Afton balks at commissioner’s caretaker proposalCity Council is advised by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources that it must advertise publicly if it wishes to lease city-owned property.
By: Amber Kispert-Smith, Woodbury Bulletin
Afton City Council remained torn on whether or not to allow an Afton Planning Commissioner to lease a city-owned property.
City Council discussed the matter during a special meeting on Sept. 4.
Last month Planning Commissioner Michelle Dunkirk made a request to lease the city owned property after recently selling her house of 20 years in Afton.
Dunkirk, who has served on Planning Commission since 2010, is currently looking for a new residence in order to remain in the city.
Afton City Council recently purchased a property at 3633 St. Croix Trail as part of a levee project.
Even though the city will ultimately tear down the residence currently on the property, that won’t occur until the summer of 2013.
Dunkirk is requesting to lease the house from September 2012 through May 2013.
However, there are a number of repairs that need to take place before the property is livable.
After last month’s meeting, City Council directed staff to gather additional information relating to how this would affect the city’s flood mitigation grant with the /Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, what the market rental rate would be and the exact terms to be addressed in order to make the property rentable.
During the Sept. 4 meeting, Afton City Council discussed a letter it had received from the DNR, which states that any rental opportunity with the property would have to be advertised and made available to the public.
City Council members Joe Richter and Bill Palmquist agreed with DNR that if they choose to rent, it needs to be made public.
“It would be like we’re selecting the renter,” Richter said.
However, Richter said he’s not opposed to the rental idea.
“I would not mind considering the rental option, I don’t think there’s any need to tear it down right away,” he said.
Additionally, any rental income generated would be considered “project income,” which would then be deducted in the project expenses submitted to DNR for reimbursement as part of the flood mitigation grant.
Dunkirk, who was in attendance at last week’s meeting, presented an alternative proposal.
She suggested that rather than renting the property, she would become the “caretaker” of the property, meaning she would stay at the property rent free and perform any maintenance.
“Otherwise you have an eyesore then until you take it down,” she said.
Dunkirk said she would also take care of any of the needed upfront repairs such as exposed wiring, completion of sheet rocking on the wall between the garage and the house, the installation of a fire-rated door between the house and the garage and the installation of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
Additionally, Dunkirk said she would reimburse the city for any insurance needed to be paid on the property.
Mayor Pat Snyder said she was in support of the caretaker proposal.
Richter, Palmquist and City Council Member Peg Nolz were not in favor of the caretaker idea.
“I think it puts more liability on the city since we’re almost like we’re her employer,” Richter said.
Nolz agreed with Richter about the employer issue.
“Letting her live there for nothing is essentially giving her that money,” she said. “We would essentially be ‘paying’ her and that’s a liability.”
Palmquist questioned whether or not the city would have to advertise for the caretaker position.
Palmquist and City Council Member Randy Nelson were both in favor of demolishing the house.
“My preference has always been getting a move on getting rid of it,” Palmquist said.
City Council ultimately decided to discuss the caretaker proposal with the DNR, the city attorney and the city accountant to see what their feelings on the matter are.
“I have my own ideas about it, but I would like to know where they would come in on it,” Richter said.
City Council will discuss the matter again at its Sept. 18 meeting.
“Whatever we’re going to do we should do,” Palmquist said.