Nobles County tobacco ordinance holds up business sale of Worthington Casey's
Patel and Casey’s are under contract for a sale of the business, but that sale is contingent on whether tobacco sales will be allowed to continue.
WORTHINGTON — A planned sale of the Casey’s General Store at 1007 Oxford St., to Ankitkumar “Andy” Patel, which was supposed to happen in late March, is delayed due to a tobacco ordinance adopted by Nobles County commissioners on April 5, 2022.
The ordinance states that tobacco licenses will not be issued to any businesses located within 1,000 feet of a youth-oriented facility, as measured by the shortest line between the property line of the retailer and the youth-oriented facility. Youth-oriented facilities are defined as any facility where individuals, of which at least 25% are regularly under age 21, frequent. This includes schools, playgrounds, recreation centers and parks.
Businesses already selling tobacco products were grandfathered in, including Casey’s, whose property line is 824 feet from Trojan Field.
Michelle Ebbers, Nobles County Community Health Services administrator and public health supervisor, received a tobacco license application from Corky’s Corner and its owner, Patel, on Feb. 23. The request was denied due to its proximity to Trojan Field, and Ebbers told Nobles County commissioners during their Tuesday morning board meeting that Patel signed the tobacco licensure application, indicating he understood the ordinance.
Ebbers said Trojan Field is owned by District 518 and hosts Trojan football, soccer, track, marching band and many other youth sports and outdoor activities, as well as Minnesota West football games. Based on that, Ebbers said Community Services considers Trojan Field to be a youth-oriented facility under the ordinance.
Patel, along with his legal counsel, Peter Coyle, attended Tuesday morning’s meeting to request reconsideration.
“Casey’s is a longstanding business member of your community,” Coyle said, noting that Patel and Casey’s are under contract for a sale of the business, but that sale is contingent on whether tobacco sales will be allowed to continue.
Coyle said tobacco sales were estimated by Casey’s to account for approximately 50% of its business.
Patel, who owns 30 gas stations and six liquor stores in Minnesota and South Dakota, said he owns a business within 500 feet of a high school in Waseca and that it’s never had an issue.
“We comply with the regulations to not sell to underage people,” Patel told commissioners.
Coyle, meanwhile, disagreed with the county’s interpretation regarding Trojan Field.
“It’s not something that’s occupied on a regular basis,” he said. “It’s seasonal, it’s weather-dependent.”
Coyle also noted that Casey’s has held a tobacco license since its inception at the location. He said while the county chose to change its ordinance, that change cannot be applied to existing businesses — including businesses that have a transfer in ownership.
“There’s no question that Casey’s has operated the business in a lawful manner,” Coyle said, adding that Corky’s Corner would do the same. He said not allowing the license would deprive Casey’s of its ability to sell its business, and deprive Corky’s Corner of its ability to have a substantial business investment.
Patel said he’s already put money down on the purchase, and is spending $1.2 million for the property and updated signage and investments. He also noted the business has 20 employees with a payroll of nearly $300,000 annually.
Nobles County Attorney Joe Sanow said the ability to transfer a tobacco license to a third party was not allowed in a previous version of the county’s tobacco ordinance. He advised commissioners that if they wanted to make a change to the ordinance, such as reducing the distance, it would require an amendment to the ordinance, and that would take time and require a public hearing.
Commissioner Bob Paplow said while he would like to prevent minors from purchasing cigarettes, he also understands a business needs to make a profit. He asked if it would be possible for the business to refrain from selling tobacco products during the times Trojan Field is in use.
Sanow said it wouldn’t be impossible to do that, but it, too, would require an amendment to the ordinance.
Ultimately, commissioners voted 4-1 to defer the request for more discussion on the ordinance. A second motion requested that the county seek a second opinion from another legal firm it works with. That motion was approved, with the request that information be gathered and commissioners will have it on the agenda for their April 18 meeting.
In other action, the board:
- Awarded a contract to Structural Specialties, Inc. to replace two county bridges — on County State Aid Highway 6 and 19 — in 2023. Structural Specialties, Inc. submitted the lowest of six bids received, at $2,303,488.06. This was 7.96% higher than the engineer’s estimate, which is due to increases in materials such as reinforced steel, piling steel, bituminous and other products.
- Awarded the 2023 crack seal and seal coat projects to Morris Sealcoat and Trucking, Inc., which presented the lowest of five bids at $2,431,873.61. The bid was 4.77% below the engineer’s estimate of $2,553,817.70. The contract includes doing bituminous crack sealing and seal coating on approximately 51.5 miles of county roads.
Approved an increase in the Ag Best Management Practices maximum loan amount for the county’s subsurface sewage treatment system loan program, from $15,000 to $20,000. Since 2018, the cost for installing a new septic system has drastically increased, with most now costing $20,000 or more, depending on the number of bedrooms, type of system and distance to the drainfield.
The loan goes on the property owner’s taxes for a 10-year term at 3% interest.
- Accepted a $119,708 Centers for Disease Control infrastructure grant through the Minnesota Department of Health. The grant, to be paid over five years, will be used to recruit, retain and train a diverse public health workforce and address public health infrastructure needs.
- Approved the fourth amendment to a Children’s Mental Health Respite grant, extending the end date of the grant to Dec. 31 and accepting an additional $6,972 in funding from the Minnesota Department of Human Services.
- Approved Nobles County’s sponsorship of the Des Moines River Watershed Partnership for membership in the Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust.
- Recognized Shari Dean, public health nurse, with the March Excellence in Performance award for her service on the Employee Wellness and Recognition Committee.
- Presented an award to Diane Vogt, deputy auditor-treasurer in taxes, records and elections, for 15 years of service to Nobles County.
- Accepted a federal propane vehicle grant through the Minnesota Department of Transportation to acquire two propane-operated vehicles for the local Joint Powers Transportation Authority. The vehicles will add flexibility and better meet rider demand.
- Approved hiring Madsen Land Surveying to complete a survey of the former Kid’s Peace Prairie Academy at the Prairie Justice Center. Plans are to renovate the space into a short-term crisis center, and the Minnesota Department of Human Services requires that portion of the building to be surveyed and have its own legal description, separate from the Prairie Justice Center. The estimate from Madsen for surveying is between $7,500 and $10,600, which will be paid for through the Nobles County Community Services budget.