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SUNFISH LAKE SPECIAL CITY COUNCIL MEETING – JANUARY 4, 2022
5:00 P.M. – ONLINE MEETING
Mayor Dan O’Leary
Councilmembers: Mike Hovey, Steve Bulach, and Shari Hansen
City Attorney: Tim Kuntz
City Building Official: Mike Andrejka
City Engineer: Jeff Sandberg
City Forester: Jim Nayes
City Planner: Lori Johnson
City Treasurer: Ann Lanoue
City Clerk: Cathy Iago
1. CALL TO ORDER: Mayor O’Leary called the meeting to order at 5:00 p.m.
2. CONSULTANT REVIEWS: Mayor O’Leary stated the purpose of the special meeting was to conduct consultant performance reviews. He explained that Council would review each consultant’s work for the past year and discuss any upcoming issues or concerns they identify as possible issues in the upcoming year.
CITY CLERK/ADMINISTRATOR: Mayor O’Leary expressed his opinion that the City was extremely fortunate to have Clerk Iago on staff. He praised her knowledge and wealth of experience in governmental operations.
Clerk Iago referred to her report and explained that her strengths relate to her knowledge of government operations, past experience in her position as City Clerk and good working relationships with neighboring city’s staff.
The Clerk advised that during the past year she worked with the Mayor, Councilmember Hansen, and the Recycling Coordinator to compile and distribute four (4) issues of the City Newsletter. She also worked with the Recycling Coordinator and the five (5) member cities to prepare the 2022 grant application and to ensure that the 2021 Work Plan requirements imposed by Dakota County were accomplished. She noted that by coordinating efforts with the with the other cities, she was able to provide Sunfish Lake residents access to special events in adjacent cities which included tire collection, shred events and clean-up days.
Clerk Iago advised she was working with the new planner and new legal assistant to review and discuss City procedures for distributing information to the planning commission and council for their meetings and also requirements for publication of hearings and notices.
The Clerk stated that she met with Planner Johnson at the WSB offices to review the planning files that were transferred to WSB from the former planning firm. She advised that she and the Planner discussed transfer of the files to storage at the City of Lilydale. Also discussed was the possibility of WSB scanning these documents. It was determined that WSB would not be able to accommodate the document scan. The Clerk advised that she purchased shelving for the storage of these files at the City of Lilydale and that she would work with the Planner to accommodate moving the files from WSB to Lilydale for storage.
Clerk Iago explained that the League of Minnesota Cities or other agencies could be hired to scan the City files, however, before the scanning could be accomplished, the files should be reviewed and purged.
There was discussion regarding the costs and time factors to complete a purge of the City files. Clerk Iago suggested that she could contact other cities to discuss how they approached digitalizing their files. She also suggested that she would research whether or not it would be possible to hire an intern with a background in government records management to manage the records purge prior to the scanning.
The Clerk stated she continues to respond to resident inquiries and direct the calls to the appropriate staff if she is unable to respond to the question. She advised that she would continue to seek information from other government entities on issues that may impact Sunfish Lake and would utilize available resources such as the League of Minnesota Cities and the Minnesota Municipal Clerk Association to research legislative updates and to keep informed on issues that could impact Sunfish Lake.
Mayor O’Leary and Council agreed that they were extremely pleased with her performance, and that the City Clerk/Administrator had done an excellent job during the year. Council thanked her for her service to the City.
BUILDING OFFICIAL: Inspector Andrejka explained that he brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the City and that he is accessible for inspections or questions seven (7) days per week. He stated his strengths are his timely response to resident inquiries, prompt issuance of building permits, and scheduling inspections in a timely manner.
The Building Inspector stated that it is his opinion that the area of improvement relates to staff communication regarding construction projects. He explained that it is difficult to work as a group since staff does not share office space. He pointed out that last year staff discussed the need to formalize the application review process by preparing a list of procedures and processes that need to be taken prior to closing out a building permit. He noted that Council mandated that no temporary Certificates of Occupancy should be issued, however, recently he was asked to issue two (2) temporary certificates of occupancy. He stated his opinion that staff communication could be improved.
Inspector Andrejka noted that there is a home under construction on Salem Church Road and that no work is being done due to the fact that it is difficult to get building materials for construction. He indicated that the delay in obtaining building supplies and materials would most likely continue to be a challenge in 2022.
