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Brainerd City Council: Annexation issue comes to a head

The Brainerd City Council Monday night took the first step toward resolving an ongoing annexation issue between the cities of Brainerd and Baxter. The council approved a resolution to submit a petition to detach the Brainerd Public Utilities faci...

Rich Andresen of Brainerd Toastmasters addresses the Brainerd City Council during Monday night's meeting. Mayor Ed Menk at the meeting declared December 2016 Toastmasters Month in the city of Brainerd. Spenser Bickett/Brainerd Dispatch
Rich Andresen of Brainerd Toastmasters addresses the Brainerd City Council during Monday night's meeting. Mayor Ed Menk at the meeting declared December 2016 Toastmasters Month in the city of Brainerd. Spenser Bickett/Brainerd Dispatch

The Brainerd City Council Monday night took the first step toward resolving an ongoing annexation issue between the cities of Brainerd and Baxter.

The council approved a resolution to submit a petition to detach the Brainerd Public Utilities facility on Highland Scenic Drive from Baxter and into Brainerd. The resolution passed on a 6-1 vote, with council member Mary Koep voting against the motion.

The 99.51 acres includes the service center, wastewater treatment facility, a buffer south of the facility and a parcel to the east of the service center containing a former fitness facility.

The petition goes to the Municipal Boundary Adjustment Unit of the state Office of Administrative Hearings, which handles annexations. A chief administrative law judge then schedules a hearing on the issue, with the city of Baxter as one of the parties to the hearing.

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

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The administrative law judge would issue a ruling based on the best interests of the municipalities and the property owner, according to Minnesota Statute 414.061.

Council discussion

Representing the BPU Commission at Monday night's meeting were Lucy Nesheim and Bill Wroolie. Annexing the property into the city of Brainerd is in the best interest of both the city and BPU, Nesheim said. During the past few decades, the city of Brainerd has granted many requests from the city of Baxter in the spirit of cooperation, she said.

"I think it's time that they look at us and approve that also," Nesheim said. "At one point in time, we were led to believe that they would support this issue."

Nesheim added she fully expects the administrative law judge will approve the city of Brainerd's request. Koep asked Nesheim why the annexation would be in the city's best interest.

The utility would save money on permit and construction fees for any future construction, Nesheim said. Money would also be saved on stormwater fees charged to BPU by the city of Baxter, she said. Since 2006, those fees total $36,000.

Koep countered by saying though a city doesn't charge itself for services, there's still a cost associated with anything the city does for itself. As far as any problems with the city of Baxter, the facility was built in Baxter, she said, so "the city had their eyes wide open when they did it."

There were delays when the wastewater treatment facility was built, Nesheim said, which she blamed on the city of Baxter. Those delays can add up to thousands of dollars, she said.

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Those delays weren't the fault of the city of Baxter, Koep said, and couldn't be attributed to the facility's location. Representatives for the city of Baxter, which paid for one-third of the expansion costs, weren't holding up the process, she said.

"They were actually working on behalf of their people, which is their job," Koep said. "To be certain that a good agreement came out for them, as well as for Brainerd."

Council member Chip Borkenhagen brought up a past issue of Baxter residents who live near the facility complaining about the facility's odor. Those complaints, brought to the city of Brainerd, weren't addressed in a timely fashion, he said.

"That's going to be one of the pushbacks," Borkenhagen said.

The smell was attributed to fats, oils and greases getting into the wastewater treatment facility, Wroolie said, and the issue has been addressed. Those substances were getting into the system because the city of Baxter wasn't enforcing grease and fat collections at the restaurants within the city, Nesheim said.

"Once that was taken care of and we built the new wastewater treatment plant, we haven't had one complaint," Nesheim said. "That issue has been taken care of and it was basically Baxter's doing."

Council member Kelly Bevans asked if anyone had a copy of Baxter Mayor Darrel Olson's response to the city's requests regarding the city of Baxter's position on the issue. After city Administrator Jim Thoreen said no copy was available, Bevans said it was because Olson has not responded. Bevans tends to support the wishes of BPU and not support those who won't respond to the city's requests, he said.

