Given the length and heft of this meeting’s agenda, it is to the council’s credit that they finished conducting business at precisely 10:00 p.m.!
Presentation: Scott Pruitt and Lynn Vincent of the Healthy Community Initiative presented this month’s Making a Difference Award to TJ Heinricy, the city’s Streets and Parks Supervisor. Mr. Heinricy, along with Howard Holt of Eco Gardens, is working with Transition Youth to build and install refuse containers for downtown designed to accommodate both trash and recyclables. The project makes use of existing containers, keeps the business in the local economy, and provides a youth group hands-on experience in metal fabrication. (More about the project).
Domestic Partner Registry: After holding a public hearing in May, tonight the council gave the first reading of Ordinance No. 935, establishing the registry. Several people spoke in favor of the ordinance, including LWVNCF Board Member Karen Saxe. Outlining the LWV positions on equal opportunity, Ms Saxe said that passing the ordinance “will be a clear expression of Northfield’s open and welcoming stance toward its present diverse population and to others who may consider living here”. All but Councilor Rhonda Pownell, who voted against the reading, spoke in favor of the policy. Mayor Mary Rossing said it was not a political issue as Councilor Pownell defined it, but personal. “I might find a partner and not get married,” said the Mayor.
Safety Center Funding: During the hearing prior to the discussion and vote on funding, a number of citizens spoke. Representing the Northfield Downtown Development Corporation, Greg Kneser said they are “wildly supportive of the project.” The council, instead of funding with Capital Improvement Bonds, should put the project to a vote in November. Don McGee noted that the project is incomplete because there are no plans for the present site. Long time firefighter John Machacek said the present facility could serve the community for years. Former Chief of Police Ron Pieri opposes building a shared facility. To build support for the project, Ray Cox urged a vote in November, giving time to educate the voters. Other speakers also urged council to prepare a firmer plan for both the police and the fire facilities and to take it to a public vote.
Councilor Rhonda Pownell asked Architect Mike Clark whether he had had experience with 400 decision makers, referring, apparently, to the number of people required to sign a petition to put authorizing bonds on the ballot as provided for in the Capital Improvement Bond method. He said it was not uncommon. The council discussed the relative cost of various bonding methods. Should the project be delayed, thus increasing construction costs, what do various interest rates add to the cost? Would going to a referendum mean that all design work would be halted? When will repaying the bonds hit the tax rolls? How long will the current facility be used and what would it cost to make use possible?
The council voted down motions to use Capital Improvement Bonds, (and thus avoided the risk of a reverse referendum which would require the question be on the November ballot) as well as a motion to put approval of General Obligation Bonds on the November ballot. Finally, on a split vote, the council approved Councilor Erica Zweifel’s impromptu motion to issue Lease Revenue Bonds, not to exceed $7.2 million. (Mayor Rossing, Councilors Betsey Buckheit, Zweifel, and Ivan Imm voted in favor, and Councilor Pownell and Suzie Nakasian voted no.) These bonds are financed with a lease agreement with either the Housing Redevelopment Authority or the Economic Development Authority and are payable from lease payments annually appropriated by the city and covered by an annual tax levy. Interest rates are higher than the other bonds as are issuance costs. This method does not have a revere referendum option.
City Administrator Tim Madigan said with this direction, staff would come back with the format for a final decision. Mayor Rossing congratulated the council for taking a strong step. With this process “we can inform the public” about the project.
Authorization of payment of legal fees for former City Administrator Al Roder in the amount of $12, 816.60 (for a total to date of $33,236.15) in the Lansing/Goodhue County matter as provided for in Mr. Roder’s separation agreement.
Approved transfer of transit operations to Hiawathaland Transit as grant administrator for Northfield Transit. Start of service is July 2, 2012. Routes and service information will be posted on the city’s and Hiawathaland’s website, and on buses. Users will find that operating hours will be expanded or both the Dial a Ride and Route services.
Accepted a transfer of ownership to the city of land located behind 1300 Bollenbacher Drive from Mr. LaVern Rippley.
Amended the Land Development Code to make possible for All-Flex, the flexible circuit industry just west of the property in question, to acquire property formerly owned by former Sundowner Trailer Business. The property will be rezoned from C2-B to I1-B to accommodate the industrial use. The Planning Commission recommended the change.
Approved designating the Northfield Heritage Preservation Commission as the official liaison between the city and the postal service. Such a designation is necessary as part of the Section 106 process which permits community direction about regulations imposed on the use of the building when it is sold. The State Historic Preservation Office is working with the local Save Our Post Office group on the process.
Deferred to a later time discussion of the Downtown Parking subcommittee report and request for action presented by Councilors Buckheit and Nakasian.
Comment: After the meeting, Councilor Zweifel said that it is premature to decide the fate of the present safety facility. There are many unknowns because of discussions being held with surrounding townships about creating a joint powers fire organization. According to Councilor Zweifel, it is possible that with such an arrangement, the city would no longer own the fire facility.
The lease revenue bond decision, like others the council has made, while it might make sense in the long run, seemed impromptu. Several councilors seemed unprepared for this outcome. One wonders whether all members of the council had time to seriously consider the merits and shortcomings of this funding mechanism. There definitely was a sense that several of the councilors were not in favor of letting the public decide. That seemed the primary goal and justification for the selected bonding method.