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Breezy Point: Council to continue tax-forfeited lot discussion at workshop - Runksmeier hired as deputy clerk

After about 40 minutes of discussion Monday, July 2, the Breezy Point City Council decided to continue dialogue on the city's numerous tax-forfeited properties at a council workshop.

The workshop, set for 6 p.m. Monday, July 23, will be the second on the topic, as council members met in June, when City Administrator Patrick Wussow presented several options the city had regarding the reduction of special assessments on tax-forfeited lots.

Council members are working to reduce the city's more than 300 tax-forfeited lots, some of which have expensive special assessments.

At the June 18 workshop, John Dotty, of Dotty Brothers Construction, said his company was looking into building affordable housing on some of the lots, but the special assessments were too high. After hearing all of the city's options - which included reducing special assessments by a certain percentage or reassessing lots for up to 20 years - the council advised Wussow to create a draft special assessment policy for consideration in July.

Council members looked over the policy but had different ideas about what they actually wanted to do.

Council member Michael Moroni was against reducing special assessments, saying that wouldn't be fair to other taxpayers. And those assessments, he said, come from legitimate costs like sewer hookups and road work. Moroni said he was 100 percent on board with reassessing properties though. Council member Rebecca Ball agreed with his opinions.

Council member Gary Mitchell hinted at his support to reduce special assessments by as much as 50 percent but said there should be a clause forcing buyers to complete their proposed projects within a certain timeframe. He also said reassessment could work.

Council member Gary Bakken said he wanted to do whatever is needed to get the tax-forfeited lots back on the city's tax roll.

"This has been going on forever," Bakken said. "What I want to see is (the lots) being developed, affordable housing being built, and that's exactly what (Dotty) and his partner had proposed. ... And that's what this city sorely needs."

Bakken added that he would be in favor of practically giving the lots away and, as a taxpayer, wasn't worried about fairness concerning the taxes he has already paid.

Mayor Tom Lillehei suggested reducing special assessments for volume developers who want to build on multiple lots, especially because some lots are so small that developers would be working on a string of them all at once. But that tactic, Lillehei said, wouldn't make sense for buyers just purchasing a single lot.

After hearing all the different opinions, Bakken suggested having another workshop where council members could hash out the topic more rather than taking up too much time during a regular meeting. Lillehei advised Wussow to draft an updated policy for the workshop, based on council members' comments, and said he hoped to have a final draft policy to be approved at the Aug. 6 council meeting.

Earlier in the meeting, Lillehei said he attended a Crow Wing County tax-forfeited lot sale on June 29, where four Breezy Point parcels sold for a combined $30,007.71. He said most of that money goes to the county, but the city recovered $2,107.71 in special assessments.

Deputy clerk

The council hired Debra Runksmeier as deputy clerk/office manager, as Kathy Millard - current deputy clerk - is set to retire at the end of September. Runksmeier will start July 23 with a salary of $20.89 per hour and will train with Millard until her retirement.

The city received more than 40 applications for the position and interviewed seven candidates in June.

Public safety

The Breezy Point Police Department responded to 165 incidents in June, including five crashes, three thefts, two traffic arrests and two fires. Police assisted other agencies 30 times.

In other business Monday, the council:

• Approved a new contract with Sourcewell for city hall's copier, resulting in a $65 per month saving over the previous contract.

• Authorized the public works department to work with the city's insurance company to buy a new front mount sweeper attachment for the tractor that sweeps the streets. The city's current broom sweeper was recently damaged when a vehicle rear-ended the tractor while it was sweeping a road.

• Heard there were no requests for proposal submitted for the three airport lots that are for sale. Council members agreed to keep the window open for another year for more offers.

• Learned the comprehensive plan steering committee will meet at 6 p.m. Thursday, July 12, at city hall.

• Discussed adding a paved golf cart path on County Road 4 from Canary Lane to County Road 11. The next step is to gather quotes and notify residents along the road.