Mayor O’Leary agreed that staff communication had been a problem in the past and that was the reason Council determined that it would be appropriate to hire a person with more planning experience for the position of City Planner. He stated that the new planner provides more experience with municipal planning and conflict resolution. He further explained that staff should work towards better communication and more explicit directions for residents when submitting their planning applications for construction projects. He explained that the issuance of one temporary Certificate of Occupancy was prompted by the possibility of litigation. He recommended that staff should continue to work together and improve communication to ensure that the building process runs smoothly in the future.
The Mayor suggested that staff conduct pre-construction meetings online since it is difficult for everyone to meet in person.
Councilmember Bulach offered his opinion that Inspector Andrejka has done an excellent job and that he has provided residents with solutions to work out issues that arise.
Councilmember Hansen stated that she appreciates the knowledge and input that the Building Inspector offers to residents and Council.
Council thanked the Inspector for his service to the City.
CITY FORESTER: Forester Nayes explained that his strengths relate to his knowledge of the City and a wealth of experience in his field. He noted that he can quickly respond to issues that arise, such as removal of a dead tree that falls across the road, because he lives in the city. He further stated that he had gained knowledge of regulations for plantings, other than trees, around wetlands and close to the lakes, from communications with the City Engineer. He commented that these regulations relating to wetland plantings could be incorporated into the City Code.
The Forester stated that Arbor Day plantings with small groups and families worked well and that he plans to continue the process this year. He commented Abor Day also provides a good opportunity to educate the public on planting and maintaining vegetation.
Mayor O’Leary asked if there are enough places within the City to continue to plant trees for Arbor Day.
Forester Nayes explained that this year he would be working to plant middle-story trees versus over-story trees in the park.
The Forester advised that Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) would continue to be an issue in 2022. He stated that he would continue to contact residents with trees adjacent to City streets since those trees may fall apart and block the roadways. He noted that he would request bids for removal of City trees that are infected with EAB since he does not have the ability to remove a large number of trees. He advised that if infected trees are not removed within one year of death, they tend to break and fall apart more easily.
Mayor O’Leary asked who would be responsible for payment if the infected tree is on private property.
Forester Nayes stated that the property owner would pay for removal on their property and that he would notify a resident when he finds a diseased tree. He explained that any tree within 15 ft. of the street would be considered a City tree; any tree beyond measurement would be considered on private property.
The Forester stated that he also continues to remove Wild Parsnip from Musser Park. He advised that this plant can cause severe blistering if touched. He noted that he continues to do his job and provide information to residents based on science, management practices, and by providing educational information. He commented that if other employees have suggestions relating to forestry methods, he would welcome their input.
Mayor O’Leary explained that Council suggested staff meet together online to discuss pre-construction for site plans, coordinate site visits, document problems and talk to contractors and property owners in order to keep the lines of communication open during the building process.
Forester Nayes explained that he places his “Treeway” articles on the City website and suggested articles relating to other vegetation and planting regulations could also be placed on the website. He recommended regulations relating to areas around the lake, such as removal or planting of shoreland vegetation, installation of docks, etc. He offered to contact the Planner and Engineer and suggest they also share pertinent information for posting on the website. He noted that residents that recently moved into the City advised him that they read everything on the website.
Councilmember Hansen asked if the Forester would place regulations on Chicken Keeping regulations and permits on the website and he agreed.
Mayor O’Leary commented that in his opinion the Forester is a valuable member of staff and has a vested interest in the community as a resident.
Council thanked the Forester for a job well done.
CITY ATTORNEY: Attorney Kuntz thanked Council for the privilege of serving as the City Attorney. He advised that the City successfully completed the four (4) 2021 Improvement projects. He expressed his opinion that it was appropriate to keep the projects separate when presenting them to residents and when discussing the assessments for each type of project. He further explained that staff did an excellent job of notifying residents of the improvement costs, the project schedule, and the proposed assessments. He pointed out that the City has shown an historic pattern of maintaining the roadways by annually preparing and reviewing the 5-year Capital Improvement Project.
The Attorney expressed his opinion that the major challenge in the upcoming year would be for the City to continue review of the regulations and standards outlined in the zoning code and to provide better communication of these regulations early in the building application process. He noted that being transparent leads to success and placing emphasis on providing information in the beginning stages of a project is essential.
