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Council won't ask rental owners for registration fees

Mayor, council members pay tribute to Mike Harmon

Worthington City Hall
Worthington City Hall. (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON — The city will not solicit payment of registration fees by owners of rental properties for 2021, members of the Worthington City Council agreed Monday night, though it will continue to ask that such owners still register their properties.

Council members voted during a February meeting to rescind the city’s Rental Housing Registration and Inspection Plan, a decision prompted by both an inability to do rental property inspections due to COVID-19 and a need to develop a potentially stricter and more enforceable policy. The council debated the merits of keeping the fee in place for 2021 despite rescinding the program, as well as options that include making the fees optional or waiving them entirely.

Councilman Larry Janssen suggested the city retain the fees, knowing rental property owners are already aware of them and accustomed to paying them. Councilman Chad Cummings, meanwhile, said there are many rental property owners who don’t pay the fees even when they’re required, and suggested making the registration fee payment optional for this year only.

“We could send out something that says we’re working on reforming the program to make it viable for the community,” said Cummings, adding that the letter could request owner registration for rental property units while “the option to pay is yours.”

Councilwoman Amy Ernst had another opinion, suggesting the registration fees be waived entirely.

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“We’ve gone two years without inspections … and this could be viewed like a bit of relief,” she said. “It’s like we’re saying, ‘Take a breath for a year.'"

Ultimately, the council reached a consensus (no formal vote was taken on the matter) that directed the city to ask rental property owners to register their rental units without asking them to pay fees.

While the discussion of registration fees for rental properties took up the most time of any agenda item during Monday’s meeting, council members began their session by taking 10 to 15 minutes to acknowledge the recent death of Mike Harmon and pay tribute to him. Harmon, a city councilman since January 2015 and in the midst of his second four-year term, died suddenly March 4 at his home.

“We will miss his service, his endless optimism, his big heart and his wide smile,” Mayor Mike Kuhle said. “Mike truly cared for the community of Worthington, and we will miss him greatly. Our prayers and deepest sympathies go out to his wife, Elena, and his family at this difficult time.”

“He was a man of great competence … and he was a good friend,” added Janssen through tears. “I had many good conversations with him, including going to Perkins (with him) after the meetings. I’ll miss him.”

Harmon’s wife, children and a granddaughter were among those attending Monday night’s meeting. After a moment of silence, Ernst delivered flowers and Harmon’s nameplate from his empty seat at the table to Elena Harmon.

“Mike loved Worthington, and he loved to come to your meetings,” a grateful Elena Harmon said. “Thanks to the supporters who put him on this council; they gave him such joy. He just loved coming here and being part of the new and progressive Worthington.”

In other business Monday, the council:

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  • Approved Redevelopment Projects 6 and 7 as presented by Worthington Assistant City Administrator/Director of Economic Development Jason Brisson, paving the way for both parcels to be developed as residential lots.

The city purchased approximately 50 acres west of South Crailsheim Drive and north of a westerly extension of Sutherland Drive (Redevelopment Project 6) to create for-sale lots. The project’s plat creates 28 lots for residential development and 10 outlots, of which one will likely be subdivided in the future for additional residential lots.
An approximately 7.8-acre city-owned site south of an easterly extension of Darling Drive and east of Grand Avenue is also poised for additional for-sale lots intended for residential development.

“I give my sincere thanks to staff and council members for this redevelopment plan,” Kuhle said, noting the variety of residential lots the projects will ultimately make available.

  • Approved an amended lease with Nobles County for the Prairie Justice Center (PJC).

The city and Nobles County entered into a 99-year lease agreement in 2002 for space occupied by the Worthington Police Department at the PJC, with the city agreeing to pay 43.34% of the 20-year Phase III Bond. The city levied approximately $195,000 for annual payments to the county; the final payment is due in February 2022.
In addition to the initial capital expenditure, the city was responsible for 12.72% of expenses and improvements based on its share of occupied space. The lease was amended in 2016, adjusting the city’s share of occupied space to 12.89% and adding language clarifying responsibility for capital improvements, which in recent years have totaled $4,539,283.70. The city's share of those improvements is $1,128,098.83. Nobles County bonded for those improvements with an interest rate of 2.433%, and the city’s share is accruing interest at that rate.

The city will continue to levy approximately $200,000 each year to repay Nobles County for its share of capital improvements. In future years, if the levied amount exceeds that owed to the county, those funds will be held in reserve for future improvements.

  • Approved an additional phase one local option sales tax expenditure of $24,290 for the purchase of a new handicapped-accessible floating dock at Ludlow Park.

  • Approved a proposal from LHB to perform inspection services at the 1000 Sherwood St. property owned by Cemstone. A proposed deal between the city and Cemstone includes a land swap wherein the Worthington Economic Development Authority takes ownership of the Cemstone property once the business has demolished several existing buildings on the site. Costs associated with LHB’s services are structured on an hourly basis, not to exceed $9,800, including reimbursable expenses and a full TIF report.

Related Topics: GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Ryan McGaughey arrived in Worthington in April 2001 as sports editor of The Daily Globe, and first joined Forum Communications Co. upon his hiring as a sports reporter at The Dickinson (North Dakota) Press in November 1998. McGaughey became news editor in Worthington in November 2002 and editor in August 2006.
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