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Three Sisters on the table for BE Council

By Staff | Sep 11, 2016

The Blue Earth City Council took some time to discuss the three buildings along main street, after the announcement that the county had acquired the building a couple of months ago.

Nearly two months after the announcement that Faribault County had taken ownership of three downtown Blue Earth buildings, the infamous “Three Sisters” properties were the hot topic of discussion at Tuesday’s City Council meeting in town.

Addressing questions about the potential sale of items inside the vacant Main Street buildings, city attorney David Frundt prompted further conversations about the future of the empty businesses and just who may come to own the corner shops.

“There are basically two statutes that apply to selling the stuff inside the properties,” Frundt said, “and they allow for public sales to be held.”

In some scenarios, the sheriff would be tasked with organizing a public sale of items inside the buildings, and in any event of an auction, notice of a sale would be required for a certain amount of days.

Selling items inside the Three Sisters buildings would be one way for the county or the city or someone else depending on who ultimately claims possession of the property, to clear the structures for a potential remodel or, better yet, new business.

Profit is not necessarily a big goal of a possible sale, either, as Frundt said people can still claim and vouch for ownership of items after a sale. “If an owner is found after a sale,” he said, “the proceeds go to that owner, so we’d, in essence, be helping the owner out.”

More important than the potential auction of things inside the buildings, however, are the buildings themselves. And they were exactly what the City Council continued to ponder as Frundt detailed the logistics of the items within them.

“Are we going to do something with it?” council member Dan Brod asked. “If we’re serious about doing something with this, I think we do something sooner rather than later.”

Doing “something,”?as had been suggested at the time of the county taking ownership of the buildings, could mean an all-out purchase of the properties by the city, though opinions on such a prominent move remained politely divided.

Concerns over the cost of dabbling with the Three Sisters clashed with desires to fix the buildings up or at least, as Mayor Rick Scholtes explained, enough to better the properties’ downtown appearance and potentially draw business for the city’s reconstructed Main Street.

Regardless, Frundt said the council would “probably need to find the market value (of the buildings) first,” then proceed with a more concrete decision about what it wants to do.

Scholtes followed Frundt’s lead to wrap up discussions on the matter, targeting the council’s next meeting as an opportunity to “turn things over” to Blue Earth’s Economic Development Authority (EDA) “and let them run with it.”

If the city ultimately moves to acquire the downtown buildings, it is likely in for some collaborative work with the EDA, as county commissioner John Roper, a guest in Tuesday’s meeting audience, explained.

“If the county gives it to the city,” he said, “you’d then have to sell it to the EDA.”

At Tuesday’s session, the City Council also:

Approved a bid of $23,735 for the reconstruction of steps in front of City Hall’s main entrance.

A 6-1 vote drew the approval, though council member Glenn Gaylord opposed the work proposal, made by Holtmeier Construction.

“We’re paying $24,000 just for some steps with no ramp?” Gaylord asked. “It seems like they’re gouging us. You’ve got half a dozen masons around here that’d love to do this and for a better price.”

Acknowledging the high cost but defending the bid, Mayor Scholtes suggested that pursuit of another contractor might result in unnecessary work on City Hall’s sidewalk, which has already been recently redone.

Plus, council member Marty Cassem added, turning down the bid would mean “you might not get it done this year at all.”

Supported the Blue Earth Fire Department’s request to increase its roster to 31 members.

Chief Roger Davis informed the council that four new members were recruited, tested and interviewed. The four additions will also have their training, which costs from $1,600 to $1,700 each, paid in full by the Minnesota Board of Firefighter Training and Education.

Approved a payment of $3,207.46 to the Faribault County Historical Society, continuing a support-fund partnership that dates back to 1996.

Reviewed the city’s 2016 budget and compared tax rates with those of an anticipated 2017 budget.

“The city could levy $1,399,536.37 and maintain the same tax rate as 2016,” city administrator Tim Ibisch said. “If we go for our historical average, the total levy increase would be 6.44 percent.”

The biggest difference in the next year’s budget, Ibisch continued, is the city’s deficit for its debt load.

“We increased our debt quite significantly with our projects,” Ibisch said, “and that’s where some reserve spending could eventually subsidize overages and help.”

Approved Public Works director Jamie Holland’s request to pursue an additional staff member for his department.

The potential addition would probably not be sought until the spring, Holland said, but was unanimously supported by the council, especially since Ibisch said there is already room in the budget for a $40,000-$50,000 hire.

“I would never ask to hire someone else if I?didn’t think we could really use some help,” Holland said. “It would take some of the burden off Public Works.”