Henrietta, city sign agreement

An orderly annexation agreement between Park Rapids and Henrietta Township is a done deal. The Park Rapids Council approved the agreement Tuesday night and Thursday night the Henrietta Town Board followed suit. No one attended the council meeting...

An orderly annexation agreement between Park Rapids and Henrietta Township is a done deal.

The Park Rapids Council approved the agreement Tuesday night and Thursday night the Henrietta Town Board followed suit.

No one attended the council meeting to express an opinion for or against, and a motion to approve passed unanimously.

That wasn't the case in Henrietta Township, however. About a dozen people attended the township's public hearing, some of them adamantly opposed to the agreement.

Initially, Cliff Tweedale of the Headwaters Regional Development Commission and moderator for the growth management task force, reviewed the terms of the agreement, including the tax impact on affected property owners.


In addition to phased in annexation and a plan for revenue sharing between the two jurisdictions, Tweedale pointed out it also provides for extension of sewer and water prior to annexation and establishes a joint committee to resolve planning and zoning issues before the city's ordinance goes into effect.

Ed DeLaHunt, whose radio station is within the area to be annexed in 2012, said the line should be drawn at CSAH 4. "There's no density or reason to have sewer farther out," he said, accusing the task force of wanting to "stick it to the radio station."

Tweedale said that was not the case. The discussion was about managing growth along Highway 34 east, he said. There also is concern about "gerrymandering lines" so the decision was to square off the area that is ripe for development.

Butch DeLaHunt asked why an area marked out for annexation in 2017 is even on the table.

Tweedale replied the length of an agreement was a policy decision. "They decided they didn't want to fight with each other for at least 10 years and talked about going longer. They could have gone until 2022 and added more (area)," Tweedale said.

One resident said she was concerned about her taxes going up.

Tweedale explained 14 percent of the property taxes township residents pay now goes to the township and the agreement covers only 9 percent of the township's tax base. At the same time, the township's market value is doubling every five years.

Even with no growth, Tweedale said, the agreement only calls for the township to make up nine-tenths of 1 percent of the tax base it loses per year based on the way the taxes are divided over the 10-year period.


What's in it for Henrietta?

"What's the advantage to the township?" asked resident Todd Paulouski.

Tweedale identified several advantages including the ability to get utilities to people when they need them rather than forcing them to wait until they're annexed.

In addition, the agreement provides predictability for the township as opposed to property owners petitioning to be annexed on a piecemeal basis.

"The township already has police and fire protection and road maintenance," said Ed DeLaHunt. "It has everything it needs right now. Why can't the city contract for sewer and water?"

Tweedale said that is a policy question, but later said most, if not all cities in the state require property to be annexed before they extend sewer and water.

"They should just annex the whole township and we can all run for mayor," said DeLaHunt.

"The people being forgotten are the people who live there," said Jim Theisen, who lives in an area that also is scheduled to be annexed in 2012.


Theisen claimed 70 to 80 percent of the people want nothing to do with the city. He accused the town board of "selling us out."

Jerry Protextor, a neighbor of Theisen's, asked if the residents will have a vote.

No vote of the township residents is required, Tweedale said.

Later in the meeting, still another neighbor, Art Wood, said he fears the annexation will be so costly, he will be forced to sell his home.

Gil Kath, a resident since 1978, said he has favored the idea of the township incorporating for a long time. "I said the city's going to gobble you up," Kath said of the case he made to the town board years ago.

Kath also said he thought copies of the final agreement should have been mailed to township residents regardless of the cost. "People were not informed," Kath said.

All the meetings were open to the public, supervisor Lowell Warne replied.

Kathy pleaded with the town board to vote against the agreement.


'Poor turnout'

Like Theisen, DeLaHunt claimed a lot of people in the areas to be annexed don't want anything to do with the city. He blamed the poor turnout on the fact that the township moved the meeting up from August to July, although the town board said only one date - July 27 - had ever been formally scheduled.

He accused the board of wanting to sign the agreement before Aug. 1 when some changes in state law would have required more to be done.

DeLaHunt most wanted the board to vote on the areas to be annexed as they come up rather than voting on everything at once.

