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Peterson stands by detachment decision

By Kirsten Zoellner

Fri, Mar 28th, 2014
Posted in Peterson Government

Continuing a discussion that has caused some uncomfortable discourse between the City of Peterson and the City of Rushford Village, Peterson has reaffirmed its January 15 decision to deny a detachment request from residents Alan Lipowitz and Jan Smaby. In addition, the city has denied a compromise proposal from the petitioners. That proposal sought to detach 33.8 acres, to be annexed to Rushford Village, and leave six acres within the City of Peterson.

Trying to resolve the issue locally, Peterson Mayor Jennifer Wood and Councilor Dick Lee, along with Rushford Village Mayor Dale Schwanke and councilor Hamilton Peterson met prior to that meeting to discuss potential compromises. At that time, the two compromise options discussed included the petitioners proposal and the idea of its reverse, letting six acres go and retaining the 33.8 acres in Peterson.

The council discussed the issue at length at the regularly scheduled March 12 meeting, but delayed a decision, noting Councilor Barry Erickson’s absence, citing a desire to have full council attendance.

“There are a couple of things that have been beating around in my head,” noted new Peterson Councilor Dave Colbenson, regarding the petition. “I took into consideration her point of view, but I don’t really see valid reason to detach from Peterson. Just for the simple fact that when the town was founded and the lines were drawn up and agreed upon, the founders saw potential growth in different ways than residential, like agricultural. If we allow a person to detach for their reasons, it opens up the door to maybe allow this chunk of land over here. Meanwhile, they’ll be, ‘If they got to do it, why can’t I?’”

“I was informed that there’s another property that’s divided by the line, where again there’s a farm which has some farm buildings, a house, and a barn, and the line is right there. Would they want to, in the future, merge towards the Village or the other way? Potentially letting this subject dwell and get out of hand, or just bicker about it, this could potentially be drastic for Peterson itself. If you let anything go, we don’t know where we can grow,” Colbenson continued.

“We have to figure out how to accommodate our citizens the best that we possibly can, to ensure our nice little ecosystem that we have. Or we might as well close the doors and give up our rights to govern ourselves and merge into the Village. You open the door to these possibilities and your borders get smaller and smaller and we’re not in existence,” added Colbenson.

Councilor Barry Erickson noted understanding that the petitioners wanted to protect their land from future development, but that years down the road, the plan of protection could be gone should the Village allow someone to develop the land. “Unless it’s a federal park, or federal property, there’s no way of protecting it. That argument to me just doesn’t wash,” said Erickson. “It saddens me to see that we’re here arguing over tearing a little town apart, one that their forefathers put together, were part of developing and now they want to tear it apart. I can’t follow that thought.”

“I was hoping there might be some compromise,” added Councilor Dick Lee. “Allowing the six acres that would be left in the city, I don’t feel that’s adequate. I think we’re right in saying we better not start dropping acreages, even if it’s a few here and there. I think we owe it to the residents that we stand by our first initial vote, that we would not allow it. I wish there was a valid way, or an explanation of how to handle it, but I don’t see any. We had a 100 percent majority vote when we voted before. I can’t find any other solution that we could offer that would agreeable to everyone so we wouldn’t have to have it continue into a vote for the City of Rushford Village, but it looks like that would be the next step.”

“I was elected to represent the city and I think it’s in the best interest of the city for us to keep the property. I don’t see any other compromise other than that one we did offer,” agreed Councilor Gail Boyum.

“I guess I can hear, so I’m not going to argue. You sound like you people have had a chance to discuss this and make up your mind,” responded Tom Murphy, the attorney representing Lipowitz and Smaby.

“In your mind, that’s the only compromise you’re willing to consider, is all of that property or nothing,” said Lipowitz, questioning Peterson’s offer. Smaby had no comment.

Councilor Colbenson made a motion to deny the detachment request, including the proposal for the six acre compromise made by the petitioners. It was seconded by Councilor Erickson and approved unanimously.

At the same meeting, the council discussed changes to the proposed assessment policy. At the March 12 meeting, the council looked at defining the application of aid for projects cost and deferment regulations. After speaking with city financial consultant Mike Bubany, the city was cautioned on making the adjustments they’d intended.

In the case of deferment, the city had chosen to define the limit to allow for 50 percent deferment if a property is owned by to parties, with one meeting deferment criteria and the other not. However, the statute isn’t clear and if it isn’t explicitly laid out in statute, the city doesn’t have the authority to alter it.

In regards to project aid, the city had aimed at defining ‘assessable cost’ equal ‘city cost’ to avoid having aid be applied to the city portion of a project only. The County 25 project will be partially funded by the county and per the current policy, the financial aid by the county would be applied to the city cost. Bubany noted assessable cost may be a portion of the city cost, equal, or more. Should the city proceed with defining the language as they hoped, Bubany cautioned that the result could produce unfair results for those paying assessments. “Assessments are based on value, not cost,” it was noted.

Business property owner Colin Schroeder, however, stated his concern that if the policy is adopted without changes, while the cost will be reflected in the tax rate of all, it’s on the burden of those assessed.

The council has tabled a decision on the policy for further review.

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