When members of the Princeton Town Board and Princeton City Council get together next Thursday the joint meeting agenda will be heavy with touchy topics.
A preliminary and very basic review of orderly annexation and possible joint powers concepts are likely to be discussed when the two governmental units meet at 7 p.m. at Princeton Township Hall.
Last month, Princeton city leaders spent a half-hour pondering what might be discussed during the Aug. 15 joint meeting as well as city priorities.
During a meeting July 11, City Administrator Robert Barbian provided a look back at recent discussions with Princeton Township officials that have occurred thus far this calendar year.
Minutes from that July meeting provided additional background about those meetings.
Barbian explained that in February, township resident Marcia Anderson attended a planning commission meeting inquiring about the rules for her and a group of neighbors who are interested in annexing to the city.
Anderson expressed frustration working with the township in getting 33rd and 82nd improved. She was encouraged to set up a meeting with Barbian.
In March, Mayor Brad Schumacher attended a town board meeting to support Fire Chief Row Lawrence regarding a proposed fire truck purchase involving Princeton Township.
After that meeting, Princeton Town Board Chair Gene Stoeckel and Schumacher discussed the problem of residents and roads in the township.
During an April study session, the Princeton City Council approved a letter to be sent inviting the Township to sit down and discuss issues.
In May, Stoeckel, Supervisor Dave Persing, Schumacher and Barbian met and listed some of the properties and residents in the area. Approximately 50 residents petitioned the township to create a tax district to pave roads. Approximately 10 residents opposed the project requiring the township to hold a referendum, which failed.
At a May township and city meeting, the township proposed that the city pay a portion for improvements, half for 33rd, with lands south of 33rd being transferred into city limits.
In a phone call to Schumacher about a week or two after that meeting, township officials informed the city of Princeton it could have all the properties and pave all the roads.
Barbian met with City Attorney Damien Toven to obtain general guidance regarding various steps in such a process and which properties could be attached and where road improvements could occur.
A two-phase approach currently is being discussed whereby part of the properties having cooperative owners could be attached to the city with via road improvements.
A second phase could involve land with more housing development potential and split interests. Those properties could become attached and considered within an orderly annexation agreement.
During the council’s July 11 meeting, Barbian presented a map that showed a number of residential properties.
“There are quite a few properties in the area," Barbian said. “I’ve had some very preliminary discussions with the city attorney about steps that could be considered in such a process, breaking them into pieces if some of the properties wished to come into the city.”
Barbian said there’s quite a bit of interest from residents in the area to obtain reconstruction of their roads.
Schumacher said the discussions with Princeton Township involve a transportation issue that need to be addressed.
“At the first initial meeting when we sat down, Princeton Township brought forward a plan to split the cost of maintaining 33rd,” Schumacher said. “We would pay for half and pave the road. When I initially sent a letter, it was because our city council had already put in a place a process to assess multiple parcels of land in a given area.”
According to Schumacher, the discussion with the township spiraled into a discussion where they didn’t want to participate at all, and then, it was suggested they talk with their residents about covering paving costs, he said.
Councilor Jack Edmond asked during the July 11 meeting about getting the Princeton School District involved in the road improvement process.
Schumacher said he did speak with Superintendent Ben Barton.
“I told him the council was going to have meetings with the township to discuss this issue with our neighboring [units of government] and businesses to figure out a transportation plan. This is obviously an area of impact that needs to be addressed,” Schumacher said.
During the July 11 meeting, Zimmer recalled when ball fields were being installed north of the middle school and the school district wanted to have an entrance.
“I believe the township didn’t want to pave that road and school district didn’t want to pay for it either, so that’s why there isn’t another entrance to those fields other than going through the middle school parking lot or around,” Zimmer said, adding there’s nothing wrong with the city working with them to get the road paved,
Edmonds said that Mille Lacs County has a single-option sales tax that generates a lot of money. He wondered if the township could reach out to the county for assistance and tap those funds.
