Is it time to look into consolidating facilities and personnel among the three Chisago Lakes cities? Lindstrom City Council had an agenda item last week to start discussions about eliminating overlapping services and the council tentatively answered yes to at least looking into merging Lindstrom, Chisago City and Center City into one entity. Council voted 5-0 to send council members to upcoming adjacent township and city meetings to see if those leaders are ready to help fund a study, the first step to look into the possibility of consolidation. Lindstrom Council member Curt Flug said that rather than competing against each other for commercial projects, and to gain state aid benefits by congregating the three towns’ populations-- there could be benefits to taxpayers by combining the cities.
He added, “It is time to step up to the plate and start to look at the pros and cons.” Mayor Keith Carlson disagreed and said if there are truly efficiencies in consolidating, then places like North Branch and Wyoming should have the lowest tax rates in the region and they do not. He is “skeptical” about the positives of merging, but he said later in the debate that he’d be willing to keep an open mind, “If it can be clearly demonstrated there are benefits we have a duty to look into it.” A consolidation attorney employed with Lindstrom’s legal firm attended the council meeting, and said there are templates available through the League of Minnesota Cities that can assist in walking communities through consolidation. Andrea Paehler McDowell worked with Elko-New Market in merging. She did not personally advise during the Norwood-Young America consolidation, but also noted that effort as another successful process.
She said the study could analyze financial issues among other questions that come up. Lindstrom Council members agreed to contact Chisago Lake Township, Chisago City and Center City to talk about doing a consolidation study. Costs for the study wold be divided based on population most likely. Lindstrom City Administrator John Olinger explained that there are personnel needs that can’t be supported by one single entity in areas such as technology, parks programming and there’s growth issues that he prefers the city gets ahead of rather than simply reacting to what future developers present. Facilities in all the cities are becoming obsolete: ie: city hall in Center City, fire halls in all towns, and consolidation could help address this and other issues. Lindstrom Fire Chief Scott Sellman was asked his opinion and he warned that he has concerns for how long this study will take. Lindstrom needs to relocate and enlarge its main fire hall now, he said.
Council member Bill Schlumbohm Sr. said fire department needs don’t necessarily hinge on the consolidation issue, as “...there will be a new hall no matter what happens.” Fire service protection analysis shows that a fire hall facility should be based somewhere in the general Lindstrom corridor to maintain adequate response times and positioning of equipment. There are sites that have been identified for a new Lindstrom Fire Hall, including the vacant field across from the high school and possibly the Smith Metals Company former location. (Smith expanded in a new building in the Center City business park.) Council member AnnMarie Brink said she’d “...really like to dig into it (consolidation) and felt combining of staffs and tax dollars could provide residents with opportunities and amenities they can’t attract as separate cities. add harmony donation ad next to this story