Township still at odds over proposed annexation

Published 10:26 pm Tuesday, January 14, 2020

New $20M Freeborn-Mower Cooperative headquarters slated for property


Whether Bancroft Township will approve the orderly annexation of 25 acres of township property into the city of Albert Lea for a new $20 million headquarters for Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services remains up in the air.

Albert Lea City Manager David Todd said Monday during the Albert Lea City Council workshop that he and representatives from Freeborn County and the Albert Lea Economic Development Agency attended a township meeting earlier in the day and left with no progress made toward the annexation.

Email newsletter signup

The cooperative had petitioned for the annexation after purchasing property directly north of the Freeborn County highway shop off of Freeborn County Road 22 in March 2018.

At a workshop in December, Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services President and CEO Jim Krueger said the cooperative selected the site for its new headquarters because of its access to major roads, ability to access its service territory and proximity to Albert Lea. The land was also flat, had favorable soil conditions and was within close proximity to water, sewer, natural gas and fiber with the city. It hoped to break ground in April.

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.

Township officials at the December workshop expressed concerns about the annexation, including increased traffic, and said they did not see benefits to the township or its residents to have the property annexed.

The property presently brings in about $600 a year in taxes to the township.

Todd said even though concerns were expressed after that meeting, he and others were hopeful the township would support an orderly annexation. During the township meeting earlier on Monday, however, Todd said, the city, county and ALEDA “were essentially strong-armed,” stating the township officials would only agree to an orderly annexation if they could receive 50% of the new tax generated from Freeborn-Mower’s facility indefinitely.

Todd described the proposal as “ludicrous,” and said he advised the township board the city was not going to go that route and that if the township did not want to “play ball” with the orderly annexation, the city would pursue annexation by ordinance. Though this would require the city to complete additional steps, and would move back the groundbreaking date by 60 to 90 days, the township would essentially not have any leverage, he said.

“Overall at the end of the day, they said in pretty much plain language they wanted more money,” Todd said.

Todd said he and the others from the county and ALEDA tried to explain the economic benefits of the project for the entire county but to no avail.

Albert Lea Mayor Vern Rasmussen Jr. said at the end of the day, the only entity the township’s actions affect is the cooperative.

“If this would force them to go to Mower County, that would be a detriment to us,” Rasmussen said.

Second Ward Councilor Larry Baker asked how Freeborn-Mower officials reacted to the meeting.

Todd said they were disappointed but hopeful the city will pursue annexation by ordinance if necessary.

During the council meeting after the workshop on Monday, the council voted to designate the property as in need of orderly annexation and conferred jurisdiction over the property to the Municipal Boundary Adjustments Office of the Office of Administrative Hearings.

The township board will consider whether to approve the same resolution to continue with the orderly annexation.

In other action, the council:

• Approved a loan out of the city’s economic development loan fund to Infinite Recycled Technologies, a new business to Albert Lea that recently purchased the former Bridon Cordage building.

Todd said the company is a sister company of Watson Recycling in Rochester. One of the owners of that company started the new business and identified Albert Lea as a location for its business. It is a glass recycling business that is capable of recycling several types of glass, including laminated glass, insulated glass, coated glass and others.

Todd said it will be the only business of its kind in the country and said the company chose Albert Lea because of its service by a railroad, potential quality employees and an existing structure that it will retrofit for its needs.

He said he had been working on the project since he started as manager three months ago and is happy to see it come to fruition.

“We’ve worked very hard on this, and I’m glad they’re here,” he said.

The loan is for $100,000 that will be paid back at 3% interest over seven years. An additional $25,000 will not have to be paid back if the company sustains 15 new jobs until June 2025.

• Approved a 2% wage increase for non-union city employees for 2020 effective Jan. 1.

Albert Lea Human Resources Director Mike Zelenak said the study that is underway to review all city positions and their compensations is taking longer than was initially anticipated.

He said it is budgeted and expected the employees will receive a wage increase once the study is complete, and wages may be adjusted again after its completion, depending on the results. The increase approved Monday would ultimately be part — not an addition to — the increase suggested by the study.

City staff remain in negotiations with the unions.

Todd said they want to make sure the job classifications are completed correctly because that will ultimately affect the ranking system and salary scale. The city recently requested more information from the company conducting the study that was not immediately available.

Todd, who referenced a similar study taking seven months longer than planned in Austin, said he hoped the study would be implemented by July.

• Approved a joint powers agreement with the state to use systems and tools available over the state’s criminal justice data communications network for which the city is eligible.

• Accepted the feasibility report and called a public hearing for Feb. 10 for the neighborhood improvement and James Avenue reconstruction projects slated for this summer.

The neighborhood improvement project involves the bituminous overlay of streets of various streets, including portions of Sunset Street, Campus Drive Campus Lane, Trollwood Drive, Meadow Lane, Seath Drive, Westwood Drive, Hale Drive, Crystal Drive, Silver Lane, Quisley Street, Plaza Street, Ekko Avenue, Frank Hall Drive and 10th Street.

The project also includes replacing sections of curb and gutter that have settled and are causing drainage issues, along with the sidewalk where it is damaged or uneven.

The reconstruction of James Avenue is from Eighth Street to Seventh Street.

• Approved replacing a sander on the back of one of the Street Department’s pickups for about $5,900.

• Approved a letter of support for City Clerk Daphney Maras to apply for the Region IV region director position for the Minnesota Municipal Clerks and Finance Officer organization.

• Approved relocating the dynamic speed signs on U.S. Highway 69 and Minnesota Highway 13.

On Highway 13, the sign will be just north of Sunset Street, and on Highway 69, the sign will be just south of West Ninth Street.

• Approved the 2020 appointments and designations.

• Named the Tribune as the official newspaper for 2020 for purposes of legal notices.

• Designated the depositories of city funds and signatories.

• Accepted a $10,000 certified local government grant from the Minnesota Historic Preservation Office to draft a historic preservation chapter that will be combined with the city’s comprehensive plan update.

Two firms submitted proposals for the project, and firm New History’s bid of $14,000 was approved.

• Approved a variance to structure setbacks from Rebecca and Dave McPherson at 511 Wedgemore Drive.