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Jenkins City Council balks at sharing road improvement costs with county

Crow Wing County Engineer Tim Bray (left) expresses his disappointment Tuesday, May 21, to the county board at the Jenkins City Council's recent decision to withdraw from a cost share agreement with the county for County Road 145 work after months of consideration. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

The Jenkins City Council may have burned bridges with Crow Wing County when it recently withdrew from a cost share agreement with the county for road work after months of consideration.

"Jenkins is balking at the local cost share," County Administrator Tim Houle said at the Tuesday, May 21, committee of the whole meeting of the board. "And obviously that's disappointing."

The County Road 145 improvement project included a higher cost share to the city than anticipated, so the council attempted for several months to renegotiate the terms.

"When a partner let's you down, it stinks," County Engineer Tim Bray said of the state bond dollars involved in the project that the council requested.

The council felt that it satisfied its part of the project through state Local Road Improvement Project funds received for the project on the city's behalf. The county disagreed, expecting the city to contribute about $75,000 of the cost, though cost overruns could result in a higher cost.

"We've been trying to work this out with the city of Jenkins for quite some time. We have offered them 0% interest to finance their local cost share for five years. We said that we would finance their local cost share over 10 years at a low rate of interest—let them choose," Houle said.

In April, the council offered to reach an agreement with the county provided the city receive the 0% interest financing, and the county improve the County Road 145 and Cemetery Road intersection in its 2023 highway improvement plan and allow the city to provide feedback on it.

The council, however, requested that the city share be capped at $75,000. The county agreed to all terms except the last.

"The city of Jenkins is basically reneging. ... And the other thing that's disappointing here is that I still haven't heard back from the city directly. We got our answer from the city of Jenkins through the news article in the Brainerd Dispatch," Houle said.

Commissioner Doug Houge asked Houle, "Do you think that with that article maybe some of the citizens in that area might go after the city and try to reverse their decision? Do we wait?"

Houle told Houge he did not know, but if the city council changed its view and reapproached the county to improve County Road 145, the county could "cross that bridge" when the time comes.

"We're going to build this next year if we're going to build it, so there is still a little bit of time, but I do not see us approaching them anymore," Houle told the county board.

Commissioner Steve Barrows said, "Do you think the council knew what the potential fallout would be from making a decision like that?"

City Engineer Dave Reese prepared three options for the city: concede to the county and sign the agreement; notify the county of the city's intent to withdraw from the project; or "propose an amendment to the agreement that would not cap the county's share."

"Our option is that we could turn the state-bonding dollars back in. I think that has implications for us when we apply for the next state-bonding dollars. ... The city's actions can adversely impact our ability to get grant funds in the future," Houle said.

The city council voted 4-1 at its May 13 meeting to withdraw from the $600,000 project. Mayor Jon Lubke was the sole opposing vote.

"We can ask them if we can move the funds to another project," Houle said of the state. "That would be my preference. This was not our priority project to begin with. We would not have done this project at this time but for the city approaching us, so it's still not a high priority for us."

Houle had said in a letter that the county has no ability to predict cost overruns and could not set a precedent by accepting more than half of the cost of a cost share agreement.

"In my estimation, I don't see any reason to pursue the city of Jenkins any further. From my vantage point, I think we unfortunately need to treat them as if they're not a reliable partner," Houle told the county commissioners. "And that's the unfortunate part. For $75,000, the city is choosing to walk away from an 80-20 grant that they requested that we apply for on their behalf. That's disappointing."

Houle's letter also stated: "If the city is insisting that they will not agree to a cost share without this (capping) provision, then we are at an impasse and the county will need to proceed with the project on our own."

"This is a first and so the implication there is—I would have to tell you—'How could we partner with them in the future? How could we?'" Houle asked the board Tuesday.

Commissioners Rosemary Franzen and Paul Koering replied, "We can't."

Frank Lee

Voted most likely in high school ... "not to be voted most likely for anything," my irreverent humor (and blatant disregard for the Oxford comma) is only surpassed by a flair for producing online videos to accompany unbiased articles about Crow Wing County about, say, how your taxes are being spent, by your elected officials, on issues or topics that matter to YOU.

Writing local feature stories about interesting people in the community, however, and watching and discussing movies are among my passions. ... Follow me on Twitter at either of these accounts: @DispatchFL (for news) or @BDfilmforum (for movies).

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