July 14, 2011 at 8:56 a.m.

Pennings exits council; county road work moving forward

Pennings exits council; county road work moving forward
Pennings exits council; county road work moving forward

Down one council member, the Center City council tackled a long and complicated agenda Tuesday evening.

The council accepted, with regrets, Will Pennings' resignation that had been delivered to city hall that afternoon. Pennings also expressed regrets in his letter of resignation, explaining that he could not "keep up (with council duties)" due to family and work responsibilities. Pennings served on the harassment and safety committees, and, as a volunteer fire fighter, assisted in obtaining the grant and selecting the new fire truck. Later in the meeting, under new business, the council officially accepted his letter of resignation, declared the council seat vacant and directed the city clerk to post the opening. Letters of application will be reviewed and acted on at the August 2 meeting.

Council chambers were overflowing. Among the guests were representatives with an interest in the Smith Metals Inc. relocation to the County Business Park. SMI executives, facility designers and contractors were present to participate in two public hearings and observe the council's actions on the matter.

The Public hearing lasted eight minutes. A meeting with the city planning commission on June 28 was one of numerous preliminary meetings that SMI, the county and city has had for the company to purchase lots in the business park and construct a $3.3 million manufacturing facility. SMI and the Planning Commission came to agreement on five major points of negotiation at that meeting, and after a brief summary, Mayor Jill Behneke closed the public hearing, reopened the monthly meeting, and the council was ready to act.

By separate votes the council unanimously approved:

• The comprehensive plan amendment changing the land use description from "highway commercial" to "highway light industrial"

• Rezoning the property from B-2 (highway business district) to L-1 (light industrial)

• The drainage and utility easement

• The site plan as proposed by SMI

• The parking deferment from 50 percent to 41.4 percent (still within the city's parking ordinance)

Following action on those items, Mayor Behnke opened the public hearing on the city's share of the proposed tax abatement meant to help the county recoup the cost of purchasing and improving the business park property for commercial use. The county proposes that Center City pledge $140,000 of tax income from SMI in the next 10 years ($14,000 annually). This is a starting point for discussion, Chris Eng, Executive Director of the Chisago County HRA-EDA explained.

It is estimated that SMI will generate $18,216 in city taxes annually, so after abatement, the city would receive approximately $4,216 in new revenue. The county will realize about $45,000 tax revenue at the current mil rate and realize about $9,000 in new income annually after its abated taxes are deleted.

Council member Mark Wolcott commented that he would like the figures to be low enough to allow the city to recoup the interest charges, adding that the last abatement that the city shared with the county (courthouse loop improvements) resulted in the city paying additional to cover the interest.

The council took no action on the actual abatement after the public hearing closed at 8 p.m. Council expects to make a decision on the abatement after the final figures are proposed at its August meeting. The council did unanimously accept the EDA's offer to pay the city attorney's time for negotiating the amount and length of the abatement with the county.

The SMI building project is on schedule for a mid-August groundbreaking.

The council addressed items relating to the CR9 re-construction project:

• Utility relocation for Frontier and US Cable was approved by the council updating the ordinance regarding public right of way management and then approving the applications for the utilities to use the easement.

• Property owners who have rain gardens installed as part of the CR9 Improvement are required to enter into a ten-year maintenance agreement, wherein the property owner agrees to maintain and keep the gardens functional. This arrangement is new, uncharted land-use territory, and, as the council learned from the city attorney, may have legal implications. For example, if the city takes over maintenance after the agreement sunsets, the city would need to obtain easements. During a brief discussion the council members agreed that there are too many unforeseen circumstances to make a commitment to perpetual maintenance, a commitment which may not even be necessary. The council unanimously voted to approve Mayor Behnke's motion to defer the decision. After ten years city will "review ways of maintaining the rain gardens and take appropriate action at that time."

• City staff reported that there should be no delays with the CR9 Improvement project due to the state government shutdown. Funding is secure and the contactor has taken measures to assure the project will move ahead.

In another matter, City Engineer Les Mateffy said that the city will need a state-issued permit to paint the water tower, but he assumes the state will be back to work by the time that project starts this fall.

The council considered five quotes and selected Tri-State Coatings' offer to sandblast, inspect and paint the tower in the original color and logo for $54,000. Mateffy's estimate at the May meeting was $50-$60,000, so the council was comfortable with that figure.

Quotes for repair of the Nelson Lane frost blowout were not so palatable, however. Mateffy reported that the bids he received on the 200-foot section of Nelson Lane breaking up works out to over $100 per foot.

After discussing the options of borrowing money for the repair, making a temporary repair for around $4,000 and improving the whole road next year as an assessment, the council reluctantly but unanimously approved Lloyd Vetter's motion to hire Bluhm Construction Inc. to repair the road for $22,070 and direct to bond for $20,000.

The council had a few more reports to hear at 10 p.m. when the Mayor staff, who had to leave for work, turned the meeting over to Acting Mayor Wolcott.

The city clerk informed the council that MNDOT will update the population number on the city's name signs. This fall the signs at the city entrance points will read "pop. 621." The clerk also reported that garbage haulers have called City Hall expressing concern about complaints of noise due to early morning pickups. The council will review the garbage removal, and lawn-mowing ordinances, at next month's meeting.

Upcoming:

• Planning Commission July 25 at Chisago Lutheran Church at 7 p.m.

• Public hearing for decorative lighting assessment August 17 at Chisago Lake Lutheran Church at 7 p.m.

• EDA meeting August 2 at 6:30 before the monthly meeting.

The meeting adjourned at 10:30 p.m.

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