"To set a plan this far ahead is ridiculous," DeLaHunt said. "It's giving the city a blank check."

Further, he said, "if people wanted to live in the city, they would have bought a house in the city."

Bernie Schumacher, who also is an owner at the DeLaHunts' station, agreed the township should "take it one step at a time and wait to see how the corridor develops." She also said she thinks the radio station should be taken out of the area to be annexed.

Butch DeLaHunt handed the township supervisors a copy of written questions. Among them, he said, is what happens if the city grows south rather than east.


Why not a survey?

Butch DeLaHunt also said residents should have been surveyed so the board could gauge their opinions on the plan and criticized the board for relying on a task force and not reporting back to the town board on the meetings. (All five township supervisors and clerk Brenda Carpenter also served on the task force.)

Butch DeLaHunt suggested the township will have to raise property taxes to recoup revenue from the tax base it is losing. Finally, he agreed with Ed the city should "take the whole township and solve the real problem," the density around Long Lake.

Gary Gauldin said he thought the town board should have talked to more people and put the proposal on a ballot for a vote. At the same time, he said if only 10 people show up for the hearing, "it is our fault."

Later in the hearing, township board chairman Ryan Leckner said he had talked to a lot of people about the plans. "We may not have hit everybody," Leckner said, but added he estimated he talked to about 200 people.

Mayor Ted Godfrey said notice was give of all the task force meetings and there also were two open houses when information was presented. The agreement "gives us both planning ability," rather than annexations that are piecemeal.

"I was in on the ground floor with Wal-Mart. They would not be here if it wasn't for being annexed and for city sewer and water," Godfrey said.

Ed DeLaHunt said he has been carrying around a petition to turn Henrietta into a municipality and claimed people don't know what's happening. "They don't take the time to come to meetings and they don't like government," he said.


Comparing the township's pending decision to sign the agreement to the war in Israel, DeLaHunt assured "the war isn't over. If this goes through, there will be some big changes," he said.

"You're looking too far ahead. This is a rule, not a plan - annexation before it's time."

Cheers from one resident

Kathy Grell, a former Park Rapids council member, who now lives in the township, but not in any of the areas to be annexed, offered support to the township.

"I applaud you for working together," Grell said,

"and for looking ahead, not waiting to see how things develop."

Grell, who also serves as chairwoman for the new Hubbard County Regional Economic Development Commission, added the city and county also have shown they can work together. "Governments have to be out in front," she said. Doing things after the fact is always more expensive.

"We're all in this fishbowl together," said Grell. "You have done an excellent job."

But Paulouski said the town board had no business making a decision without knowing if residents support the agreement or not.

Nelson replied the township supervisors' phone numbers are available to everyone, and indicated a mailing is expensive.

Tweedale stepped in to defend the process. He asked if the count commissioners surveyed residents before they decided to build a new jail. "We live in a representative democracy," Tweedale said. "People are busy so they elect people to crawl under the skin of an issue and make really good decisions for us."

In this case, Tweedale said, the town board has the authority to make the decision.

"Take your time," concluded Ed DeLaHunt. "You don't have to do this tonight. Then you'll do it right."

Some surveys were done

Following a break after the public hearing, Leckner convened the board to discuss the proposed agreement.

Nelson pointed out that contrary to what Theisen said, residents in his neighborhood were surveyed a few years ago and the returns showed about half were for being annexed and half were opposed. One reason is the lots are small so people don't have room for a second drainfield.

In addition, the township did a survey when updating its comprehensive plan. The responses were anonymous so the town board doesn't know where the respondents live, but "a lot wanted sewer services."

Warne asked if the agreement becomes a legally binding document.

Tweedale said it is but he would recommend discussing it a couple of times a year. It can be changed by mutual agreement, he said.

In response to another question from supervisor Sharon Koskela, Tweedale suggested appointing members to the committee that will be working on zoning issues soon, so there is agreement by Jan. 1.

Nelson noted the township attorney has checked it and "There are a lot of build-in protections for the city and for us."

Nelson moved to adopt the agreement as written, Koskela seconded the motion and it was approved unanimously.

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