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Northfield City Council Work Session - April 23, 2013

April 24, 2013 at 5:23 pm
By Jane McWilliams

Hospital Audit Presentation:  Hospital board chair Gina Washburn introduced Robert Schile, who represents the firm audit Clifton Larson Allen which has been the hospital’s auditor for 15 years. She noted that this is one of the four annual communications the board and council have planned.  What follows is David Emery’s LWV Observer account of a similar report to the hospital board on March 21, 2013 and with which I concur. 

“The auditors were very complementary to the hospital financial staff on the quality of their work and on their cooperation.  The auditors also complemented the Board on their strategic thinking over the past decade that led them to build a new hospital and establish a chain of medical clinics.  The auditors said that this long-term vision gives the hospital a good chance to survive while many other hospitals will close or consolidate.

The auditors reported that NH&C did well in 2012: cash on hand, accounts receivable, age of plant, debt level, net patient revenue, and operating margins were good. But, the auditors predicted that it will be increasingly difficult over the next decade to achieve similar results as payment rates are cut in both the public and private sectors; value based payments are phased in, and emphasis is shifted to medical homes and accountable care organizations (ACOs). Schile predicted that many hospitals will try to cope with the challenges by consolidating.”

In response to Councilor Suzie Nakasian’s question, Mr. Schile said wellness and prevention programs would play a crucial role, as the emphasis in reimbursement will be on health management. Councilor Ludescher asked what the trend is in city owned hospitals. Mr. Schile said he was seeing fewer and fewer because of the dynamics of running a health care organization. “The future will not be easy, but the past hasn’t been either. The Northfield Hospital demonstrates it can meet the demands. It is pretty exciting to work for an organization like this” Mr. Schile concluded.

Review of Refunding Proposals/Street Bonds:  Finance Director Kathleen McBride explained how a review by the city’s financial advisor Ehler, Inc., shows that two of the city’s bond issues might be “refunded” in order to achieve future interest savings. One was issue in 2000 for construction of the waste treatment facility and matures in 2021. The other bonds were sold by the EDA in 2006 to finance the construction of the swimming pool. They mature in 2025. Ehlers, Inc. provided information about the status of the bonds in question as well as a detailed explanation of abatement. The council will take this up later when they have in hand the debt study McBride is preparing.

Environmental Quality Commission:  EQC Chair George Kinney summarized the commission’s accomplishments and work in progress. Most of the discussion centered on the pilot of a Food Wet-Waste Organics pilot which will be initiated in May. City Engineer Joe Stapf explained that because the Rice County Landfill is near capacity, it might soon be necessary to transport all waste to a more distant facility, increasing the price for that service. By eliminating the appropriate waste from trash collection and depositing it in the landfill, not only will this relieve pressure on the landfill, it could reduce property owners’ costs. The Food Wet-Waste Organics would be delivered to a facility where they would be composted.

A west side neighborhood of about 150 houses will be in the pilot program which will be analyzed in September with the possibility it may become city-wide later. The council will take action on the recommended pilot at the their meeting on May 7.

Water Street Development Project:  In 2011, the city received two proposals for redevelopment property at 303 and 305 Water Street (formerly the Key).  The Pitsavas family proposal was selected, and in the meantime, the city was awarded a Department of Employment & Economic Development grant to assist with the demolition.  In April, the city was notified by the Pitsavas that they were withdrawing from the proposed project.

The council needed to decide which among several courses to take, including reviewing and potentially renegotiating the proposal David and Jake Hvistendahl had made in 2011. While everyone agreed that it would be important to move redevelopment forward, several had concerns with Hvistendahls’ initial proposal.  Councilor Rhonda Pownell said she wished the EDA were sitting in on this and that she didn’t think their proposal was creative. She would just as soon demolish the building. Councilor Suzie Nakasian would like to see a taller building with possibly residential use. Instead of micromanaging, Councilor David Ludescher thought the city should put the property on the market.

A decision must be made soon or the city will lose the opportunity to apply the DEED grant to the project. The consensus was for staff to meet with David Hvistendahl to discuss how his proposal might be revised and brought back to the council. Saying he hoped Mr. Hvistendahl, who was in the audience, and had heard the discussion, could prepare an alternative proposal and he and the staff could come up with something for the council to consider within the next two weeks.

The meeting was adjourned at 9:40 p.m.

Comment:  Because of the League’s longstanding and comprehensive positions on protecting the environment, it makes sense to this observer for the Northfield League to support the organic waste pilot program, monitor the results, and, consider supporting the adoption of a city-wide application of the program.

If there are members of the League in the pilot neighborhood, they could be very helpful in this effort.


  • April 25 2013 at 7:24 am
    Kiffi Summa

    The process with the redevelopment of the former Key property is difficult to understand; A council that says they do not wish to micro-manage, did just that, and a lot of city money and redevelopment time has been wasted. There were other options that would have been so much more productive, and could have achieved the desired goal. When the decision was made to take this away from the infill committee of the EDA; that committee was well represented with downtown expertise. Then the Council's decision to buy the Key's half of the building (paying that youth organization much less than the estimated market value) and making the decision to act as redevelopers themself was the second complication. Years later, the city process has not worked out, the building still stands there, and a verified amount of $$ wasted in the city process is almost 80 K. If the city had given their half of the building to the Key, and then allowed the Key to market the entire property... with a sale contingency that the buyer must develop , or allow the city to develop, a real handicap accessible path to the riverwalk, the Key would have benefitted from the city's 'generosity' in supporting this valuable youth facility, and the City would have gotten the desired pathway to the river. If the Key board had not wanted to deal with the sale of the property, then if the City had bought the Key's half for the full value, and then turned the process over to a realtor, with a contract contingency guiding the redevelopment, and let interested parties bid, I would imagine there would be a new building there and the desired path. A second option for the city would have been a 'pocket park, outdoor food seating between the two adjoining restaurants, with the path to the riverwalk winding through it; that idea had legs in the EDA's infill committee. It's so frustrating to see the waste of time , and the waste of $$ which could have benefitted the Key's operation.

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