with agreements to clean-up. Contracts have been revised a few times since the city sent the first nuisance notice in 2019.

~ A large expansion of the Andersen Corp facility will move forward with a unanimous no-EIS declaration vote. Andersen submitted an Environmental Assessment Worksheet and it’s up to the local governing unit to decide if more information is desired or if there is potential for “significant environmental” outcomes that need to be addressed.   If council had voted for the added detail— the next step would the Impact Statement, but this won’t be necessary council stated.

Andersen Windows is adding 255,000 square feet to its 150,000 sq. foot plant. Expansion will cover 27 acres.  The impervious area will go from seven acres currently to 19 acres.

The plant has access off Golden Avenue and 399th and the plan is to place another access off Golden.  Traffic won’t exceed 2,500 trips per day, according to the EAW.

~ Council also approved a couple of housing plats that are continuations of existing neighborhoods  The actions will develop more single family homes.

Casselberry Development LLC is building 43 houses in its Schoolside plat and Graphic Homes Inc. (Lucht’s Crossing) is adding 31 or 37 (paperwork said both.)

And— a fundraiser for the North Branch Youth Wrestling program is approved for the parking lot at Tailgaters.  The American Wrestling Federation is bringing its ring to town August 27 from 7 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

It’s always around this time of year that local governments start meeting in earnest on budget-setting for next year’s taxes.

The North Branch City Council got a jump on its fiscal needs and met recently for an hour,  discussing if the city may need to hold off on any spending increases.  A level of funding to keep the “lights on” only,  may be the best for now, administrative staff said.

Discussion about adding a police officer was met with concern expressed by Council member Robert Canada, asking where there’s space to house any more personnel.  North Branch Police Department is in the basement at city hall and to say it is cramped is an under-statement.  There is a police retirement expected as well and filling this post needs to be considered.  City Administrator Renae Fry said it’s possible two squad cars will be on deck for rotation out of the fleet too, especially with recent damage on one.

Mayor Jim Swenson and Council member Kelly Neider did not support adding law enforcement personnel at this time.  Swenson also noted  Public Works is tackling extra hours and tasks with the takeover of the water utility,  and he advocated for adding a half-time person in that department.
Council member Kathy Blomquist chimed in on the code enforcement needs and recalled there was talk of putting a police officer into this slot.  Will anything ever happen with that, she wondered.

City Administrator Fry said the consultant assisting on the upcoming budget-setting should be ready to present numbers at the council’s August meeting.  (North Branch’s financial director left and the approved replacement is relocating from Colorado.)

Department staffing levels are all part of a balance the city strives for, Fry explained.  She added that there’s every reason to assume the city’s construction growth will continue and in a couple of years the city financial picture should be considerably brighter.

A number of projects are set to come fully onto the tax rolls soon, and begin to contribute full freight by 2025.  There are redevelopment districts (southeast corner of the freeway) and other municipal debt  with upcoming expiration dates which will free-up existing revenues for general uses.  

As for the Water & Light utility dissolution— this may  require another year to finalize.  

Council hoped to be able to use water and light remaining revenues to do infrastructure projects,  but it’s too soon to tell if the utility will contribute to the bank account or dissolve with nothing on its balance sheet.

Council consensus was the budget needs to be upped to include $50,000 for next year’s set aside for the equipment replacement fund.  
Furthermore— annual franchise fees bring in half a million and council okayed increasing what is placed in the budget to $275,000, up from the $175,000 portion normally put in the budget.

The next several weeks are when city officials set the road map for next year’s spending so if you have concerns or suggestions, now is the time to let your officeholders know.

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