By Ivan Raconteur
There were only a few items on the agenda for Wednesday’s city council meeting in New Germany, but what it lacked in quantity, it made up in drama.
The meeting began with a public hearing regarding the northwest area utility and street improvement project.
A feasibility study for the project was prompted by the need to extend utilities to the proposed Trophy Lake Estates development north of the city.
The path to Trophy Lakes has taken more twists and turns than a roller coaster at an amusement park, and this hearing was no exception.
What appeared to be a mere formality that was required before the city could authorize preparation of plans and specifications for the project ended in a standoff between the council and developer Grant Hustad.
The council said it represents all of the residents of New Germany, and it was not comfortable moving forward with the project unless it receives some security, such as an escrow account, from Hustad to protect the city if Hustad were to walk away from the project.
Hustad contended that he has already invested a lot in the project and cannot put any more money into it until the city can guarantee sewer hookups for the development.
City Engineer Sheila DeWolf made it clear that the city cannot approve a final plat for the project until the Metropolitan Council approves the city’s new comprehensive plan.
The site of the proposed development is currently zoned agricultural, and cannot be rezoned until the comp plan is approved.
DeWolf also made it clear that if the city does not authorize preparation of plans and specifications soon, it will miss the April target for advertising for bids for the project. DeWolf said this would reduce the number and quality of bids the city could expect to receive for the project.
DeWolf told Hustad that delays will mean that no homes can be built in the development until 2010, rather than when the land comes out of agricultural preserve in 2009 as Hustad had hoped.
Neither side was willing to change its position, and the result was a standoff, with the project put on hold.
Public hearing debate continues
Council Member Marc Trujillo walked out of the Oct. 16 council meeting in protest when the council voted to waive a public hearing for a liquor license application in violation of a city ordinance.
The debate is clearly not dead, and led to raised voices and a heated exchange between Trujillo and Mayor Pete Pederson Wednesday.
It began when Pederson chastised Trujillo for his actions.
“You have the right to disagree, but when you left that meeting, you took your vote with you,” Pederson said, adding that Trujillo took an oath and had a responsibility to work for the citizens of New Germany.
“I do work for the citizens of New Germany. I am doing a service to the city. You are not serving the city because you are not enforcing your own ordinance,” Trujillo responded. The exchange continued until other council members intervened.
The subject came up again later in the meeting when Council Member Chip Purcell said he had been approached by a resident who asked if the city was going to require a public hearing for a liquor license application for another bar that is changing hands.
This led to a spirited debate among the mayor and council about the potential impact of the required hearing.
Purcell said the council needs to either change the ordinance or enforce it.
Tax picture for 2008 is better than expected
Perhaps the least controversial topic provided the best news for city residents.
The preliminary 2008 tax levy approved by the council in September reflected an increase of 48 percent compared to 2007, raising concern among many city residents.
Last week, City Clerk Joan Guthmiller, Pederson, and members of the council met with DeWolf and auditor Andy Berg of Abdo, Eick & Meyers to discuss the situation.
The result was a plan that will significantly reduce the proposed levy increase.
The situation began when an audit detected a $76,831 deficit in the city’s sewer fund. The deficit was the result of the city incurring engineering costs for the planned wastewater treatment cost before financing was available for the project.
The city expects to bond for the project in 2008 or 2009.
To reduce the 2008 tax increase, the council approved a resolution transferring $47,800 from the general fund to the sewer fund. This transfer will eventually be repaid from bond proceeds.
The impact on the 2008 levy is significant, dropping the total from $219,806 to $172,006.
The new figure represents an increase of approximately 16 percent compared to 2007, rather than the 48 percent reflected on the preliminary levy.
Guthmiller stated that she has been in contact with Carver County, and the tax statements have already been printed and will not reflect the change in the proposed levy.
City residents who have questions about their taxes may attend the city’s truth in taxation hearing, Tuesday, Dec. 4 at 7 p.m. or contact the Carver County Auditor’s office.
New county attorney visits
Recently appointed Carver County Attorney James Keeler Jr. attended the meeting to introduce himself to the council.
Keeler has lived in Carver County since 1990, and was employed as an assistant Carver County attorney for six years prior to taking a job with the Hennepin County Attorney’s office.
Keeler described the appointment as “a homecoming.”
In September, Keeler was appointed to serve the remainder of the term vacated by long-time Carver County Attorney Michael Fahey, who left to take a position as a judge in Scott County.
Holiday decorating set
Council Member Shirley Jaeger said the park commission plans to hang the city’s Christmas decorations Saturday, Nov. 17 at 1 p.m. At the same time, to prevent winter damage, the city will also wrap protective plastic around the trees that were planted last summer along the Dakota Rail corridor in the city. Volunteers are still needed to help with both projects.