City Council: No public referendum on financing safety center. Will taxpayers petition to reverse that?

Northfield-safety-centerLast June, I was pleased that the Northfield City Council voted 4-2 to have the citizens vote in November on whether or not the city should issue bonds to pay for new police and fire facilities. (In August, they voted to put the Safety Center project on hold.)  Last night, they voted instead to issue Capital Improvement (CIP) general obligation bonds. I’m eager to hear the rationale. 

In this economic climate, I don’t understand why the Council doesn’t want the public to weigh in on such an important decision. Getting it built a little sooner hardly seems reason enough.  I’m not the only one. See this Nov. 19 Northfield News editorial:

Now that the Northfield City Council has agreed on the scope and cost of a new Safety Center, we want to reiterate our belief that the question of how to fund the facility needs to go before the voters…  There’s little doubt that the police and fire departments need a new facility, one out of the flood plain that will allow their staffs to work more effectively and efficiently. But we believe those shouldering the burden need to decide if the added cost is a payment they’re willing to make.

For those of us taxpayers who object, we can gather signatures to try to reverse the council’s financing decision, forcing the Council to put it before the voters in November. The City’s website says:

A reverse referendum petition must be signed by voters equal to five percent of the votes cast in the city in the last general election and is filed with the City Clerk within 30 days after the public hearing. Should the decision be made to issue CIP bonds and should a reverse referendum petition succeed, the question would be put to the voters in the fall general election.

More:

KYMN:  Council opts for CIP, general obligation bonds to finance safety center

Northfield Patch:  Northfield City Councilors Approve Safety Center Financing

Nfld News: Safety Center financing selected

141 comments to  (Including 20 Discussion Threads) City Council: No public referendum on financing safety center. Will taxpayers petition to reverse that?

  • 51
    Ray Cox says:

    The city will continue pushing for an elaborate combined facility until the voters take away that option from them. This is how the enduring aspects of administrations work. From what I can gather, the elected city officials do not have the support of the taxpayers or the fire fighters. This whole issue started out by looking at safety concerns with the fire headquarters. It has taken a life of its own as city administrators see this as a ‘time to get something’ and not just ‘let the schools get all the dollars.’

    By playing the safety card to the public they believe this will be a slam dunk. Hopefully people will wake up and either convince enough of the city council to step back from their plan, or take away the funding option by a reverse referendum.

    We have no business throwing away a 40 year old building. It is strucutally sound and has a lot of life in it for use as a fire hall or police station. We can accomplish all that we need for $6 -- $6.5 million—and that includes $1 million of new fire fighting equiipment, which I believe we should be talking a lot more about.

    Folks, please remember that a fire hall never rushes out and fights a fire. A police station never arrests a criminal. We cannot lose sight of that. Yes, both police and fire need safe, warm, pleaseant facilities. But they both need top qualilty equipment, good public support, and appropriate administrative support to do their jobs.

    Earlier comments are correct….the city has all the information about the existing building to make a good informed decision. The problem is they are either ignoring it or not reading it. I had a phone call this week from one of the architects who designed the building. He said it was sad to see the city taking this twisted approach to trying to get what they want.

    And Randy, it is intersting that you are advocating for reusing the building as a transit hub, liquor store, etc. If the building is ‘completely unworkable’ for a police station, how is it workable for the uses you suggest?

    • 51.1
      kiffi summa says:

      Ray: this may be a sore point with you, and one that you may feel you cannot be completely open about, but I’m going to ask for an answer, and I hope you can give some information….

      Why was the ‘minority report’ completely ignored by the Council, even those who did not want anything but a central location? and also…
      Why, given you were the person with the most construction expertise on the citizen committee, and Don McGee (an engineer) the person with the most engineering expertise on the design committee… WHY were, and are, the two of you ignored?

      The only reason would seem to be that it was not the answer that was wanted, but is it that simple?

  • 52
    Ray Cox says:

    Kifi, my personal opinion about the way the council and administration treated the minority report was simply because it went against what they want. That is not unusual. The same holds true for Don McGee’s information. And the same thing is going on with the city indicating the building has ‘flooded’ many times, when in fact it has not, ignoring their own engineers analysis of site mitigation, etc.. People like to control what information they want to let out as “facts” and ignore other information.

    In hindsight, I do wish I would not have caved on the committee, but rather held out forever, preventing the committee from reaching consensus. However, at the time I didn’t think that was a good plan. But I also didn’t think the city would be doing some of the things they have been doing to try and get their way for a new facility. The city demanded that the task force not have a chairperson, operate by consensus, and be steered by their architect. If I would have held out maybe the committtee would have just collapsed without any recommendation and the council would have stepped back and taken a real look at what was being promoted.

    I keep trying to get people focused on the real issue….the fire department. What would you rathter have for your town, a nice shiny $12 million building sitting on a field, or top quality, safe, efficient fire fighting apparatus? We may end up looking at an either or situation of the council goes ahead with the $12 million plan.

