Brainerd City Council: Work session raises more questions

A Brainerd City Council work session Monday night involving discussion on a potential annexation was summed up by council member Mary Koep as she was leaving the work session.

The Brainerd City Council meets for a work session Monday night in a meeting room at the Brainerd Fire Department. (Brainerd Dispatch/Spenser Bickett)
The Brainerd City Council meets for a work session Monday night in a meeting room at the Brainerd Fire Department. (Brainerd Dispatch/Spenser Bickett)

A Brainerd City Council work session Monday night involving discussion on a potential annexation was summed up by council member Mary Koep as she was leaving the work session.

"More questions than answers," Koep said.

The council met in a work session Monday in a meeting room at the Brainerd Fire Department with two topics on the agenda. The first, to discuss the potential annexation of the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport. The second, to talk with Crow Wing County officials about moving toward a paperless city hall.


Comments and concerns


Council President Gary Scheeler said the airport utility extension project could end up costing as much as $14 million. The city of Brainerd will issue the bonds to pay for the upfront costs of the project, so "it's a lot easier to sell that idea if it was part of the city," he said.

A disadvantage of annexing the airport would be the cost of bringing infrastructure to the airport, Scheeler said. That disadvantage is gone, he said, because the city is already bringing water and wastewater service to the airport via the current project.

"Well, we're bringing the cost up there, so now that disadvantage is kind of erased," Scheeler said.

Council member Sue Hilgart asked if the Oak Lawn Township Board would support proceeding with orderly annexation. If they aren't, she said, orderly annexation is a moot point, because it requires mutual agreement. Answering the question, Scheeler said he "would probably say no."

"Well then that kind of tells us the direction," Hilgart responded. "If there's not two parties in agreement, there can't be an orderly annexation."

Scheeler asked City Engineer Jeff Hulsether how the city would monitor and control flows into the utility system if the airport weren't within the city limits. Hulsether responded he would need to work on that issue more, as there's questions about requirements, permitting processes, control and management. Regardless of the long-term solution, the city will need to have a plan in place for the fall when the system is connected, he said.

If someone requests to hook up to the system, the city would need to inspect their plumbing system to ensure it meets the required standards, Hulsether said. But the city won't be inspecting any plumbing systems if the homeowner doesn't request to hook up to the system, Koep noted.

"We're not just going on people's property willy-nilly and demanding to see what their septic system looks like," Koep said.


The city's current policy requires someone outside the city limits who receives utility service to annex into the city when they're able to, Hulsether said, and customers outside the city limits receiving utility service are also charged a double rate for the service. Council member Kelly Bevans pointed out deviating from both those policies would set a precedent.

"What makes this one different?" Bevans asked.

Mayor Ed Menk brought up the possibility of annexing the properties between the airport and city limits in order to extend the city's boundaries so the airport abuts the city limits. If a property does abut the city limits, there is an annexation by ordinance process which is used, City Planner Mark Ostgarden said.


For or against

There's not really any benefit to annexing the airport, Koep said. The only benefit arises if the properties between the current city limits and the airport are annexed in totality, she said. Annexing properties parcel by parcel can be done, but goes against the interests of people who decided to live in the area.

"When you have a forced annexation, you will at some point, I think, be forcing those people who didn't choose to live in the city, to live in the city," Koep said.

The airport is jointly owned by the city and Crow Wing County and was created by referendum, Koep said. If the airport is annexed into the city, the county might stop making its annual contribution to the airport, she said.


The annexation may bring in some property tax revenue, council member Chip Borkenhagen said, but it will cost the city much more to provide services to the airport.

"Our staff is already spread thin the way it is," Borkenhagen said.

The city of Brainerd will have to carry the debt from the bond issue, Scheeler said, while the "growth that's going to happen in Oak Lawn Township" will benefit the township and not the city.

City Administrator Jim Thoreen emphasized the city had not made a decision on the annexation and the purpose of the meeting was to hear the concerns of council members.


Annexation process

Ostgarden gave a brief overview of the process of annexation, if the city were to decide to annex the airport, which currently lies within Oak Lawn Township. The airport doesn't abut the city's current boundaries, he said, so the city would have to use an orderly annexation process.

This process is laid out in state statute and involves both governing bodies to mutually agree to the annexation, Ostgarden said. Each body passes a resolution of orderly annexation and the annexation is submitted to the state of Minnesota. The state's chief administrative law judge, in the Office of Administrative Hearings, then reviews the annexation agreement and determines if it fulfills all the requirements. The last orderly annexation agreement in the city of Brainerd Ostgarden could recall involved an agreement with Crow Wing Township for land owned by the Mills family south of the city.


If the city chooses to go through an orderly annexation agreement, Ostgarden said, it won't be a fast process. The city council and township board would need to meet and agree on the details of an annexation agreement, he said, and then the state reviewal process will take time.

"If we started the process today to discuss orderly annexation," Ostgarden said. "It's my hunch that if we're complete by the end of the year, that might be pushing it."


SPENSER BICKETT may be reached at 218-855-5859 or . Follow on Twitter at .

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