Possible city purchase of vacant bank building in Wyoming irks citizens

Alice Pickering
Wyoming Reporter

A Wyoming City Council move to explore the possible purchase of a vacant bank building is not sitting well with residents, including former city officials and current business owners.

Council members at recent work sessions have had discussions on the topic of the possibility of buying The RiverBank building for conversion to city hall.  The building was vacated shortly after the bank was acquired by Central Bank.

The shuttered building is owned by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation following the bank failure and the decision by Central Bank to pass on buying it.

After the bank closed, Wyoming operations were consolidated with Central Bank offices in Forest Lake and Chisago City.

Many of the residents attended the council meeting on Tuesday, April 17 to tell city officials and staff their feelings about that idea. Several were following up on e-mails they had sent to the city.

At a council meeting on March 20, County Commissioner Ben Montzka, said the county was particularly hard hit by the change in the tax structure this year. The county would have had to cut its tax levy 40 percent to compensate for the 14.6 percent increase in taxes on commercial properties.

Complaints and comments from the audience last week confirmed this.

Just Discussion

Mayor Eric Peterson explained that the discussion is just discussion. The bank building is for sale.

The council is attempting to find out the price for the building. If the price is right, it would be a good building for pennies on the dollar, the mayor said.

In a later interview, Peterson said the city is “faced with challenges, but is presented with opportunities.”  He said if the building is available at a reasonable price, the low interest rates would make it the time to try to purchase it.

However, street repair and improvement remain council priorties, the mayor said.

But few in the audience agreed that the purchase would be a good thing for the city.

John and Nancy Bergum, business owners in the city, said they are opposed because their property taxes have continued to increase. Even if the building is a good deal, “Sometimes you have to say no,” Nancy Bergum said.

Steve Sicheneder said that any purchase of this size should be a referendum issue to the voters. Another concern was that the bank is a prime piece of business property, which if it became city offices, would come off the tax rolls, he said.

Sicheneder suggested some business should buy the building. There would be remodeling costs associated with using the building for city purposes, he said.

Darryl Vincent reminded the council that the property where the Giese Library is located was at one time considered by the city as too valuable to take off the tax rolls.

Rodney Hestekin, a former mayor, has had calls from other business owners who agreed that they “can’t see anymore increases in taxes, or we’ll be out of business.”  The city is short on commercial property and this purchase would increase the tax load for existing businesses, Hestekin said.

He also believes it would keep potential businesses away.

Tom Terry, long-time resident, was opposed to the purchase, even without all the facts.

Neil Gatzow, another former mayor, asked if any figures had been presented to the council.

Peterson and Council member Roger Elmore said that part of the discussion was about a possible referendum. City Administrator Craig Mattson estimated that purchasing the bank and remodeling the current city hall could cost each household about $35 a year in property taxes over a specified bond period.

Sandy Standridge, a former council member, was concerned about the number of times the police department has moved and buildings remodeled to suit operations. If the city hall were to be relocated, the police department would move again and public works would be shifted to the former town hall, which now houses the police department with more tax dollars spent on renovations, she said.

Standridge said it was more important that street improvements be made and poorly maintained properties cleaned up.

She also believes residents should have the right to vote about a possible purchase.  Residents are entitled to know where money is going and to what purpose, she said.

City Attorney Mark Vierling said that before any action was taken there would be at minimum a public hearing about the issue and likely more than one.

City Staff

Wyoming City Council on April 17 approved hiring Nicole Morris as the new administrative assistant. The position was advertised with the retirement of Sandy Berry, utility billing clerk.

There were 65 applicants for the position, according to City Administrator Mattson. The field was narrowed to five, based on technical and computer literacy, problem-solving skills and education and experience. After interviews with these individuals, two candidates were finalists for the position.

Based on what were described as well-developed people skills, Mattson recommended Morris. Her work experience includes an internship for Oak Park Heights and Bayport, with experience as a senior court clerk with the State of Minnesota Judicial Branch.  She leaves a position in Inver Grove Heights.

The approval is contingent on a satisfactory background check. The starting rate for the position is $23.88 per hour, with a review in six months. Morris begins work on Monday, May 7.

Labor Contract

The city reached an employment agreement for maintenance department workers. Mattson said the contract is basically the same as the last contract. It was negotiated under the fair labor standard act, since the employee is no longer represented by a union.

Mattson explained the contract is for three years from 2012 through 2014. The city will contribute up to $627.26 a month for medical/dental coverage for an individual policy. For family coverage, the city will contribute a not-to-exceed premium amount of $1,537.35 a month.

If the insurance cost increases more than 20 percent in any one year, the city and employee will evaluate the city contribution for health insurance premiums.  Council approved the contract by a vote of 5-0.

Vogel Site

A long-standing problem with property owned by Charles Vogel is to be addressed once again.

A number of years ago, the city declared the property a nuisance and cleaned it up at a cost of $60,000, according to Mattson. Vogel’s family has cleaned it up again in 2007.

In his report, Fred Weck, zoning administrator/building official, said the plywood covering openings in the buildings have been removed, there are holes in the roof and ceilings and roof collapsing from water damage. With the buildings nearing collapse, Weck recommended the buildings be demolished and cleared from the property. Photos documented his assessment of the site.

Public Works Director Jason Windingstad said he nearly fell through the floor of one building during inspection. There is junk and debris in the buildings and evidence of vandalism.

Police Chief Paul Hoppe characterized the site as a “habitual disorderly property.” The buildings are dangerous and an attractive nuisance and the department is dealing with trespass and criminal vandalism, he said.

Vierling explained that once Vogel is notified of the proposed action, he has 20 days to respond or request a hearing. Costs of the demolition and clean-up will be assessed to the property. By a vote of 5-0 city council approved the summary order of enforcement.

Other Business

In other business, the council:

•Learned that fireworks will be a part of the program for Stagecoach Days on September 15.  Council approved the contract with RES Specialty Pyrotechnics, Inc., of Belle Plaine at a cost of $6,000, for which the company will supply the fireworks, provide a $5 million liability insurance and clean up the site after the event.

•Approved final payment to Pearson Bros., Inc. in the amount of $5,635.98 for spring street sweeping. The vote was unanimous.

•By unanimous vote, authorized payment of the bills, payroll and journal entries for April 3-17.

•Heard a request from city resident Jerry Owens to consistently have the council agenda posted on the city web site before meetings. Staff agreed to do this.

•Approved the minutes of the April 3 regular council meeting.