By Jennifer Kotila
KINGSTON, MN The city of Kingston conducted a public hearing for residents to have their say regarding the dissolution of the city Friday.
The hearing is the next step in a process which began by residents who circulated a petition calling for the dissolution.
After the petition was presented to the city council, it was filed with the MN Bureau of Boundary Adjustment, which handles the process of dissolution.
In matters of this nature, an administrative law judge conducts the public hearings to make sure they are done in a fair and impartial manner.
Administrative Law Judge James LaFave conducted the hearing in Kingston, and noted that public comments would be accepted through Wednesday, Oct. 3.
Those wishing to submit comments in writing can send them to James LaFave, Office of Administrative Hearings, PO Box 64620, St. Paul, MN 55164-0620, or e-mail them to James.Lafave@state.mn.us.Less than 3 percent of the 161 people who live within the city limits of Kingston were present at a public hearing regarding the dissolution of the city Friday.
A vote regarding the dissolution of the city will take place at a later date. It cannot go on the ballot for Tuesday, Nov. 6, because those ballots have already been printed, according to City Clerk Bob Harms.
Kingston residents voice their thoughts
Less than 3 percent of the 161 people who live within the city limits of Kingston were present at the public hearing.
Out of the three citizens and the city clerk who were in attendance from the 61 households in Kingston, two of them were from the same household.
Others in attendance included Kingston Township resident Mike Housman, and reporters from two local newspapers. State representative Dean Urdahl (R-Acton Township) arrived about 15 minutes after the public hearing concluded.
City Clerk Bob Harms answered several questions from LaFave pertaining to the city of Kingston.
Harms noted that residents brought forth the petition because they felt having a city government was redundant, and money could be saved by having the township absorb the city.
The city does not have its own fire department, police force, sewer and water, or city offices.
As of 2011, Kingston had a population of 161 residents in 61 households. The township had a population of 1,248 residents on 436 households.
The city of Kingston contracts with Meeker County for street maintenance.
The only property owned by the city is part of the community center (co-owned by Kingston Township and the Kingston American Legion), a pump house and fire hydrant, the playground and baseball field, and it holds the deed to the lot where the veterans memorial is located.
When Harms was finished answering questions about the city, residents had the opportunity to have their say.
The overwhelming sentiment amongst those present is that dissolving the city would save them money.
“To me, even a couple hundred dollars saved is big,” said resident Lori Welles. However, she also wanted to know what would happen with the money in Kingston’s city budget.
She wanted to know if it would be divided amongst the residents of the city, or if it would be handed over to the township.
The city’s proposed budget for 2013 is $33,979. The city expects to receive $12,833 in local government aid, and plans to levy $21,146.
As of Sept. 8, the city had $40,548 in a checking account, which is its operating budget, and $92,200 in a CD.
Harms informed those in attendance that the money which is saved is to be used for road construction and street repair, when needed.
Speaking as a citizen, and not as the city clerk, Harms noted that if the money would be turned over to the township, it would be in the township’s best interest to set it aside for road repairs.
If it didn’t, it would have to collect that much more in taxes for road repairs, he said.
Noting that, as a township resident, he did not have a vote, Housman encouraged the residents to become fully informed before voting on dissolving the city.
An economic analysis has not been completed in order for residents to fully understand how dissolving the city would affect the taxes of city residents, or township residents, Housman noted.
The last time the city of Kingston was discussing dissolution, residents’ taxes would have been about $200 less, Welles noted.
Resident Wendy Steinborn contacted the county about her taxes would be affected before going out with the petition, she said.
She was told to compare the city tax to the township tax on the statement sent to her house, and the difference would be her savings, which would be between $120 and $140, Steinborn said.
Paying for the mayor, city clerk, and council members is redundant, she noted, bringing attention to a letter the mayor recently brought to the council’s attention.
The letter informed the city there was a new law requiring cities to have a clerk available 40 hours per week, Steinborn said, noting the city of Dassel recently hired a full-time city clerk for $36,000 per year.
LaFave wasn’t aware of the mandate, and could not answer questions about it.
Harms noted he could see why the state would begin requiring this, noting that more and more work is required of city clerks by the state.
“My wife and I said we have to do something about this,” said resident Dale Steinborn about the letter. “We have lived here 20 years, and can’t believe how much we pay for taxes. We have nothing here anymore no businesses. We have to try something.”
He noted that maybe the township or county would have better ideas about getting businesses into town again.
When Urdahl arrived, he was asked about the city clerk mandate, but wasn’t aware of it, either.
Another point made by Harms at the meeting was that if any repairs were needed for the bridge over the Crow River in town, the city would be responsible for paying for them.
LaFave concluded the hearing stating that if the citizens voted in favor of dissolution, the city would have six months to wrap up its business affairs.
“I hope that if the citizens decide to keep the city, they will get more involved,” Harms said.
Following the meeting, speculations were shared regarding what would happen to the city’s finances if it were resolved, whether it would be returned to residents, or if it would be handed over to the township.
Harms noted that the city would be able to spend down as much of the budget as possible, using it to make road repairs or other improvements before being absorbed by the township.