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City sells old elementary school property

MORRIS – On a four to one vote, the Morris City Council on Tuesday finally sold the property where the former Morris Elementary School sat for 90 years.

Riley Bros. Properties of Morris will pay $177,500, or $10,000 an acre for the property.

Council member Brian Solvie was the lone dissenting vote.

“The price is hanging me up,” said Solvie.

One year ago, the council advertised for proposals for the 17.75 acre parcel of land and received three proposals. They focused on two of those, one from Prairieland Partners of Minnetonka, and another proposal from Riley Bros. Properties of Morris.

Prairieland Partners offered between $350,000 and $500,000 for up to 12 acres. Riley Bros. Properties’ original proposal was $135,000 for the entire parcel.  

In a memo to the council, City Manager Blaine Hill said that this is not strictly a land sale, but is a development deal. He noted that the two proposals cannot be compared simply on price.

“The plus to their proposal is that Rileys will pay for the infrastructure,” said Council member Kevin Wohlers.

Wohlers noted that the purchase price is not where they’d want it, but when all of the costs were factored in, it’s a pretty comparable proposal.

Council member Bill Storck said that he is still waiting for a work session with the developer.  “We don’t have any voice in this. We don’t know what they’re going to put there.” Storck said.  

Wohlers replied that there has been some indication from Riley Bros. Properties on their plans. “I’m willing to sell to Riley’s because I know it will be done right,” Wohlers said.

Council members actually voted on the sale twice, once as the city council, to allow the property to be sold and again as the city’s Economic Development Authority to sell the property to Riley Bros. Properties.

Solvie was the lone dissenting vote on both issues. In the discussion, he suggested that the sale of the elementary property be tied to the acquisition of approximately 15 acres of land from the Rileys for the city’s industrial park.

Hill replied that tying the two deals together would only muddy the water.  

City receives clean audit results

The City of Morris received another clean financial audit for 2011.

Jamie Fay, of Eide Bailly, told the council that the city had received a clean audit opinion or an “unqualified opinion,” which is “what you want and the opinion you have always received.”

Total revenues for the city were $4,107,260 and expenditures totaled $3,958,643.  

Fay noted that the city’s municipal liquor store’s gross profit for 2013 was nearly identical to the previous year at 24 percent. The statewide average for off-sale only stores is 25.8 percent.  

The city’s debt per capita is at $2,411. Fay said that compares to an average of $3,464 in the 16 cities that Eide Bailly audits.  

The city’s fund balance for 2013 was $1,352,488, which was up slightly from the previous two years.  

Resident asks about businesses in Morris

Morris resident Monique Richardson spoke to the council about her concerns that the city of Morris is not doing enough to attract retail businesses.   

Richardson sent an e-mail to members of the council following a report from the Stevens County Economic Improvement Commission on jobs and wages in Stevens County. In her e-mail, Richardson complained that the city has turned down businesses that were looking to move here.  

Richardson told the council that she has never lived in a town this size and that moving here was a culture shock. She noted that there is “a lot of negativity regarding the city” and she said there was some “urban legends” about the city’s treatment of businesses like Wal-Mart and Coborns that she has discovered were wrong in her communications with council members.

She said that she didn’t want to grouse, but wanted to know what she could do to help.

City Manager Blaine Hill responded that nobody blocked Wal-Mart from building here and the city did not force Coborns out. Hill stressed that “nobody in city government is blocking anyone from coming here.”

Hill also pointed out that just as the manufacturing firms are having trouble filling positions, so too are the retail and service businesses in the community. He said they are looking at whether there needs to be more housing to attract more workers.  

Council member Bill Storck commented that he too is concerned as he sees many people traveling to Alexandria.

“All of us do the same thing, we spend our money out of town,” said Storck. “I don’t know how to fix that.”

Richardson’s husband, Geoff, also spoke. He noted that the lack of workers is hurting the community and he felt it would be easier to attract new workers if the city had more amenities. He said the effort to get an outdoor pool in Morris may be “too little too late.”

Council member Kevin Wohlers thanked the Richardsons for coming to the council and having an open discussion about the challenges. But, he said, “We all need to be ambassadors for Morris.”