Blue Earth OKs 3 percent levy hike

BLUE EARTH – Blue Earth City Council approved a 3 percent property tax levy increase Monday.

The 2014 levy will total $1.2 million, said city administrator Kathy Bailey.

On Sept. 3, the council set a preliminary levy of $1.3 million, she reminded the council. The levy could be lowered from that point, but not raised.

Bailey said the levy must be passed and certified to the county auditor before Dec. 15. Since that date is a Sunday, the deadline is extended to Dec. 16, which is the date of the next council meeting. However, the certification cannot be done the following day, so the council needed to pass a levy Monday or call a special meeting.

Turning to other business, the council approved a preliminary draft of a joint powers animal impound agreement, taking a step forward on a long-simmering issue.

The agreement will be presented to Faribault County commissioners, and the cities of Elmore and Winnebago. Details, such as who will serve on the joint powers board and what its duties will be, are yet to be worked out.

“Each community will decide who they put on the board,” said Mayor Rick Scholtes.

Sheriff Mike Gormley spoke up in favor of the deal. He met recently with the police chiefs of Blue Earth, Winnebago and Elmore. Law enforcement has concerns regarding animals being held for a set amount of time. He wants to “be fiscally responsible to taxpayers.”

Gormley mentioned that a lot of time had been spent meeting to discuss Blue Earth’s animal impound facility and an agreement with the Faribault County Humane Society.

“I want a resolution to what we do,” Gormley said. With the joint powers agreement, “Everybody would have a voice in what’s going on,” he noted.

“I feel the joint powers is a good idea,” said Councilman Dan Brod. “It can improve the situation with the animals going in and coming out. We do need an animal control officer in the county, and we don’t have one now.”

“Would each community have one vote?” asked Councilman Glenn Gaylord.

“I would not be in favor of it being based on population,” said Councilman John Huisman.

“It’s a good direction for the whole group to go,” Scholtes said of the joint powers agreement.

Pending approval by the other entities, Blue Earth will continue to operate its pound under the current lease with the Humane Society, he added.

Moving to another topic, City Engineer Wes Brown had news on the North Industrial Park.

In doing research on the land at the northwest corner of the intersection of Interstate 90 and Highway 169, two entities expressed concerns. The state historical society wanted to be sure there were no artifacts. None were found, Brown noted. The Army Corps of Engineers said the land has potential as a wetlands. Experts look for a soil type based on whether the soil is wet more than 50 percent of the time, Brown said, and 1.8 acres have been determined to have those conditions.

Wetlands can’t be disturbed unless there is mitigation, meaning new wetlands must be established elsewhere to replace what is being developed. And the new area must be twice as large.

So, to make up for the 1.8 acres in the industrial park, the city could create 3.6 acres of new wetlands or do a credit purchase on that amount of land, which would cost $100,000 to $120,000, Brown said.

“Nine times out of ten, it’s cheaper to buy credits,” he noted.

That’s because if the city establishes a new wetlands, it would need monitoring and care to make sure the right grass and native foliage was growing.

“Very expensive,” Brown said.

Gaylord asked if the lots in question are needed or if other land can be purchased instead.

“I believe we do need those lots,” said Linsey Warmka, director of the Faribault County Development Corporation, adding that one business expressing a desire to locate in the industrial park likes the visibility from the interstate those particular lots provide.

The council took no action on the industrial park.