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Northfield City Council Meeting - May 15, 2012

May 16, 2012 at 9:16 pm
By Jane McWilliams

Safety Center Project:  Tonight the project inched forward with three decisions: setting a public hearing on June 5th to solicit public input on the Capital Improvement Plan and the issuance of CIP Bonds; setting the upper limit for cost of the project; and establishment of a Public Safety Center Projects fund to account for all revenues and expenditures. The council intends to make a decision about the amount of funding following the hearing.

The amount of the CIP Bonds depends on how much internal financing there is, including possibly the Capital Reserve Fund, Cable TV Fund, IT Equipment Fund. Yet to be determined are project reductions and contributions from Rural Fire and the colleges which may reduce the amount of bonding. The combined funds would pay for a new police station, the fire administration portion of the facility, and the cost of the site. Yet to be determined is the cost and funding of the current facility to house the fire trucks and equipment.

Earlier, the council set a CIP Bond upper limit of $7,280,000 to finance the project. This type of financing is subject to a reverse referendum which may be initiated by citizen petition. This requires 5% of votes cast in the last general election, which in this case would be 398 signatures. Staff noted that the timing of the decision on bonding will make it possible for a question to be put on the ballot in August, should a reverse referendum be successful.

Several citizens spoke. Don McGee asked why the council was considering a bond amount when the design and cost of the building hasn’t been determined. He asked why, if the council anticipates a reverse referendum, doesn’t it design a project the public will support and plan for a referendum bond. Victor Summa said it would be difficult for people at the hearing with our sufficient information. Councilor Erica Zweifel asked when they would address the “fire barn” (the present public safety center). City Administrator Tim Madigan said that the architect has instructions to determine what improvements would be needed for the building to serve for three to five years. Councilor Betsey Buckheit said they don’t have an agreement with the Rural Fire Association and this could make a difference to the revenue and cost of the renovated fire facility. There was a brief discussion of how long the city would use the present facility. The council’s March 6 motion directed staff and architect to identify upgrades needed for “use as a central location for fire vehicles and equipment for the immediate future,” but the discussion suggested ambiguity about how that word should be interpreted.

Domestic Partnership Registry Ordinance: Amy Goerwitz reported for the Human Rights Commission which had been directed by the council to draft an ordinance. With the assistance of two attorneys, they reviewed models from other cities.  The registry would be a means for unmarried committed couples who reside or work in Northfield and who share a life and home together to document their relationship. This provides a “government-based foundation which positively contributes to the health, safety, and welfare of the community as a whole.” (To see the draft: #10) Ms Goerwitz thanked the council for initiating the ordinance and said the time is now for it to be enacted.

A number of citizens spoke in favor of passage of the ordinance. Molly Woehrlin noted that it make a point of welcoming diversity, that the number of married households is going down we need to adapt our procedures to present circumstances. Phil Doran an attorney representing the Human Rights Campaign, who provided technical assistance to the HRC, noted that although the media will talk about gays, the proposed ordinance applies to all partnerships. Jerri Hurlbutt said that she grew up in Northfield and that there was a time when it was not possible to come out as a lesbian. Ordinances either restrict things or enhance community. This would enhance trust and respect.

In response to Mayor Rossing’s concern about enforcement, Ms. Goerwitz said because a notary public will sign the document, there wouldn’t be any question that it is official. As she had at an earlier meeting, Councilor Rhonda Pownell said this is not a local issue and the council is not elected to make statements on state and national issues. She agreed that we must respect people’s life choices unless they are breaking the law. 

The council agreed to receive the HRC proposal and put it on the June 5 council meeting for consideration as an ordinance. Councilor Pownell cast the lone no vote. Mayor Rossing said she was proud to receive the proposal and to take it up as an ordinance.

Other Actions:  The council had the first reading of the ordinance amending the rental code. As part of the consent agenda: they approved a 2.5% base pay structure wage increase for the Employee Pay Plan Matrix effective July 1, 2012, the third increase in 5 1/2 years; declared the week of May 20, Medical Services Week, to honor the dedication of those who provide the day-to-day lifesaving service; and passed a resolution authorizing the execution of a grant to assist with site development of the former Key site.

Comments: According to the city web site:

The filing period for open City elected offices begins at 8 am, Tuesday, May 22 and ends at 5 pm, Tuesday, June 5. The following positions will be on the 2012 ballot: Mayor, Council Member At-Large, Council Member Second Ward and Council Member Third Ward. To qualify for elective office a candidate must be: qualified to vote, be at least twenty-one (21) years of age on the date he or she would assume office, be a resident of the city and of any ward he or she seeks to represent, or will have maintained residence for at least thirty (30) days before the election. Additional information can be found in the attached notice of filing.

In addition to Mayor Rossing’s, the terms of third ward Councilor Erica Zweifel, second ward Councilor Betsey Buckheit and at large Councilor Ivan Imm end in 2012. At this meeting, Councilor Zweifel announced her intent to file for reelection.  With redistricting, Councilor Betsey Buckheit no longer lives in the second ward.  Since redistricting, Councilor Patrick Ganey now lives in the third ward, but will continue to represent the fourth ward until the end of his term in 2014. As the state constitution does for the legislature, perhaps the Charter Commission should consider revising the charter to provide that all council seats are open following redistricting to avoid situations like that of Councilor Ganey.


  • May 17 2012 at 10:58 pm
    kiffi summa

    I was very glad to hear several councilors bring up the cost of remodeling the current safety center for the "fire barn', and then shocked at the administrator's response . Previously, and for years, it has been said that the deferred maintenance on the current building would make any use impossible without several Million dollars of repairs to bring it up to a usable standard/code. Items of extreme concern were the roof, the HVAC system, the weight bearing capacity of the floor in the fire equipment garage,all sorts of more minor deficiencies,and the 'biggie', i.e. possible flooding. In this meeting, it was stated that only the fire equip garage floor would be fixed at a cost of about 300K,and when asked about the roof, Hvac,etc., the administrator said that those were not of immediate need and could wait for 3-5 years. Flooding was not mentioned at all, not one word, as I recall. This is precisely why the public becomes skeptical of cases which are initially presented as dire, and then evaporate into the 'thin air' of 3-5 years in the future. If the feared flooding is not even mentioned , does that mean that the lower level of the building will be abandoned for any use? We were told that level was crucial as it houses the main electronic communication base system for the city... Que pasa ???

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