The Blue Earth City Council held a special meeting on Thursday, March 16, to have a frank discussion with Riverside Heights residents who are concerned about a potential annexation between the Township of Blue Earth City and the city of Blue Earth.
The annexation had been discussed at a previous meeting held on Feb. 21, during which the council authorized city attorney David Frundt to prepare for the annexation process.
Mayor Rick Scholtes first clarified that the council has not officially voted to annex Riverside Heights.
“I want to remind everybody that nothing formal has been done yet,” he told the crowd on March 16. “We haven’t voted to annex (Riverside Heights) yet.”
He also explained that the annexation has been under consideration for many years.
“An agreement was written back in 1977,” he said. “It’s been the city’s plan to pick up a bigger section of the Blue Earth township.”
The area in question is a large sweep of territory which would expand Blue Earth’s city limits west, to the edge of the Blue Earth River, and north to meet the portion of the gravel road between Kibble Equipment and Riverside Heights.
1977’s Joint Resolution for Orderly Annexation states the annexation may be performed to bring sections of the township which are suitable to urban use into the city limits.
Scholtes noted the agreement has been used in the past. For example, Blue Earth referred to the agreement to develop the West Industrial Park area.
The council revisited the possibility of annexing the area when they learned Riverside Heights is in need of a new sanitary sewer system.
Bolton & Menk had drafted an engineering estimate laying out the cost of Riverside Heights’ alternatives for addressing the issue. Construction of a new sanitary sewer system is estimated to cost $498 per month per resident, while connecting to the city’s sanitary sewer, without annexing to the city, would cost residents $301 per month. Connecting to the city’s system and annexing to the city would cost residents $193 per month.
The council clarified that Riverside Heights will not have the option of connecting to the Blue Earth’s sanitary sewer if they are not annexed to the city, per city ordinance. This leaves Riverside Heights residents the option of either constructing a new sanitary sewer system or annexing to the city to connect to its sanitary sewer.
“Cost-wise, it was only logical sense that we need to connect you guys in to save you money,” Scholtes explained. “I’m looking at a document that says, economically, the decision would be to come into the city of Blue Earth.”
Riverside Heights residents explained their primary objection is the lack of notice they received before Frundt was directed to prepare for annexation.
“I just think everyone in Riverside Heights felt betrayed because we had no notice,” a resident said. “A little notification ahead of time that this was going to come, and we would have been more amicable to this.”
Scholtes replied that the council was under the impression the residents had been invited to the meeting held on Feb. 21.
“That’s why we’re having this meeting today (March 16),” he explained. ‘We were under the impression that the (Feb. 21) meeting was for everybody at Riverside Heights.”
The residents also wanted to know what a street and sanitary sewer improvement project would entail, were Riverside Heights to be annexed to Blue Earth.
“We’re just afraid of all the costs that might be coming into play that we’re not aware of,” a resident explained.
The council first clarified that the project’s estimated cost assumes its eligibility for a Point Source Implementation Grant which would fund 80 percent of the project’s eligible costs. City engineer Wes Brown said he is fairly confident the project will receive the grant funds.
The project’s remaining cost will be funded much as any improvement project is funded in Blue Earth.
“You’d be paying the same taxes as anyone else in town for this project,” Scholtes explained. “It gets spread out through the city of Blue Earth.”
Residents’ tax increases would be phased in over five years. Starting in 2024, their property taxes would be paid to the city of Blue Earth, but their taxes would not increase until 2025, when they would go up by 20 percent. Taxes would increase by that amount for the next five years.
Residents were also concerned about being able to keep their private wells. Blue Earth Light & Water (BELW)’s typical policy is to cap wells when connecting residents to Blue Earth’s water system.
The council encouraged residents to contact BELW with water system-related questions, as BELW’s board and policies are separate from those of the city.
Scholtes encouraged the residents to share their email addresses with the city to receive updates on the annexation process.
“We want to hear what you have to say,” he added.
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