This week at the City Council:
- Lack of funding for city parks a concern
- Council discusses need for more information and communication from boards and commissions
- City survey finds two visions for Northfield's future: small town, or third-ring suburb
- Save the Post Office group asks City to exercise right of first refusal on Post Office building, if abandoned by USPS
Jane McWilliams, LWV Observer
All councilors were present.
Meeting with Park Board: Lynne Young, Library and Recreation Services Director, distributed a document outlining the current issues and projects of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. (As of this writing, the document is not posted in the meeting packet materials.) Nathan Knutson, PRAB Chair and other board members sat with the council for this discussion.
A serious concern for the board is the lack of funding for the projects the city would like to undertake. David Hvinstendahl said there is no distinct park budget and if the city is going to have a park system which is maintained, it will need to come up with a way to fund these. Lately, major improvements have been funded by interest groups.
Implying an ambiguity about their independence, the board asked the city to give them guidelines as to what projects should move forward. As it stands, the board works with staff, and when they disagree with staff, they would like to come to the council. Councilor Betsey Buckheit said she had been asking when the city would establish a sustainable park fund, that with the GreenStep program, we’ll need to work on this. To Councilor Patrick Ganey’s question whether cities have independent park boards, City Administrator Tim Madigan’s reply was that as a charter city, it and other boards and commissions are advisory only.
Communication with boards and commissions came up later in the meeting when Councilor Ganey proposed a motion asking the City Administrator to organize meetings at regular council sessions with the city’s boards and commissions. Although the 2010 council asked for monthly reports, the response has been uneven, and the minutes of board and commission meetings insufficient to keep the council informed. Action on Councilor Ganey’s motion will be taken at a regular meeting.
Community Survey: Bill Morris of Decision Resources, Ltd., the firm the city contracted to conduct the survey, reported on the findings. (Full text of the survey: http://www.ci.northfield.mn.us/assets/w/Work-Session-Packet-042611.pdf For summary, see p. 128. )
Mr. Morris stressed that there are two groups in Northfield, one that wants the city to remain a small town and another wanting to increase tax base development with industrial development, making it a third-ring suburb. (This divide appears to mirror the debate the council has had on economic development.) However, the community is above the norm in satisfaction with the quality of life, the direction the community is taking and the value of city services.
There was a special section on the city library, and while there is high usage, the need for a larger building has not been established. More people oppose than support a tax increase for library expansion. On the other hand, there is no strong opposition to the level of property tax for city services over all.
The Northfield News is the principal source of information for respondents, with the city’s website the second most important source.
Asked by Mayor Mary Rossing how often Mr. Morris recommends city surveys, he said it depends on population shifts. In cities like Lakeville which are growing, every 2 years. In more stable communities, every 3 or 4 years.
Post Office Update: Administrator Madigan has sent letters to our members of congress inviting them to come talk about the post office budget. Councilor Suzie Nakasian reported that the Save the Post Office Task force continues to meet and is organizing a vigorous “No” campaign. There is interest in having the city take steps to exercise first refusal if the building is abandoned by the postal service. Councilor Ganey expressed interest in a tour to see “more than the lobby”. Administrator Madigan said at their May 3 or 7 meetings, the council should take a policy position on this matter. This would be a place-holder, not a commitment to take it over.
Building Code/Rental Code: Jim Kessler, the city’s building official, walked the council through the revisions of the building code. The code has been removed from the land development regulations as part of the land development code redesign under way by the planning commission. He noted that there is nothing which will create problems, no radical changes. The council will hold the first reading hearing on this change at a future meeting.
Mayor Mary Rossing’s announcement: Noting that this was not an official communication, Mayor Rossing announced that she is selling her commercial business and leasing the space she owns to a realtor. She notes this offers an opportunity for new use of the space, and for her to “spread her wings” to pursue other ventures.
The meeting was adjourned at 9:35 p.m.