Weather Forecast


City Planning Commission to review variances

The City of Morris Planning Commission will review Stevens County's request for variances and a street vacation for its proposed $15 million building and renovation project.

The City of Morris Planning Commission will review variance requests from Stevens County for its building and renovation project on April 21.

The county is seeking variances and a street vacation related to its $15 million courthouse renovation and construction of a jail and law enforcement center.

An advisory panel is currently reviewing the project and is expected to release a report in May. Opposition, primarily to the jail portion of the project, prompted the county board to halt the bidding and bond sale processes and form the review committee.

The board approved the project last summer and was scheduled to begin construction this spring. But the county also asked its architect and project manager to prepare alternative plans, both of which don't include construction of a jail.

The panel is scheduled to meet with the county Auditor/Treasurer Neil Wiese, Assessor Judy Thorstad, and financial consultant Carolyn Drude, of Ehlers and Associates, at its meeting Monday.

The city's Planning Commission will be asked to consider variances related to building coverage on the courthouse site, a height variance, and a request to vacate the block of Colorado Avenue along the main entrance of the courthouse.

The current plan calls for buildings to cover slightly more of the site than is allowed under city codes. The project also calls for the courthouse's back parking lot to be lowered. While the proposed building heights won't change, lowering the lot means the buildings will exceed ground to peak allowances.

The Planning Commission public hearings on the project are scheduled to being at about 5:15 p.m. on April 22. The commission also will discuss elementary school reuse issues.

In Morris City Council business on Tuesday:

• The city received the highest rating possible in an audit for 2008, according to Brian Stavanger, of Eide Bailley.

All funds were within acceptable ranges, with just a slight decrease in government funds revenues. That's significant given that the State of Minnesota "unallocated" about $128,000 from the city's 2008 budget.

The city's general fund reserves are about 58 percent of budget, which means the city could operate about six or seven months with no new revenue. The benchmark is about 50 percent of budget.

Stavanger praised the work of City Finance Director Gene Krosschell and city staffers, as did Mayor Sheldon Giese.

"We've come to expect that," Giese said. "Thank you, Gene."

City Manager Blaine Hill also said city department heads did a good job of holding the line on spending "which is always a good sign for an organization."

Hill said the city will continue to adjust its 2009 budget as the Minnesota Legislature and Gov. Tim Pawlenty deal with the state's $4.6 billion deficit for the next biennium.

• The city finalized an agreement to pay $6,749 to Don Gieselman for about 1.7 acres of land that will be used to develop a storm sewer swale for the Highland Homes Addition.

Work in the Highland Homes neighborhoods is expected to begin this spring.

The city paid $4,000 per acre for the land, and Gieselman agreed to deed over an additional 0.723 acres that would allow the city to develop a swale, which measures 1,050 feet by 100 feet, that is large enough to also take on drainage of Gieselman's property north of Highland Homes.

Hill said there are no plans to develop in the area but that the swale capacity is adequate to handle future drainage from the area.

• The city approved a Tolling Agreement with the University of Minnesota related to damage to Big Cat Stadium from water coming from the city's water tower.

The city and university have been discussing the damage and responsibility. The university believes the city is at fault while the city's insurance trust disagrees.

The Tolling Agreement extends the time limit for the university to claim damages. Hill said approving the agreement does not mean the city admits responsibility nor does it assess damages. Extending the claim time limits allows both sides to continue to work out the problem. Without the Tolling Agreement, the university might be compelled to sue the city before the time limits expired.

The League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust and the university are expected to discuss the cost of repairs and a settlement, but no meeting had been set, Hill said.

• The Morris Human Rights Commission announced the winners of its essay contest.

The commission reviewed 14 essays submitted by 6th graders at St. Mary's School. The essays were to address international human rights and the international bill of rights.

Kelsey Curfman was awarded first place and received $75. Michael Rausch was second and was awarded $50, and Aaron Lawrence was third and was awarded $25.