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Northfield City Council Work Session - June 12, 2012

June 14, 2012 at 11:14 am
By Jane McWilliams

Website Update:  The city’s Information Technology Strategist Loren Lovhaug reviewed the steps taken since the council’s December 2012 budget allocation of $50,000 from the cable fund.  The February request for proposal yielded five candidates. Following presentations by the candidates, a committee of residents, administrative and management personnel, selected Civic Plus, a developer of government websites with a strong presence in Minnesota. (http://www.civicplus.com/) The goal is to establish a long-term stable framework. According to Mr. Lovhaug, citizens, employees and the leadership team will participate in the development of the website. The vendor will be on-site in July, and they hope to have the new design operational by January 2013.

Budget Update:  Finance Director Kathleen McBride reported that the preliminary information is that Rice County tax base has declined nearly 10% and provided a preliminary outlook for the city’s property tax levies for the 2013-14 budget development.

In addition, Ms McBride outlined the process for the sale of lease revenue bonds for the public safety center financing. The earliest date to sell bonds would be August 7th. The city’s bond counsel would develop and market a RFP for the bond sale, which the council will approve later this month. Both the council and the HRA (which will actually award the sale of the bonds) will need to approve preliminary actions prior to the sale. City Administrator Tim Madigan said there would be more information about this during the next meeting. 

Fire Service Agreement:  In April, the mayor and council asked township supervisors in the Rural Fire Protection District what involvement they would like to have in providing fire service in the Northfield Rural Fire Protection District. The memo outlined several options for the group to consider, including a joint powers agreement.

In response, the township members said they would prefer a joint powers arrangement and recommended formation of a working group to develop an agreement, including an operations plan and financial plan for a Northfield Area Fire Protection District. The district would provide fire protection to Northfield, Dundas, Dennison, and the township members of the Rural Fire Protection District. 

Mr. Madigan noted there are two large policy issues: 1.  type of agreement/finance – who pays and how.  2.  Governance – who makes the decisions and in what form?  He pointed out that there are 8 or 9 governmental units that could be involved in the discussion. There are a number of models in place in the state which could be helpful in the discussions. He said he would be willing to provide technical assistance, but would not direct negotiations.

When Mayor Mary Rossing asked what principles the city wants to achieve, Councilor Erica Zweifel said the council shouldn’t involve itself at this stage in the agreement, but should talk about the makeup of the study group. Councilor Rhonda Pownell said the study group membership as well as the joint powers board should be weighted proportionally. Looking at other models would help with this.  Councilor Patrick Ganey said one person could represent the city and keep the council apprised.

Mayor Rossing summarized the discussion – that the council wants to move ahead with discussions with no preconditions. The group should do fact-finding concentrating on finance and governance. The group should be facilitated by someone who has had experience in this kind of deliberation in other communities.

Public Safety Center Statement:  Councilor Betsey Buckheit distributed what she called a rough draft statement explaining the council’s June 5 decision on finding the safety center using lease revenue bonds. She said the council should take charge of the message and not rely on the media to communicate what it did and why.

Council members will forward their suggestions for revision of the draft to Mr. Madigan. Suggested ways for this information and future communications to be made public include a project page on the city’s web site and later, when appropriate, town hall meetings.  Mr. Madigan said the decisions on the police department are simpler than those on the fire department. By September, there should be information available for public open houses.

Mayor Rossing circulated a list of questions people may ask about the safety center, and invited other council members to add to them. These may become part of the communications process.

Comments

  • June 15 2012 at 12:27 pm
    kiffi summa

    I have often defended this council, and some members specifically, when criticism arises which labels them as "arrogant". But I cannot find an adequate answer to satisfy the question of why they voted now for Lease/Revenue Bonds as the funding option for the new Safety Center, when that mechanism had not been previously considered. At the above meeting there were several statements made about this decision was the Council's to make (regardless of public opinion?) and that this type of funding was not subject to any kind of referendum; the higher cost and complications of the legal structure of having a separate taxing authority (EDA or HRA) issue the bonds SEEMED to be more acceptable than having the public weigh in... either by going to a direct referendum on GO/CIP Bonds, or facing a reverse referendum. This decision, and the reasons stated for making it, would SEEM to negate what should be the better aspects of 'representative government'.

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