Herald JournalHerald Journal, Jan. 13, 2003

New HL council member gets involved

By Lynda Jensen

Terry Ostgulen took his oath of office and jumped right in during a marathon meeting of the Howard Lake City Council Tuesday.

Ostgulen is the only new city council member on the council, since incumbents Mayor Gerry Smith and Council Member Shelly Reddemann reclaimed their seats.

Ostgulen voted against one of two annexation petitions, and questioned other items on the agenda, in part because of his newness to the council, since he was just sworn in moments before.

At the height of the meeting, the council discussed accepting a joint petition for Woodland Development, a residential development prematurely planned for the north side of Howard Lake, just west of Golf View Estates.

If the project moved forward, it would add an additional 51 acres to the city through annexation to the north side of Howard Lake.

Since this figure is under 60 acres, it is normally done by passing a city ordinance; something the council planned to do at a later date.

All of the property owners have already agreed to the annexation, and Smith indicated he spoke with Bob Berg, who seemed OK with it. The township has been expecting development to come that way, he said.

The comprehensive land use plan adopted by the city last year shows future development for the city going northward, and the utility pipes leading to this area are over-sized for this reason, Smith noted.

"We want to be very respectful of our neighbors," Smith said, referring to the township. The council plans to assemble a committee to start discussions about an orderly annexation, he said.

Even so, Ostgulen questioned city engineer Brad DeWolf about whether the city's sewer system could handle the extra flow there, or if taxpayers would be left holding the bag by causing the sewer system to be upgraded for a relatively small development. DeWolf assured Ostgulen that the sewer could handle the flow.

City Administrator Kelly Bahn pointed out that new trunk fees were added this year to create a fund that would help pay for upgrading utilities down the road.

"We're ahead of the game," Bahn said, noting that through the comprehensive plan, capital improvement plan, changing of utility fees, and pending updating of zoning ordinances, that Howard Lake is ready for development.

Ostgulen did not have a copy of the land use plan yet.

DeWolf assured Ostgulen that the city's treatment system could well handle the load, but this did not appear to sway Ostgulen.

"Without knowing why would we go through this process?" Ostgulen asked.

"We do know," DeWolf said, repeating information that he had just cited to Ostgulen. DeWolf told Ostgulen he would meet with him to talk about specific numbers in 1993 study that showed the city's ability to handle the flow.

Ostgulen also questioned why the council would even consider accepting two annexation requests when one parcel of land was not touching city limits, even though this was noted before, and both DeWolf and city attorney Chuck Paschke indicated this would likely not pose a problem because the parcels are to be processed concurrently.

"If there are two parcels, the city can do it as long as there's no protest," DeWolf said.

The reason for this is that there are two property owners and the total amount of property, including a buffer zone for the current property owners, might exceed 60 acres, noted Clerk Gene Gilbert.

Woodland Development is petitioning for 44.17 acres, and Rod and Kathy Miller are petitioning for 7.13 acres.

If there is a problem, the Miller annexation would be postponed until the first annexation was processed, Paschke said.

Paschke already contacted the Minnesota Planning Board, which approves annexations, and was told it would be OK, he said.

The council also witnessed a lengthy presentation given by developer Larry Carlson, Jr., who is the developer for Woodland.

Carlson said he operated a small company interested in building unique developments that fit into the natural structure of the land.

Ostgulen also described the Miller petition as inaccurate, because it stated that the future zoning of the residential development would be R-1 ­ something that has yet to be designated by the council.

Nevertheless, Ostgulen voted against the Miller petition. It passed, with council members Don Danford, Reddemann, and Mayor Smith voting in favor. Tom Kutz was absent.

Ostgulen also objected to approving the annual resolution the city makes to allow purchases from Gerry's SuperValu and Pettit Painting.

This is recommended by the auditor, since these businesses are owned by the mayor and a planning and zoning member, respectively.

He felt this was unnecessary, Ostgulen said.

"We have passed our audit every year ­ up until now," Gilbert told Ostgulen. The resolution was passed unanimously.

Sideen hired full time

The council also hired public access coordinator Neil Sideen full time as the media director for $27,411 per year.

The idea is to make the city's cable access a profit making venture, Danford said.

Ostgulen pointed out that the salary was not covered in the budget, being short $7,000.

Bahn corrected Ostgulen's figures to include the Internet budget, which is under the same heading in the budget, making the total figure $25,000 ­ still short $2,000.

However, Danford was confident that the $2,000 would be covered in two years' time, with the potential for more revenue.

40 minute talk about a cost-of-living raise

The council turned its attention to the annual cost of living raise that is normally given to city employees.

Council members discussed the issue for 40 minutes, going into depth about how the pay grade structure is done.

Danford objected to giving the cost of living increase because it is in addition to step increases that equal about three percent each year ­ if the employee is granted the increase ­ usually for obtaining another license.

"We're spending taxpayer money, here," Danford said.

However, the long-time employees, such as Tom Goepfert, Gene Gilbert, Lenny Keyes, and Bruce Zander are not eligible for step increases any longer because they passed the last pay step many years ago, Gilbert said.

The only raise they receive is the cost of living raise, she said.

There are 14 full-time employees working for the city.

The council cannot selectively go through and give long-term employees a special deal, either, Smith said.

He has spent many years on the personnel trying to solve this issue, only to find that the pay structure is very complicated, Smith said.

Further, the city must adhere to pay equity requirements made by the state and can't decide to give one employee another $20,000 per year because of market forces, Gilbert said.

Reddemann noted that the city staff deserved an increase following the extra work associated with the flooding, such as handling emergency calls and working odd hours; even though this was compensated with overtime and comp hours, he said. "Our people did a fine job," he said.

Earlier in the discussion, Danford pointed out that his wife, who works as a registered nurse, received a 2.2 percent increase. "That's it," he said. "There's very few businesses out there that give 5 percent raises," Danford said.

Bahn pointed out that the step increases are not automatic.

Resident Ron Mielke pointed out that a lot of people had to take pay decreases because of the economy.

"They make good money, but it's in line with the industry," Smith said.

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