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Akeley looks into 2003 lease arrangement for city land

Questions were raised at the Akeley Council meeting this week on the amount of rent James Johnson pays for use of the wastewater irrigation acreage, used as a hayfield.

Council member Troy Hegg brought the issue to the council after learning Johnson has not paid the $1,400 agreed upon annual rent. The amount was lowered to $400 per year in 2004, but no records exist as to the council's role in the agreement.

Sewer fund records show "miscellaneous income," ostensibly the yearly rent for the acreage, of $700 in July 2003 and $400 in both November 2004 and September 2005. He paid $400 per year from 2006-10, according to the city's receipts ledger.

Johnson, who was at Wednesday's meeting, said he did not have documentation on the council's approval of this.

Additionally, the tax statement is sent to James Johnson and former Akeley police chief Greg Siera. But this is in compliance with the agreement, which calls for the statement to be sent to the renter, taxes to be paid by the city.

"We need to get this back in the city's name," mayor Jennifer Mitchell commented of the property located off CSAH 12 southeast of the city.

The real estate tax of $570 now exceeds the $400 amount received from Johnson.

The most recent document is a 10-year agreement signed in April 2003 by then mayor Laurie Hill and Johnson. It stipulates renting 35 of the 67 acres. Thirty-two acres are not suitable for farming.

The yearly rent was to be $40 per acre, totaling $1,400.

The agreement calls for Johnson to keep the land in good farming condition, keep gophers under control, cut the hay crop at least once a year, be responsible for fertilizing and keep the wheel tracks from the irrigator "in good shape."

The city's responsibility is to run the irrigator and keep it in good condition. The city agrees to shut down the irrigator for two weeks if needed during the hay harvest and, along with adjoining landowners, keep the fence in good shape.

The contract can be renegotiated on a yearly basis.

The council tabled action on the matter, agreeing to look into the issue further.

In other action, the council:

n Approved a final notice be sent to Mark and Dawn Johnson regarding the demolition of the burned home on Highway 34 East.

This is the third notice sent to the Johnsons, the council now setting a deadline of May 31 for the removal of the structure and debris.

Neighbor Bobbie Emery expressed frustration with the delay, stating the house has become inhabited with critters.

n Reviewed the 2010 audit, CPA Judith Moravec reporting "the city is in good financial position," and commending clerk treasurer Denise Rittgers. "She's doing a fantastic job."

The city ended the year with a general fund budgetary balance of $46,658, earning kudos.

Moravec recommends the city consider raising water and sewer rates, however. She also advised city employees take the mandatory vacations per statute. She also recommended storage of bottles in the liquor store be more secure.

n Learned the Eastern Hubbard County Fire District's request for a 5 percent increase failed approval.

The council okayed the request in February, despite questioning the disproportional number of firefighters in comparison to areas of similar size and a convoluted method of computing each entity's cost.

But townships nixed the request.

Brian Hitchcock said he intends to investigate the computation procedure further.

n Received an update on the water main replacement project from engineer Jeff Ledin of Short Elliot Hendrickson.

Plans are nearing completion, he said. The schedule calls for the city to advertise for bids with a deadline of May 16 and award the bids May 18.

Construction is expected to begin June 1, suspended during Paul Bunyan Days. Final completion is projected for July 30.

n Reported municipal liquor store earnings of $3,687 in March, $9,926 year to date.

n Approved the purchase of a garage door at the city maintenance building at a cost of $1,827. Warner Garage door of New York Mills was low bidder.

n Will contribute $500 to the county's Sentence to Service program. The council indicated the city will recruit the assistance of inmates for several projects.

n Approved a $750 donation to the SAFE Parks program.

n Learned the Akeley Regional Community Center continues to operate in the black, thanks in large part to the used clothing store.

"Income is up but so are expenses," Larry Holm said.

The Akeley-Nevis food shelf has relocated into the former locker room area.

Plans are on the docket for new playground equipment, he told the council.

n Will solicit bids for tree removal at the park.

n Will purchase six buoys for the swim beach at a cost of $1,500.