Minnetrista weighs potential merge with St. Boni

Two councils to meet Dec. 5 to discuss potential merge or service consolidation

Minnetrista logoby Lorrie Ham
The Laker

The Minnetrista City Council is expected to call a special joint meeting with the St. Bonifacius City Council at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 5, in the St. Boni council chambers. The purpose of the meeting is to provide an opportunity for the two councils to discuss potential consolidation of services and/or a merger.

At Minnetrista’s Nov. 18 meeting, the council discussed St. Boni’s request for a meeting on either Dec. 3 or 4. Neither of those dates worked for all of the council members, so the city suggested Dec. 5 as an alternative. At St. Boni’s meeting on Nov. 20, the council did set Dec. 5 as the meeting date. Minnetrista can legally call for the special meeting at its Dec. 2 meeting, according to the city attorney.

“I think it’s a good idea to get together and develop some rapport,” Councilor Anne Hunt said.

City Administrator Mike Funk shared some information on a potential merger to give the council a little background going into the joint meeting.

Based on research, cities consider merging for several reasons, said Funk, including budget constraints, efficiency, improved quality of service and better economic development prospects. Challenges the two cities might face include loss of identity, turf fights, possible new debt and lack of community support, Funk added.

“Consolidation is hard work,” Funk said. “It requires an investment of staff time and the benefits are not yet well understood. It’s hard to quantify and measure the true impact on cities that have merged.”

To give the council an idea of the “heftiness” of a consolidation plan, Funk provided a partial list of considerations that would have to be dealt with, including city ordinance and code differences, staffing and pay, local government aid, debt service, existing contracts, utility billing, Capital Improvement Planning, streets and utility maintenance and emergency management.

The realities of a consolidation are that they rarely save money, and that they are politically very difficult to pull off, Funk said.

“According to census, there have been 10 true city to city consolidations over the past 30 years and almost all involved rural cities of less than 2,500 people,” said Funk. At least a couple of those happened in Minnesota, including Norwood Young America and Elko New Market, he added.

Funk has been talking with those communities and plans to meet with city officials to discuss their situations.

“On face value, a St. Boni and Minnetrista merger would build assets and make us better than we are today,” said Funk. “We would likely see some economic development benefits.”

Both cities are interested in strengthening their business, retail and commercial markets, Funk said.

“I think that’s the true benefit in a merger discussion, rather than cost savings and efficiencies,” he added.

“We could work together and still do that without a merger,” Mayor Cheryl Fischer said.

The matter of consolidation has been researched before, back in 1995 when a public referendum failed.

“The meeting will provide an opportunity for healthy discussion with good outcomes,” Funk said.

In another matter, the council directed staff to include newly structured rates for city water in the 2014 fee schedule. A $3 per quarter increase will be added to the fixed quarterly charge for residential users. The usage rate restructuring will mean a slight increase, less than three percent, for low and moderate water users, while the highest water users could see an increase of 10 percent or more. The tiered rate structure is designed to encourage water conservation, with the majority of the city’s users falling into the lowest two of the three tiers.

The increase is necessary to provide for major capital improvements planned over the next three years, explained Jessica Cook of Ehlers, who presented a water rate study to the council. A total of $8.8 million in improvements are planned, including a new well, water treatment plants, interconnect systems and a new water tower. Of that total, about $3.35 million is expected to be paid by development over the next 10 years, explained Cook. Current and future ratepayers will share the cost of water treatment and expansion.

The current first tier usage rate has not changed since 2004, noted Finance Director Brian Grimm. Future increases will depend on city growth and how many new homes connect to the system, he added.

“With the proposed rate adjustments, our water rates would still be very comparable to what our neighboring cities are charging for this service,” Grimm said.

The council also heard an initial presentation on a sketch plan review for a proposed development on property at 950 County Road 100 North. Ron Mullenbach, representing developer D.R. Horton, explained the project. The sketch plan calls for the development of the 12.5 acre property into 22 residential lots, averaging 10,998 square feet per lot with the largest lot measuring 18,549 square feet.

Community Development Director David Abel explained that the net proposed density for the project was 2.1 units per acre, which falls within the two to three units per acre guideline established in the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

Neighborhood concerns expressed at this meeting and earlier planning and parks commission meetings, included drainage issues, preservation of trees, dockage, street frontage and buffer areas.

Abel explained that while no formal approval or denial was required, the presentation provided an opportunity for the council to provide feedback for both the applicant and staff before proceeding. The developer plans to hold a neighborhood meeting prior to submitting a preliminary plat, Abel added.

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