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BPU: Assessing annexation issues

The Brainerd Public Utilities Commission Tuesday morning discussed annexation issues related to two different properties. At the Sept. 20 Baxter City Council meeting, the council, along with Brainerd Mayor Ed Menk and Brainerd city Administrator ...

The Brainerd Public Utilities Commission Tuesday morning discussed annexation issues related to two different properties.

At the Sept. 20 Baxter City Council meeting , the council, along with Brainerd Mayor Ed Menk and Brainerd city Administrator Jim Thoreen, discussed the ongoing issue of annexing the BPU plant on Highland Scenic Drive from Baxter into Brainerd.

In a letter Menk presented to the council, he noted there are three outcomes for the issue: an annexation agreed upon by both cities, a court case brought by Brainerd or do nothing and proceed as things have been going. The council came to the consensus to keep the status quo and proceed as things are.

Tuesday, Thoreen told the commission the details of the meeting and further discussed the issue. He noted the plant's conditional use permit issued in 2007 created a joint wastewater management board which has never met. The intention was for the board to include two Brainerd City Council members, two Baxter City Council members and a BPU Commission member. The board was supposed to provide updates on how the plant was operating, he said, but it could also serve as a forum to discuss annexation issues.

Secretary/finance director Todd Wicklund outlined how the annexation process would happen if Brainerd decided to try to annex the property. The Brainerd City Council or the BPU Commission would submit a petition to the Municipal Boundary Adjustment Unit of the state Office of Administrative Hearings, he said, which handles annexations. The unit then has 30-60 days to schedule a hearing on the issue, with the city of Baxter as one of the parties to the hearing.

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The unit would consider the information submitted on the detachment and annexation, Wicklund said, and see if the situation fits the roughly 13 criteria for detachment and annexation. The unit's decision is final and would be the end of the issue.

"There's criteria that would be looked at," Wicklund said. "You know we've got mountains of evidence related to this thing."

Wicklund noted the first time the issue came up was in the late 1970s, so a final resolution to the issue could come via a Municipal Boundary Adjustment Unit hearing. The administrative law judge would consider how both cities would be affected or benefit from the detachment and annexation, he said.

The full council has not provided direction on how to proceed on the annexation issue, Thoreen said. However, he said he would guide the council in discussions on the issue, and leave it up to the council members to determine how a decision on this issue would impact the city's relationship with Baxter.

Past annexation procedures the city of Brainerd has undertaken were successful, commission member Lucy Nesheim said. Commission President Mark O'Day pointed out those issues were between a city and a township, while this one would be between two cities.

The city of Brainerd has cooperated with the city of Baxter for many years, Nesheim said, and has always stepped forward when the city of Baxter has asked for cooperation.

"At this time, I'm looking to Baxter to come forward with their spirit of cooperation," Nesheim said.

O'Day requested the issue be put on the agenda for the October meeting, so the commission could discuss the issue after reviewing more information on the issue.

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Fair to the fair

During public forum, Gary Doucette, manager of the Crow Wing County Fair Board, asked the commission to reconsider how the fairgrounds are charged for utilities. Because the fairgrounds are located in Oak Lawn Township and not the city of Brainerd, the fairgrounds is charged a double rate for utilities, which is the city's standing policy.

A 20 or 30 percent increase could be understandable, Doucette said, but a 200 percent charge is excessive. The fairgrounds are busy year-round, he said, and bring thousands of people to the area each year.

"Those people, they don't just spend their money at the fairgrounds," Doucette said. "They buy gas, they buy clothing, they buy everything."

The double charge for properties outside the city limits is a policy enacted by the city council and not the commission, O'Day said, and has been in place for years. He directed Doucette to speak with the council on the issue and Thoreen said he would work with him on it before the issue is brought before the council.

If the fairgrounds were annexed into the city of Brainerd, the double-rate charge would go away, Nesheim said.

"It's basically like you're really holding a gun to our head and saying 'Hey listen, if you don't, this is the way we're going to stand on it,'" Doucette said. "Look at how much revenue we bring into that community."

If the fairgrounds were annexed into the city, there would be more stringent rules and regulations, Doucette said, which could affect all the livestock brought into the fairgrounds during the Crow Wing County Fair and throughout the summer.

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If the double charge policy is eliminated for the fairgrounds, O'Day said, it sets a precedent and other properties outside the city limits could argue the policy should be eliminated for them, too. In general, if someone wants city services, they should be in the city, he said.

"You can't have the pluses on both sides," O'Day said.

 

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