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Northfield City Council Meeting - May 21, 2013

May 22, 2013 at 1:21 pm
By Jane McWilliams

It should have been a fairly brief meeting, given the short agenda:  eight consent agenda items (which require no debate and are voted on as a group), a public hearing and a discussion with a task force.  But the council adjourned at 10:07, having removed and hotly discussed four consent agenda items (placed on the regular agenda) and the hearing issue before finally meeting with the Streetscape Task Force at 9:15. Dan Bergeson and Ross Currier, members of the Streetscape Task Force, sat through over two hours of council deliberations before they were invited to the table to provide a progress report on their work.

Approval of amendment to revenue note and issuance and sale of two refunding notes:  State law permits the city to approve tax exempt financing (conduit debt issues) to private entities and non profits for certain purposes, including residential housing for the elderly in order to permit lower cost debt for qualified organizations. Earlier councils had approved conduit debt issues for both Three Links, for construction of Millstream Commons, and to Northfield Retirement Center for expansion of Park View facility and construction of a new memory care home. The action requested tonight would reduce the cost of the loans to the two organizations by taking advantage of lower interest rates. Finance Director Kathleen McBride noted that “the city is not responsible for the debt, but simply provides a means (conduit) of providing tax-exempt financing for these purposes,” nor do they do not change the city’s debt capacity. 

Councilor David Ludescher said he didn’t understand conduit financing and was reluctant to support the requests. He voted against approval of the Northfield Retirement Center request. Councilor Ludescher said he’d like to see the Millstream Commons request tabled until the council understands it – that the city is straying outside the limitations of the statute to create low income housing. He wondered why the city is using public dollars to fund private institutions. City Administrator Tim Madigan noted that it was difficult to answer all his questions on the spot and that it would be good to get them ahead of time so that staff could research them.

Approval of License Agreement with Railroad for TIGER Trail Bridge: In order to construct a pedestrian bridge over the Union Pacific tracks at Greenvale Avenue as part of the trail from Greenvale Avenue to Second Street, the council must approve a license agreement and authorize payment of $1,000 and later $30,360 (to be taken from the federal and local TIGER funds) to the railroad. Several members of the public spoke. Jon Denison asked if the city had agreements with the five property owners or whether this would hold up the project. Don McGee, who is in favor of the project overall, noted that when a project has as may problems as this one seems to have, it is prudent to “take stock of where we are and then regroup.” Victor Summa asked whether the cost of removing a hill under the tunnel has been considered. 

There has been a delay in a land exchange on the Crossing property, according to City Engineer Joe Stapf, resulting in the city’s condemnation of an area on the Crossing property. The council authorized the license and funding, with Councilor’s Ludescher and David DeLong (who said he didn’t like the “freight train approach”) voting no.

Discussion of Streetscape Task Force 2013 Projects: Ross Currier and Dan Bergeson joined the council around the table, along with City Engineer Joe Stapf. The packet included a comprehensive report on completed projects, as well as an accounting of the expenditures to date and projected. Lighting in the down town and along Highway 3, creating safe crossing for pedestrians and cyclists on Highway 3 and Third Street, and a master plan for Bridge Square were the focus of the discussion.  Demands on Bridge Square space have changed over time and the task force sees the need for a new and better layout to accommodate needs and interests in the community. According to Mr. Bergeson, there will be opportunities for public to weigh in on the Bridge Square process. Councilor Suzie Nakasian suggested that the redesign of Bridge Square take into account the significant planning for the river, corridor which will open the river to hikers, canoes and kayaks. 

The council approved expenditure of up to $25,000 for the firm Stantec (John Slack, Consultant) to create a master plan for Bridge Square.  They also directed staff to talk with the Minnesota Department of Transportation about improvement of the Third Street intersection. Funds for these and other streetscape projects come from the city’ Master Development Fund, proceeds from the Tax Increment Financing District which must be used by the end of this calendar year.

Other Issues:

Councilor Nakasian circulated a report announcing that there is no language in the transportation bill to lift the moratorium on the Dan Patch Line, but she sees the likelihood there will be more success in the 2014 legislative session.

The council ordered a special election on November 5, 2013 to fill the City Council Ward 4 Vacancy. Jessica Peterson White was appointed to that seat from October 24, 2012 to December 31, 2013, after which a special election must be held to fill the seat until December 31, 2014, thus filling out Patrick Ganey’s term following his October 2012 resignation.

A June 4, 2013 hearing on the issuance of tax abatement bonds to refund the Economic Development Authority Lease Revenue Bonds that financed the outdoor pool was approved. Because of the questions raised during the approval of the conduit debt instruments earlier in the evening, the city’s bond counsel and finance advisor will be on hand to provide information about this matter.

Councilor Ludescher, who also serves on the Charter Commission, reported that City Attorney Chris Hood will meet with the commission to help them understand who is responsible for the interpretation of the charter.

Comments

  • May 23 2013 at 10:17 am
    Bonnie Jean Flom

    As always, your report provides a tremendous service to our community, Jane. Covering the work of a public body is always challenging, but never more so than when the meeting process is not moving along as we might expect or want it to. Thank you for the time, commitment, and clarity you bring to this important work.

  • May 25 2013 at 7:00 am
    David Ludescher

    Jane,

    If the League of Women Voters is interested in hearing why I think citizens are being denied their right to vote because of these multiple "conduit financing" arrangements, I would be more than happy to explain what I do know.

    One of the agenda items called for the City to execute a $5,000,000.00 note to the bank.  While the claim is that the statute provides that the city can engage in this type of financing, I did not see the authority referenced in the packet (except generally as the statute number) nor did I see it referenced in the statute itself.  Can you or anyone else point me to the section of the Northfield charter that provides that the city can take upon itself a $5M obligation without voter approval? 

    Also, the fact that it was on the consent agenda is extremely disconcerting to me.  Why is approval for a $5M note buried in the consent agenda?

    As far as the difficulty of answering the questions - the item shouldn't be on the consent agenda if even the Finance Director cannot answer the questions.  Period.  I'm not going to vote in favor of something until I am certain that the law gives me the authority to act.

  • May 28 2013 at 8:55 pm
    Orick Peterson

    I greatly appreciate your report. I feel that I benefit from your judicious and insightful attendance and observation without undergoing the trials of two hours of deliberations. Thank you!

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