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Northfield City Council Meeting - June 18, 2013

June 19, 2013 at 2:26 pm
By Jane McWilliams

Mayor pro tem Rhonda Pownell chaired the meeting in the absence of Mayor Dana Graham. 

Issuance of Tax Abatement Refunding Bonds:  This complex item attracted a lot of public questions prior to this meeting and the presence of a number of people tonight. It also resulted in extensive council questions and discussion.

City staff proposed that the council authorize sale of general obligation bonds to replace previously authorized revenue bonds that funded the swimming pool and the wastewater treatment plant. The main purpose of refunding these two bonds is to reduce the interest, estimated to be an annual savings of $35,000.00. Rather than partially paying the debt from revenue from each (pool fees and utility fees), the debt would be spread citywide.

The pool had been funded originally by lease revenue bonds issued by the Economic Development Authority, meaning that that body actually owned the facility. With the tax abatement, the city will own the pool.

A public hearing is required as is notification of property owners within a certain area around the pool. This resulted in confusion, with those property owners fearing that their property taxes would be affected. Finance Director Kathleen McBride acknowledged that this was an unfortunate confusion, but assured everyone that those property owners would not be affected any differently from other taxpayers. 

Councilors David Ludescher and David DeLong peppered with questions Jenny Boulton of bond counselors Kennedy and Graven, as well as Mark Ruff and Nick Anhut, of the finance advisory firm Ehlers, Inc. Both councilors stated their opposition to city taking on debt without taxpayer vote. As she had at the April 23 work session, Councilor Suzie Nakasian said this matter is difficult to communicate clearly and suggested that this funding mechanism, in particular public notification, be the topic of a work session.

At around 8:30, the council took action to approve the abatement and to issue sale of bonds both for refunding the pool Lease Revnue Bond and wastewater Public Facility note, and to finance street projects. Councilors Ludescher and Delong voted no on both measures.

Temporary Liquor License for Defeat of Jesse James Days:  Mayor pro tem Pownell voted against this action because of concern that among other events during that weekend, alcohol would be served at a private Fire Department function, held in the area behind the safety center for emergency personnel, city employees and their families. She said she had no problem with DJJD, but that her issue was use of the safety center site and that she would prefer that the function be held elsewhere.

TIGER Trail actions:  There were many cyclists in attendance, some of whom spoke, and one (Lin Bruce) sang their support for the completion of the trail which they deemed critical to pedestrian and bicycle traffic from the west side. Two west side residents, Noah Cashman and Jon Denison asked the council to vote against the relevant motions, which passed with Councilors Ludescher and Delong voting no.

Lashbrook Park Rezoning:  This action sets in motion the rezoning from high density to a public benefit district of a small out lot abutting Lashbrook Park, thus incorporating it into the park.

Because of the lateness of the hour, (9:45), the final agenda items which were scheduled for and deserved discussion, received short shrift.

Charter Commission Proposal:  Commission Chair Tony Becker briefly outlined the commission’s proposal to amend the charter to create a code of ethics and a review process. The draft ordinance is included in the council packet: http://mn-northfield.civicplus.com/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/833.

NDDC Downtown Parking Conversation:  Shortly before 10:00 p.m. and once the meeting was extended by vote to 10:15, Ross Currier, Executive Director of the Northfield Downtown Development Corporation outlined the themes of the report.  Council comments and suggestions indicated that there would need to be further discussion of the recommendations. Councilor Jessica Peterson White suggested that the council’s subcommittee and city staff assess what items might be actionable and report back to the council.

The meeting adjourned around 10:15 without the council discussion on the Paperless Agenda Process.

Comments

  • June 19 2013 at 10:52 pm
    David Ludescher

    Jane,

    Tax abatement bonds aren't complicated.  What is and was complicated was the byzantine procedure the City used to force this square peg into a round hole.

    It all started with the Council using the EDA to finance the swimming pool - an action which clearly is outside the scope of "economic development".  The EDA then became the owner of the pool with the City leasing the pool in the same amount as (surprise, surprise) the bond payments, which were paid for by a levy instituted by the EDA.

    This most recent action, while commendable for saving money, was clearly outside the scope of the statute.  The tax abatement permitted by the statute is for the taxes paid by the SWIMMING POOL (which was the economic development project).  Because the pool didn't and doesn't pay taxes, bond counsel arbitrarily set up a "tax abatement district" consisting of all the properties within 1200 feet of the pool.  This "circle of abatement" has no basis in either law or reality.  

    Citizens were rightly confused as to why their properties were singled out for abatement, and subsequently, for re-assessment of the same amount of taxes on their property.  I have read the statute multiple times.  I am still confused as to how this can possibly be a tax abatement. 

    The proper procedures, and the only ones authorized by law or the Northfield charter are a general obligation bond and a capital improvement bond.

    Perhaps just as importantly, I continue to be flabbergasted that the Northfield News and the Northfield League of Women Voters has taken no affirmation position on the Council's continuing denial of the voters right to vote, and on the converse side, the Council's unwillingness to do both the right thing and the legal thing.  

  • June 21 2013 at 11:23 am
    kiffi summa

    David: I understand your concern, but it is misplaced in suggesting that the LWV should take this on. There is simply not the resources to investigate and legally deal with a problem of this nature , even if the investigative study revealed an 'irregular' action. As for the NFNews, they are, IMO, selective in what they choose to pursue when it comes to city actions. Instead of just saying the council action is wrong, you need to present a case that is as compelling as their "professionals". There is political 'stuff' going on that does not allow a professional colleague the same 'weight'. unfortunate but true, as I see it. The divisive politics that now exist on the council do not bode well for anything, but more administrative power, and for councilors like you and Mr. DeLong, who are looking for answers, it is going to be tough to get your questions answered to your satisfaction.

  • June 22 2013 at 8:57 am
    Jane McWilliams
    David - While as individuals, LWV members might question some of the funding choices the council has made, the organization has neither the resources nor the policy positions to challenge the professional advice the city council has had in making decisions about financing public facilities.
  • July 3 2013 at 6:16 pm
    David Ludescher

    Kiffi and Jane,

    I'm not requesting that the League challenge the "professional advice" that the City Council is receiving.  I am requesting that the League take a position that Northfield citizens should be allowed to vote on public debt.  Period.  (In reality, the fact that "professionals" are saying that the Council can avoid the taxpayers should be disconcerting, not comforting.  There are very few voters who understand why the "professionals" are saying what they are saying, and those of us who do understand their mumbo-jumbo know that the citizens are being hoodwinked because the previous council wanted to bypass the voters.) 

     If these kinds of shenanigans and this kind of "creative financing" continue, we, the citizens may never get the opportunity to vote on public debt again.  That should be an important concern of the League as it involves our most fundamental right in this country, and one that women worked hard to get.

    Here's a thought - sponsor a forum, and let people make up their own mind.

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