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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

News in Northfield: Lights, Cows, Contentment

< said that education was the only necessary illumination? The city of Northfield wants Carleton and St. Olaf Colleges to pay about $20,000 annually apiece in fees for their streetlights. And the colleges are not content with that.

In order to collect money for the city’s street lighting fees, Northfield has proposed a monthly fee to upon its residents fund utilities. City leaders believe the best way to get the $227,000 the City pays in annual operating costs for lights is by charging homeowners a flat monthly fee and having other landowners pay based on their acreage.

The colleges are unhappy with paying the fee because it infringes on the rights usually extended to non-profit organizations that do not typically pay extra taxes or fees. Under the proposal, Carleton would pay nearly $20,000 a year with their 205 acres of land. St. Olaf would owe around $24,000 for having 251 acres. Households would pay at least $2 monthly.

Steve Blodgett, St. Olaf’s marketing and communications director, told City Councilwoman Rhonda Pownell in an e-mail that the fee is “a thinly cloaked back door tax on nonprofits”.

City Administrator Joel Walinski believes the City’s current proposal is the simplest. It would be too difficult and expensive to determine the actual costs of lighting per customer, resident or student.

Carleton College Vice President and Treasurer Fred Rogers told the Northfield News that he disagreed with the acreage method of determining payment, possibly due to Carleton’s Cowling Arboretum, which has a sparser population of street lights than the average space in Northfield. “If the whole city has to help cover the cost of streetlights, I don’t think we’re immune from that. I just think the basis they came up with is very unfair.” Rogers said.

Both college officials expressed understanding of the need to collect revenue in financially-strapped times for state and local governments.

On Monday night, the City Council discussed the streetlight utility fee while looking at other city utility rates. The City Council generally felt that the current proposal for the fee would work but is still willing to consider other options. It did not bring up the City’s conflict with the colleges over the fee in detail.

City unsure about future building plans

In the City Council’s meeting Monday night that lasted over three hours, not much progress was made on other issues regarding Northfield’s future. The Council was unable to figure out the specifics regarding the future building and expansion of public services.

On the table Monday night were attempts to form more concrete details over the expansion of the Northfield Public Library and the building of a new Safety Center that would house the city’s police and fire departments. While City Administrator Walinski wanted a commitment to vote on next week, no sort of consensus was formed to make that vote possible.

A major part of Council’s discussions regarded costs. The group did not know whether taxpayers should pay for the projects now or in the future. The City Council also debated how to reduce costs on the project amidst an economic downturn. The council members believed that construction costs would likely increase the longer they waited to start building. Some of the Council wanted the Library Board and Safety Center Task Force, the groups responsible for the building proposals, to reduce the costs of their plans by 10 to 20 percent. Mayor Mary Rossing put it best by saying, “There’s so many questions looking at reductions.”

Another messy argument occurred over the actual placement of the library. Council members debated over whether the library should be expanded in downtown or built instead in the southern part of Northfield, where population has increased in the past twenty years. Council Member Jon Denison argued for the necessity to have the library act as more of a space to for community-building. Council members agreed that the public library currently was overcrowded and that an expansion was definitely necessary.

Plans on the new Safety Center were just as muddled. The council considered formally rejecting the Safety Center Task Force’s recommendation that the city build a joint police and fire facility, thus possibly scuttling the idea of a Safety Center altogether in favor of having the police department and fire department in different locations in Northfield.

Now that even the exact number of public building projects is in doubt, Northfield faces the upcoming decade with several burning debates.

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