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Crosslake may hire county to provide planning and zoning services

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The Crow Wing County Board decided Tuesday morning, Sept. 24, to approve a memorandum of understanding to provide planning and zoning services to the city of Crosslake.

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However, in order for the agreement to become final, Crosslake also had to approve the memorandum.

The Crosslake City Council was set to make that decision at a special council meeting Tuesday night, Sept 24, to decide whether or not to accept the county’s services. Watch for updates at www.pineandlakes.com.

Accepting the services would mean the termination of both of Crosslake’s current planning and zoning staff: Ken Anderson, community development director; and Bryan Hargrave, planner/GIS coordinator.

By phone, county Land Services Supervisor Chris Pence said his proposal was for two county employees to be stationed at the Crosslake office to perform planning and zoning duties.

Council member Mark Wessels said by phone that residents who appeal a planning and zoning decision would still appeal to the Crosslake City Council, and the city’s planning and zoning commission would stay intact. But county employees would provide planning and zoning services for the city at city hall. He said the county would be an employee of the city.

The Crosslake City Council also met Monday night, Sept. 23, and heard both a letter from Anderson against the proposal and comment from the public.

Crosslake Mayor Darrell Schneider used his gavel several times at Monday’s meeting.

In materials provided to the Crosslake City Council, council members Gary Heacox and Wessels lay out three options for the future of the city’s planning and zoning. The first option, Wessels and Heacox state, is to do in 2014 what the city did in 2013, with two employees and a budget of around $280,000.

The second, the council members say, is to move forward with the planning and zoning 2014 requested budget, which is for $327,000 and includes hiring a third employee and buying a new vehicle, GPS and metal detector.

The third, which Wessels and Heacox recommend, is to hire the county at a rate of $190,000 a year. Wessels says hiring the county would save the city $147,000 versus option one.

Anderson, at the county board meeting Tuesday, took issue with the budget information laid out by Heacox and Wessels. He said that currently the planning and zoning department is below budget by more than $50,000, and by removing the request for a third employee the 2014 budget would be much closer to the county’s proposed planning and zoning service costs.

“You’re looking at essentially the same cost (as county services) and losing the benefit and experience of the employees in the city of Crosslake,” Anderson said.

Combined, he and Hargrave have 18 years of experience.

Anderson also argues that the Crosslake budget information reflects costs such as office fees, office supplies, etc., which he said are not included in what the county proposed to charge the city.

Wessels argues that working with the county will mean working with an award-winning department and increasing office hours. He maintains it will save the city money.

The county Land Services Department put together a report of the city’s planning and zoning department last spring by request of the city council. Wessels and Heacox, along with the consulting city administrator, Dan Vogt, and city attorney, Brad Person, were authorized by the council at a June 26 meeting to explore the implementation of more than 30 recommendations the county presented in the report. One of those recommendations was for the county to provide the city with planning and zoning services.

Since then, Wessels said that committee has met with county representatives twice, and that’s when he and Heacox asked the county to prepare a proposal for the county to provide planning and zoning services to the city.

The council had not as a whole voted to specifically ask the county to provide planning and zoning services.

Wessels said he wanted the matter addressed at a special meeting Tuesday night in order to move the process along quickly, saying it takes too long to get things done.

Other members of the public asked the council to hold a public hearing on the matter.

Monday night, citizens asked that the council have a public forum before the council held its vote Tuesday night. Many citizens expressed Monday that they were against the county providing planning and zoning services.

Many of those same people were at the county board meeting Tuesday, where they continued to express their disapproval. Wessels also spoke at the county’s public forum in favor of the county providing services.

County board chair Rachel Reabe Nystrom made the point several times Tuesday that the county was not soliciting work from other cities, but was requested to do the work.

Board member Paul Thiede said that by approving the memorandum of understanding to provide services to Crosslake, the board was simply leaving the option open for Crosslake to decide what to do next.

Wessels said by phone that he would vote for the county to provide services to Crosslake, and said he believed Heacox would favor the idea as well.

The council planned to decide whether or not to accept the county’s offer for services at a meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 24, after Echo Journal publication. Results of that meeting will be available online at www.pineandlakes.com.

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