Zimmer said the recent discussions have developed because there are two or three new members on the Princeton Township Board.
“They are looking for ways to get those roads paved, but at the same time, it’s still their responsibility to maintain the road, because it’s their responsibility. I can understand their desire to find other ways to do it. I don’t want to see the city get the short end of the stick if those roads are paved. We want to benefit and get something from it. We are not just going to do it out of the goodness of our hearts.”
Edmonds said the city’s policy has been to consider annexation with such issues.
“We don’t seek it, but it could be considered,” he said.
Barbian said to that end, there was at least one property owner [Marcia Anderson] who was representing herself and her neighbors.
That lead to additional discussions with the town board.
“They have expressed an interest in potentially transferring property to the city,” Barbian said.
Zimmer said he wanted to be careful, and didn’t want the city of Princeton initiating any sort of annexation issue with the township.
Edmonds replied, “If we could keep the road improvement issue separate from the annexation part of the discussion, I’m all for trying to find a way to improve the road. I’m all for that.” Zimmer agreed.
“We need to get the school district to contribute somehow,” Edmonds added.
Schumacher said township zoning was a much more difficult process, and part of the motivation of the township board involved a lack of possible financial resources when compared to the city of Princeton.
Meeting Is Suggested
He asked city council members what they thought of having a joint meeting with the township board that would involve quorums being present for both governmental bodies.
“Why not have a group meeting involving all ten of us?” Schumacher asked. “There would be more people involved because they would have their staff present, too, but why not have a joint meeting where we are all sitting around a roundtable and we call two meetings to order?”
Schumacher said that’s what was done when he was with Baldwin Township and there was a road involving two townships that abutted.
“It has to be a partnership among us, so we get a better cost-share scenario,” Schumacher added.
Barbian said it would be important to get the school district involved.
Schumacher said the road is busy, because it’s get graded a number of times during a given year. “It’s a high-volume and high traffic road. It’s not kids on four-wheelers,” he added.
Zimmer said cooperating with the township to improve a road that’s traveled by Princeton students on district buses was an important consideration.
“That’s one issue,” he said. “But I’m not in favor at this of extending any boundaries.”
Schumacher said the people of Princeton Township didn’t want to bond to pay for roads, and that’s why a referendum failed.
“They were very clear about that in the last election process,” Schumacher said. “That’s why we are here, considering dialog and discussion. This involves a larger transportation plan. The schools are going to be there for a long time.”
Zimmer replied: “They don’t want to pay for improvements. The city of Princeton has sucked up its roundabout cost. Maybe they need to do the same thing [with roads] if this is such a big need. Maybe their township board has to make a decision to do this. “
Schumacher said he wanted to change the boundaries and have the city of Princeton obtain land that could be used to generate tax revenue.
“People want to live by schools,” he said. “Moms and Dads say that they want to be closer to schools. That opportunity better fits our planning and zoning than it does rural planning and zoning. I’m all for a meeting of 10 elected officials who can to sit down and have this conversation. Let’s invite the school superintendent to participate.”
Councilor Jeff Reynolds asked if it was legally possible for the city to pay for a road that wasn’t within city limits.
City Attorney Damien Toven told the council during the meeting the city could not expend funds for that purpose.
However, if a road abuts two different jurisdictions, Toven said in theory, the city could expend funds to improve a portion of the road.
“You would have to figure out a way for the township or another entity to enter into an agreement that would facilitate that,” Toven explained. “Having properties annexed into the city would give it authority to spend general fund monies and collect assessments to improve roads.”
Toven added the city and township can initiate conversations regarding joint powers agreements and orderly annexation, as long such meetings were scheduled in advance and announced via public notice.
That’s the case with the joint meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 15 between the city and township at Princeton Township Hall.
“Orderly annexation is not a topic that can occur overnight,” Toven said. “There would be a lot of discussion, and a lot of meetings.”