  • 53
    Ray Cox says:

    For some reason the most recent posts don’t seem to appear in the thread, just on the sidebar. But, Randy, a couple of things:
    1. The 2009 task force was given information that showed the Rice County Auditor listed the value of the present building at $1,949,200. Those valuations are typically a bit light, so a value of around $2.5 million is probably realistic. I seem to recall that the city also carries insurance of $3 million on the building.
    2. The same task force was told that the existing site has to be used for city purposes…if not it must revert to MnDot. I believe MnDot essentially donated the site to the city to use. So some decent city use could be found for the building. But then if the city feels it is too far gone and must be thrown away, I don’t know how they could justify putting maintenance dollars into it for some other city entity to use.

    • 53.1
      john george says:

      Ray- It appears any new comments are coming up on a second page. If someone replied to another comment on page 1, it will show up there. It’s a little confusing at this point in the discussion.

    • 53.2
      Randy Jennings says:

      Ray,
      I stand corrected on the value of the building and the restrictions on a potential sale of the property. I was mis-remembering the 2006 appraisal by Redalen Valuation Services valuing the property $865,000 as vacant land only. That value would probably be moot if it can’t be sold for any other than a public purpose.

  • 54
    kiffi summa says:

    Randy: Back in #48.2.4 you say: “As a tax paying commercial building owner, you wouldn’t want the city’s buildings held to a lower standard than the city applies to you, would you?”

    If you read our listened to the OSHA/Consultant’s report on the condition of the current facility, you would find that indeed the city does NOT hold their own buildings to the standard that is applied to mine, and that is just a fact. There are things in that report that I would cause me to be denied my building license until corrected… even a simple thing like an uncovered electrical outlet… and there in lies some of my irritation about the costs associated with reuse of the current building.

    The fact that the ‘city’ allowed the current building to build up the level of deferred maintenance that it has affects the rehab/reuse of the building, relevant to regulations about percentage of rehab as related to new DNR permitting, etc.

    And… that level of deferred maintenance costs , and the problematic re-permitting makes it an unattractive purchase opportunity, if not a fiscally impossible one for a new buyer.

    Another problem… the costs re: the imagined value of the building are different in various scenarios ; the city values it lowly for their own use, but a higher price has been quoted as a value for sale, although that went away fairly early on because it became apparent that it would be hard to convince the public that the building could not be reused, if it was highly priced.

    At the task force meetings I attended, it was a given that the building be torn down; after all if it was reusable, how could the city defend choosing NOT to reuse it, as any rehab costs are lower than new construction.

    I will continue to maintain that the citizen committees each had people with specific professional expertise on them, but in the ‘consensus’ situation that prevailed could not prevail with their opinion.

    See Ray Cox’s statement in #’s51 and especially 52.

    • 54.1
      Randy Jennings says:

      Kiffi,
      I have followed the OSHA reviews of city facilities, and I am pleased to agree with what I take to be the thrust of your first couple of paragraphs: that building code requirements should be applied equally to government and private sector buildings. That they were not evenly applied in the past is quite clear, and we are all suffering the consequence. (We’ve probably also had some small benefit. See prior comments about the relative tax break we have probably enjoyed due to the underspending on maintenance.)

      I think we will have to respectfully disagree about whether or not the task forces did their work properly. To my thinking, the objective was for each task force to make a recommendation to the city council based on its collective judgment. That will almost certainly result in a recommendation closer to the center than to any outlier opinions. Frustrating to those out-voted or out-consensused (if that’s possible), but it seems — and yes, this is just my opinion — an appropriately rigorous process with a reasonable outcome. That the city council, after its own triplicative review, came to the same conclusion seems to validate the work of the task forces.

    • 54.2
      David Ludescher says:

      Randy,

      If I recall correctly, the task force was originally commissioned by the mayor to find a new site for a combined facility. There has never been a task force commissioned to look at rehabbing the building for the police.

      • 54.2.1
        kiffi summa says:

        But david, there was a City Council subcommittee to study reuse of the current building, and they decided…. with the information provided to them… that it was not an option to reuse.

        Key phrase: “with the information provided to them”.

      • 54.2.2
        David Ludescher says:

        Kiffi,

        I think the strongest argument in favor of the police using the building is that they have been using it for the last 3 years -- through the worst Cannon River flood in history -- without any significant issues.

      • 54.2.3
        kiffi summa says:

        I totally agree, David.

        I was just raising the issue of questioning why the Council subcommittee on re-use just found that consideration so impossible. They did not make a convincing case when I heard it reported, but as I said, it all depends on what information you are working from to come to your conclusion.

        Do you think it is possible… that after all this ‘sturm und drang’, the Police will stay there in enlarged, remodeled quarters, and a new Fire Hall will be built somewhere else?

        Is it possible, that in the end, Reason will prevail?

      • 54.2.4
        David Ludescher says:

        Kiffi,

        The only way I can see a new fire hall and a remodeled Safety Center is if a joint facility referendum fails by a significant vote. If the vote is close, I would guess that the Council will try to take another run at a joint facility.

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