"We've asked as nice as we could over the 20 years," Bevans said. "At this point, I would support the public utilities and move forward on this and come to a conclusion."

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Koep, who voted against the motion, said she couldn't support it because the city needs to cooperate with the city of Baxter on a wide variety of issues. The city of Baxter has been a good neighbor, she said, and has a different view on the issue of annexation.

"I don't like seeing us go to the state and pitting neighbor against neighbor," Koep said. "I don't see how we win that."

It has been difficult to get the cities together to speak about the annexation issue, council member Sue Hilgart said. But both sides will get to speak at the administrative hearing on the petition for detachment and annexation, she said.

Background

At its Oct. 3 meeting, the Brainerd City Council decided to not do anything about the annexation issue until the BPU Commission acted on it at its October meeting, which was later that month. At its Oct. 25 meeting, the BPU Commission unanimously approved a motion to ask the city of Brainerd to file a petition to a state office to annex the facility from Baxter into Brainerd.

On Sept. 20, Brainerd Mayor Ed Menk and city Administrator Jim Thoreen attended a Baxter City Council meeting to present a letter regarding the annexation of land beneath the BPU facility. The council then discussed the issue in closed session and upon returning to open session, city attorney Brad Person said consensus was for the property to remain in the city of Baxter. 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.

Menk and Thoreen left when the Baxter council members went into the closed session. The Brainerd Dispatch reported on the content of the meeting and included the Baxter City Council's stance on the issue.

At the Baxter meeting, 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.

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.

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.

A letter from BPU secretary/finance director Todd Wicklund to the Brainerd City Council and Menk dated Nov. 4 provides more detail on the long-running annexation issue. In 1994, Wicklund noted the city of Baxter passed a motion to allow detachment of the property subject to adoption of the resolution and joint powers agreement by the city of Brainerd, which the city did approve. However, he noted Baxter did not sign the resolution and joint powers agreement.

In other business, the council:

Approved a final contractor payment to Anderson Brothers Construction for the sanitary sewer block 46 project in the amount of $1,077. The council also approved an overrun of the total project cost of $2,187, which brings the total contract cost to $96,131.

Approved a contractor payment to Braun Intertec for work through Oct. 21 on the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport utility extension project in the amount of $2,548.

Approved a contractor payment to Tom's Backhoe Service for work through Oct. 31 on the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport utility extension project in the amount of $1,275,528, with $67,133 retained.

Received a written report from Police Chief Corky McQuiston on the department's activity for the month of October. The department responded to 1,644 calls during the month. This compares to 1,591 calls in October 2015.

Approved a proclamation made by Menk declaring December 2016 as Toastmasters Month in the city of Brainerd. This proclamation was accompanied by a presentation from Rich Andresen, member of Brainerd Toastmasters.

Approved an event/street closure application submitted by the Brainerd Jaycees for the Homeless Heroes 5K, 1 mile and all veterans expo from 8:30-11:30 a.m. Dec. 10. The event takes place along College Drive to Kiwanis Park and around Boom Lake trail, using only sidewalks and side streets, so no streets will need to be closed.

Accepted with regret the resignation of probationary police officer Patrick Campbell, who resigned on Nov. 3 during this sixth week of training. The council also authorized a conditional job offer to Nicholas Petrie to replace Campbell. Petrie is the next available candidate on the department's list of eligible candidates. Petrie's tentative starting date is Dec. 27, contingent on the successful completion of pre-employment screening.

Authorized Fire Chief Tim Holmes to sell the fire engine No. 1, as the department's new engine was delivered on Nov. 12. Engine No. 1 is from 1992.

Authorized Holmes to sell the department's 1989 hovercraft, as its repair costs outweigh its usefulness. The proceeds of the sale will be used toward the purchase of an inflatable boat with a motor and trailer.

Approved an engagement letter from CliftonLarsonAllen for 2016 audit services in the amount of $44,880. This is an increase of 2 percent over the 2015 fee of $44,000.

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