St. Boni looks at selling old city hall

By Lorrie Ham
Waconia Patriot

The St. Boni City Council took the first steps towards selling the old city hall property, currently used as a community center, at its Oct. 16 meeting.
Mayor Rick Weible said he called in a realtor to look at the property because he’d like to see the city put the building up for sale. “Whatever proceeds we get out of the sale should go into the new community center,” he said. Plans are underway to renovate the former public works garage adjacent to city hall into a new community center.
Realtor Jeff Thompson did some research on the property. “It’s a neat building, but pretty dated,” he said. “The best value to the city would be to find someone interested in remodeling the existing building as a home.”
Thompson estimated that it would cost $100,000 to $150,000 to make the building livable. The land value alone is probably $40,000 to $50,000, he said, but tearing down the existing structure would likely cost half of that again.
Thompson recommended that the city get a fee appraisal to get a more in-depth analysis of what the property would be worth.
The council voted 3-0 (council members Joe Arwood and Shawn Ruotsinoja were excused) in favor of getting a fee appraisal done. Weible also suggested setting up a subcommittee to work with a realtor on doing the leg work to evaluate the property and provide a recommendation to the council for listing the property for sale. Councilmember Bob Smestad and Weible agreed to serve on that committee.
In another matter, the council approved the proposed 2014 Lake Minnetonka Cable Commission (LMCC) budget. Mayor Rick Weible reported on the previous night’s meeting of the LMCC.
Weible is a member of a subcommittee looking at creating an “a la carte menu” for LMCC services, particularly for those cities expressing a desire to leave the LMCC. As of the Oct. 15 meeting, nine of the 17 cities, including St. Boni, had submitted notice to leave the Joint Powers Agreement (JPA), said Weible. Cities who have indicated their desire to leave the JPA have until the end of the year to rescind that decision.
“Some cities have suggested disbanding the existing organization and coming up with another type of agreement,” said Weible. Those cities are interested in handling their own negotiations with Mediacom, collecting their own franchise fees and creating a consortium to do taping of city meetings, cable channels, etc., he added.
The proposed budget includes a “huge” contingency of $257,000 in both revenues and expenditures since the LMCC is not sure how many cities will retain their membership, said Weible.
“Under the current Joint Powers Agreement, the LMCC can’t have any expenditures outside of the approved budget,” said Weible. The contingencies are designed to cover the costs if the cities do pull out of the agreement.
Councilmember Terrill Anderson wondered if the city should reject the budget in case the LMCC disbands.
“That is a very real possibility now,” said Weible, although he didn’t feel that most cities were in favor of disbanding the group. “I don’t think St. Boni is completely in favor of disbanding it. We want to see something different.”
Weible went on to recommend approval of the budget. “In all honesty, they worked really hard on the budget,” he said. “I understand the numbers. The budget is a small piece – not really the battle.”
The council voted 3-0 to approve the budget. But it was a 2-1 vote on two main proposed changes to the JPA, with Councilmember Smestad opposed.  The first proposed amendment involved the longevity of the contract, 10 years, and the second was the difficulty of making any amendments to the JPA, which at this time requires 100 percent approval of all member cities.
The proposed amendments include a mechanism to withdraw from the JPA with roughly 15 months notice, and a two-thirds majority requirement for making amendments to the JPA.
Part of the subcommittee’s work is trying to outline costs for a membership fee, franchise management, separate production services, additional meeting coverage and studio services for residents at market based pricing, said Weible.
The city went one step further by suggesting that the JPA be reworked to allow each of the member cities to manage their own franchise agreement with Mediacom, if they so desire. St. Boni also went on record supporting a one-year extension to the existing JPA to allow for recommendations to come forward regarding a new organizational structure.
Weible explained that the city has a responsibility to negotiate contracts on behalf of the cable subscribers in the city. While the LMCC has managed those functions for several years, some roles have changed, he added.
“I’m a non-cable subscriber, yet I’m getting a free ride to view council meetings now on the internet,” said Weible, who would like to see a more viable business model that includes a method for all taxpayers to be responsible for paying for services available to everyone.
In voting against the proposed amendments, Smestad said he had watched two LMCC internet programs which only had a total of 36 viewers. “There are not a lot of ‘free riders’ as far as I can see,” he said.
In an item that was not on the agenda, Mayor Weible reported that he had been in talks with some Minnetrista council members about exploring a potential merger between the two cities.
“I’d like to set up a commission and invite community members to participate,” he said. Although Weible had not been supportive of a merger in the past, he suggested that it would be “interesting” to go through the process again and see if it made sense to consider merging the cities in some type of format.
If a merger did occur, Weible felt St. Bonifacius should keep its name, like Navarre, which is part of Orono. Weible felt that communication between the two cities was particularly important to business development along Highway 7.
“We need to look at syncing our comp plans and building codes,” said Weible. With much stricter building codes in St. Boni, retailers would be more attracted to less stringent requirements in the Kings Point Road area, for example, he said.
Weible also suggested that different tax structures would have to be created to protect the taxpayers in each city. Another consideration would be the possible addition of a second fire station in Minnetrista, he added.
“Well, that’s a lot to think about,” said Smestad, while Anderson commented, “It’s always interesting to talk about it.”
No action was taken on the matter, but the formation of a commission will be included on the council’s next meeting agenda.