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Baxter City Council: Council responds to annexation letter from Brainerd

BAXTER--One of the choices before Brainerd and Baxter in relation to a possible annexation is to keep things as they have been for decades and that's the choice Baxter prefers.

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Brainerd Mayor Ed Menk and Jim Thoreen, Brainerd city administrator, attended Baxter's Tuesday meeting to present a letter regarding the annexation of land beneath Brainerd Public Utilities. The plant was built on land in Baxter off Highland Scenic Drive. BrainerdDispatch.com / Google maps

BAXTER-One of the choices before Brainerd and Baxter in relation to a possible annexation is to keep things as they have been for decades and that's the choice Baxter prefers.

Brainerd Mayor Ed Menk and Jim Thoreen, Brainerd city administrator, attended Baxter's Tuesday meeting to present a letter regarding the annexation of land beneath Brainerd Public Utilities. The plant was built on land in Baxter off Highland Scenic Drive.

In the letter, Menk noted there are three possible outcomes, an annexation agreed upon by both cities, a court case brought by Brainerd or do nothing and proceed as things have been going.

"At this time I do not believe that the Brainerd City Council will opt" for the do nothing option, Menk stated in the two-page letter. If mutually agreed upon annexation was the route, Menk noted the costs could be minimized.

"If an agreement cannot be obtained several Brainerd City Council (members) have publicly stated that they would desire to pursue a court case to force the issue. Financially this would have negative consequences and would set back both cities ability to work together for many years," Menk wrote. "While this may seem trivial, the Brainerd City Council and the (Brainerd Public Utilities) do have civic pride in their ownership of the facility and the fact that it is located in Baxter's jurisdiction causes some concern. They believe the various departments and their facilities would be best served if they were to operate within the city limits of Brainerd."

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After the meeting, asked if this was one of Brainerd's most pressing challenges, Menk said he wasn't leading the charge to do it but was given a charge to bring the issue to Baxter by his city council. Menk said he was just the messenger and wasn't pushing a lawsuit. Menk said the BPU board wants to see this happen as well as members on the Brainerd City Council such as Gary Scheeler, Kelly Bevans and Gabe Johnson.

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"It's based on a number of issues, one there is ego involved we'll be honest about it." - Brainerd Mayor Ed Menk

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"It's based on a number of issues, one there is ego involved we'll be honest about it. We own it we'd like it within our parameters," Menk said. "Any improvements we wish to do we believe we could do better within the city."

Conversations about annexing to give BPU a Brainerd address has been raised as an option for at least a decade. Since 2015, those conversations surrounding annexation increased and in some cases heated up between the cities with Brainerd suggesting it may take Baxter to court to gain the property.

"We fully recognize and appreciate the long history of this property," Menk's letter stated. "Our cities have accomplished much together to ensure our residents of efficient, cost effective water and sewer service through our mutually agreed and constructed past projects. I believe our residents and businesses expect no less from our cities."

The letter listed what Brainerd considered relevant factors to annex the property. Among those factors: issues raised with the wastewater treatment plant, such as odor and noise, have been taken care of; discussion on future easements with growth will be open. The letter noted Baxter residents may be nervous this is just the start to annexation but no one to date has suggested other parcels will be annexed going forward.

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"We believe that having the BPU facilities will be in the best interests of all of our customers," Menk's letter noted, specifically listing the permitting processes, communications and services that is foreseen to reduce costs in the future with upgrades, rate stabilization and financing pay back. After the agenda item, while the Baxter City Council met in closed session to discuss the matter, Menk said there wasn't a cost savings figure to point to at this time but he related that to potential future projects.

When the council resumed in open session, Brad Person, city attorney, recapped the council discussion noting the letter. Person said the consensus was to keep the status quo that has been working for 30 years. Weighing considerations of legal fees and staff costs, it seems to be the best option for the Baxter City Council at this time, Person said.

Baxter Mayor Darrel Olson noted the city council met with residents in the area and heard concern both from those in attendance and others who sent in written statements regarding the annexation. Residents previously had concerns with odors from the plant and told council members they did not get response from the plant when they called or when they stopped in the office in person. The plant's conditional use permit is governed by the city of Baxter in terms of noise and odors. Olson said the council's decision is what neighbors requested.

Menk and Thoreen left when the Baxter council members went into the closed session. Menk said Brainerd and Baxter work together on 99 percent of things and this is just a small percentage. This question is just one of many items in the city's purview, Menk said.

"If they choose not to it goes back to our council and they may choose not to pursue it at all," Menk said. "... For a while there was no talking between the two cities because there was animosity at this point at least Mayor Olson and myself can sit down and have a pleasant conversation about this without either one of us getting up from the table angry. Which is a big thing."

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Related Topics: BAXTERBRAINERD
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