Township at odds with proposed annexation

Published 8:47 pm Tuesday, December 10, 2019

$20M cooperative building planned north of county highway shop


Bancroft Township officials raised concerns Monday about a request from Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services to annex 25 acres of township property it purchased into the city of Albert Lea for a new $20 million headquarters.

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Officials from the township attended the Albert Lea City Council’s workshop prior to the council meeting to hear a presentation from Freeborn-Mower Cooperative President and CEO Jim Krueger about the project.

Krueger said the cooperative, in Albert Lea since 1936, has been in its current site on East Main Street near Interstate 35 since 1950. The building was constructed to house about 40 employees.

In 2015, he said the company acquired the Alliant Energy service territory, and as a result hired close to 30 employees, along with extra equipment. With that, the company has considered whether to expand or build a new location.

The company started a building study in 2015 and reached the conclusion it didn’t have the land space available at its current site to expand. Its present site is 11.7 acres, but not all of that space is buildable, he said.

The cooperative ultimately decided to purchase land and construct a new building and closed on 25 acres of property directly north of the Freeborn County highway shop off of Freeborn County Road 22 in March 2018.

Krueger said Freeborn-Mower selected the site because of its access to major roads, ability to access its service territory and proximity to Albert Lea, with more than half of the company’s accounts in the city. The land was also flat, had favorable soil conditions and was within close proximity to water, sewer, natural gas and fiber with the city. He said five or six other sites were considered, but none were large enough to accommodate the building size needed.

Presently, the Crossroads Church and the Good Samaritan Society of Albert Lea properties have been annexed into the city on the west side of Freeborn County Road 22; otherwise, nothing on the east side of the road north of Interstate 90 has been annexed.

Krueger said a groundbreaking is anticipated for April with construction slated to be finished in the first quarter of 2021. The new facility will be 95,000 square feet, and the cooperative hopes to sell the existing facility.

Steve Overgaard, who has lived in Bancroft Township for more than 35 years and served over 20 years as a township supervisor, said he struggles with the annexation request and said he does not see any benefits to the township or its residents to having the property annexed into the city.

He said he does not support fragmented annexation and does not agree with the city’s policy that allows only extending city services to properties in the city limits.

“It’s difficult for me as a township officer — my obligation is to the township — to just step aside and say, ‘Yeah, just go ahead and take this. We don’t care; we’ll get by with less,’” he said.

He described the annexation as a “net loss to the township,” while it is “a net gain to everyone else.” For him, the issue comes down to tax base and revenue, he said.

Albert Lea Mayor Vern Rasmussen Jr. said from the city’s perspective it does not make sense to extend services to a property and not have that property in city limits. He said the city also does not like annexing fragments of property at a time.

Albert Lea City Manager David Todd said the current option was the only way Freeborn-Mower’s needs could be accommodated to expand. There are no properties within the city limits with 25 contiguous acres. With a business expanding and possibly bringing more jobs to the community, he said the property was a win for Freeborn County because the cooperative elected to stay in the county rather than go to Mower County.

“To not do it, and miss that opportunity, I think that’s a big miss,” Todd said. 

Albert Lea City Attorney Kelly Martinez said the property is presently bringing in $620 in taxes annually. She said once the new building is constructed, that increase in tax base will benefit many, including the county and school district as well.

Rasmussen said the city is trying to meet the needs of a company that wants to expand in the community.

“It would be disappointing to the whole community if the township stands in the way of that,” Rasmussen said.