Guest Column: What does Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services have against Bancroft Township?
Guest Column by Steve Overgaard
In February 2018, Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services purchased 25 acres of farmland in Bancroft Township for the purpose of building a new $20,000,000 headquarters building and warehouse. Rather than talking to the Bancroft Township supervisors to see how the board or local residents felt about the project, or to see how the cooperative could become a good neighbor in the community, FMCS CEO Jim Krueger met privately with the city of Albert Lea to come up with a plan to separate the land from Bancroft Township without our knowledge or input and to better serve their grand purpose.
In December 2019, after almost two years, and after all plans and decisions had been made between the city and FMCS, the township board was finally informed of their plan to separate the land from the township. At the urging of the mayor and city manager, and without the township board’s knowledge, the cooperative had petitioned for annexation into the city of Albert Lea. The primary reason for this was that FMCS wanted access to city sewer and water, which runs by the property to the Good Samaritan Society. The city mayor and city manager had convinced Mr. Krueger that they would only be able to access city sewer and water if they were annexed into the city. They did not inform him that the Freeborn County Highway Department — which is right next door to where they planned to build — is a part of Bancroft Township, not annexed into the city, and has access to city sewer and water.
What is ironic to me is that if you live or work in FMCS’s service area and you want to purchase electric power, you have no choice except to purchase power from FMCS; you don’t have the option of purchasing power from another provider. Apparently, CEO Jim Krueger and FMCS don’t think the same rules should apply to them when selecting a site for a new facility.
If they wanted access to city sewer and water, they should have built on one of the seven sites already developed within the city for that purpose.
When the township board was finally notified last December, it was pointed out to Mr. Krueger that this was not the way that annexation works. He apologized and pleaded ignorance of the process. But wait — FMCS started out serving the rural community over 83 years ago. How could they not know township protocol? With all of the customers that it serves in the rural community, is someone who is not familiar with township rules really qualified to be CEO of the cooperative?
After pointing out the discrepancy and giving him a chance to correct the matter, Mr. Krueger refused to withdraw their petition for annexation into the city.
Though the township opposed the annexation and the loss of tax base and had agreed to work with FMCS to build within the township following township rules, the property was taken from Bancroft Township anyway by the city of Albert Lea at the request of FMCS and rezoned without consideration or input from any of the neighbors.
This loss of tax base will result in the loss of over $250,000 annually in tax revenue to the township. This is revenue that the other taxpayers in the township will have to make up for. Additionally, the premium price that was paid for the land will have an adverse tax effect on all farmland in the county.
I don’t expect anyone outside of Bancroft Township to be upset about our loss of tax revenue, but the unnecessary extra cost to its member/owners should upset everyone. Estimated property taxes on the new facility are just under $488,000 annually, compared to just under $94,000 paid on their current property last year. This is an increase of almost $400,000 per year in taxes — all just to gain a few thousand square feet of additional warehouse space.
If the property were to remain in Bancroft Township, the savings in property taxes to FMCS would be somewhere between $112,000 and $200,000 annually without any decrease in services except access to sewer and water (which could still be provided by the city of Albert Lea).
Customers’ utility rates will certainly increase to make up for this huge increase in costs.
This is something that should have been discussed at the annual meeting in April, but due to COVID-19, the annual meeting has been postponed to Tuesday, Sept. 29, and will be a drive-in meeting at Crossroads Church. This will not be a normal annual meeting, so I doubt that there will be any opportunity for public input. If you are as outraged as I am about this, contact your FMCS director, or contact Jim Krueger directly at 507-373-0613 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Steven Overgaard is the Bancroft Township chairman.
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