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City tax plan facing overhaul

WORTHINGTON -- Worthington City Council members decided Monday night to redirect the Economic Development Ad Hoc Committee to explore other alternatives pertaining to construction of single-family dwellings.

Their decision stemmed from the rejections of the city's proposed tax abatement program by both the Nobles County Board of Commissioners and Independent School District 518 Board of Education.

The Nobles County board rejected the proposal prior to the city council's readjustment of the abatement program last month. The resulting amended version -- a three-year, 100-percent abatement for each single-family home of any value constructed on a bare lot between years 2012 to 2014 -- was subsequently presented to school board members, which rejected it on a 5-2 vote.

"For me, if only one third of us are participating, the paper work aspect and everything else that goes along with it is not feasible," Alderman Lyle Ten Haken said.

"I find it interesting that communities around us can figure out ways to make it work and we struggle with it," Mayor Alan Oberloh said. "I feel disappointed for people on the ad hoc committee who met night after night for several months to try to come up with something. That was their poster child and it got shot down."

Oberloh explained the importance of the ad hoc committee researching successful tax abatement programs in other communities instead of "trying to reinvent the wheel."

Alderman Mike Kuhle asked about the possibility of designating a residential TIF district on the west side of the city.

"It's not as simple as saying yes," said the city's director of community/economic development, Brad Chapulis. "State statues have six different TIF districts and each one has their own rules and regulations. There is the potential for a housing TIF district that is geared toward low- and moderate-income housing."

In a separate matter, Oberloh reported that stemming from a joint city/council/school board meeting, discussion surfaced about the possibility of moving the senior center with the Nobles County Historical Society to Pioneer Village .

"I'm not real wrapped around that idea because one of the reasons they thought it would be great because the seniors would have an opportunity to work on the buildings out there and the (women) could work on the flower gardens," Oberloh said. "I happen to believe that with the right programming, it wouldn't matter where the senior center is within the community."

When construction bids for the senior center received exceeded the city's budget, council members opted to separate the project into two phases -- demolition and environmental remediation, and construction.

"I'm curious about the senior center. Isn't that thing all done?" asked honorary council member Keith Wilson.

"Now we're doing what we have to do, which is to take down a dilapidated building, but unless it's pulled into budget, I don't think we're there," Ten Haken replied.

In other business, council:

* Approved an application for temporary on-sale liquor license submitted by the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce for its Jan. 20 annual meeting.

* Approved an application of exemption from lawful gambling permit submitted by the Worthington Area YMCA for a Raffles draw scheduled for March 30 at Minnesota West Community and Technical College .

* Approved appointment of Mark W. Shepherd as the city attorney and Jim E. Malters as the assistant city attorney for a one-year term from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2012. The previous agreement expired Dec. 31, 2011. According to the proposal submitted by Malters, Shepherd & Von Holtum Attorneys at Law, the proposed hourly rate will remain at $149.50.

* Approved the second of three required readings of a proposed ordinance amending Chapter 111, Section 111.33 of the Worthington City Code, which will allow minors below the age of 18 to enter establishments with a liquor license within the city with a responsible adult.

The current city code excludes the entry of minors below 18 unless the child is present with a parent, grandparent or a legal guardian. In the case of the establishment with on-sale intoxicating liquor or 3.2 percent malt liquor license, the child may only be in the area of the establishment where liquor is not sold.

* Approved land acquisition of a property located on the east side of TH 59 for the TH 59 North infrastructure project. The owner of the property has accepted the city's offer of $7,000 and purchase is subject to council's approval.

* Appointed Wendland, Sellers, Bromeland, P.A. of Blue Earth as special council for eminent domain proceedings pertaining to the acquisition of portions of two tracts of land on the west side of TH 59. The attorney service is required to prepare initiation of the formal condemnation action, but no formal action will be initiated without further council approval.

* Authorized city staff to submit an application for the 2012 Minnesota City Participation Program offered by the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency (MHFA). The program annually funds below market interest rate home mortgage loans for low- to moderate-income first-time home buyers who purchase homes within the awarded communities.

* Authorized Peer Engineering as the firm responsible for the first phase of environmental tests at the proposed hotel/event center site.