Attorney Kuntz thanked Council for the opportunity for his firm to continue to provide legal services to the City. He stated that there continues to be excellent cooperation and communication between the staff and with Council, which is essential in small communities.
Mayor O’Leary commended Attorney Kuntz for his prompt responses to questions and his wealth of expertise and knowledge of the City. He expressed his excitement that staff would be undertaking the much-needed review of the City ordinances and cleaning up language to ensure that regulations are up-to-date and easily interpreted by staff and residents. He further explained that staff had identified issues related to escrow funds that must be corrected.
Attorney Kuntz noted that the new planner appears to be committed to examining the code and also to recommend procedures that may eliminate future issues with escrow funds.
Mayor O’Leary expressed his pleasure in working with the City Attorney and commented that Attorney Kuntz is always responsive and willing to research issues that arise.
Councilmember Hansen stated she appreciates the City Attorney’s knowledge, expertise and patience when dealing with problems that arise.
Councilmember Hovey stated not only does he appreciate working with Attorney Kuntz during his tenure on Council, but that his father expressed how much he enjoyed working with Tim when he was Mayor.
Council thanked the Attorney for a wonderful job.
CITY TREASURER: Treasurer Lanoue stated that she has 38 years’ experience in government financing and that she brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to her position as City Treasurer. She stated that she would strive to improve on organizing and purging City files.
The Treasurer stated that the challenge facing the City in the next year relates to balancing older and current escrow accounts related to planning applications. She explained that she would work with the Mayor and the Planner in an attempt to clear the escrow accounts and to establish new procedures that would eliminate problems in the future. She noted that she and Planner Johnson had set-up procedures for processing new applications to ensure that there are no issues in the future.
Treasurer Lanoue noted that the City received $50,000 in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and that she would work with Ehlers & Associates to determine if there were any projects meet the qualifications for utilizing these funds.
Clerk Iago questioned if the funds could be used to install a fire hydrant at the intersection of Charlton Road and Highway 62; she noted that was discussed when the Charlton Road improvement project was being considered.
Mayor O’Leary agreed that that would be a good use of the funds and that installing a fire hydrant near the border of Sunfish Lake and Inver Grove Heights may also be an option.
The Mayor suggested that once the escrow fund situation is resolved, he would recommend an audit be done as a precautionary measure to ensure both the City and the Treasurer are in compliance with the State governmental accounting regulations. He indicated that the City may have to expend funds that were not budgeted in order to bring the outstanding escrow issues up-to-date. He offered his opinion that this matter has been outstanding for a long time and should be resolved.
Mayor O’Leary stated that it appears the escrow collected when a planning application is submitted should be increased since it would be easier to collect the funds up-front rather than request additional funds from applicants. He noted that the Planner contacted the City of Edina and found that they require $10,000 in escrow be submitted with major applications. He indicated that Sunfish Lake may need to require a higher amount with the initial application based on the valuation of homes being constructed within the city.
Treasurer Lanoue advised that the City is in excellent financial condition and that this would be a good year to spend the monies to resolve the outstanding escrow issues.
Mayor O’Leary stated that Council appreciates the Treasurer’s governmental experience and financial expertise. He agreed that this would be the time to resolve the escrow issues.
Treasurer Lanoue explained that, during her transition with the former city treasurer, there was not a sufficient amount of time to learn procedures or discuss outstanding escrow issues with the former city treasurer. Treasurer Lanoue stated that she had begun to document financial procedures for future employees.
Council concurred that the Treasurer was doing an excellent job and thanked her for her service to the City.
CITY PLANNER: Mayor O’Leary welcomed the new planner and stated that all his contacts with her had been very positive. He offered his opinion that Planner Johnson, given her years of working for the City of Blaine, would be an excellent addition to staff based on her experience in municipal planning, governmental regulations, and conflict resolution in municipal government.
Planner Johnson stated that she has not had much experience with shoreland issues, however she advised she would work closely with the City Engineer on these issues. She further stated she would work with the City Attorney to update the city ordinances and also work with the City Treasurer to resolve issues related to escrow funds.
The Planner suggested that the City Engineer may have information relating to use of the ARPA funds and advised that a consultant recently conducted a seminar at WSB relating to projects that may be eligible for use of the funds.
Mayor O’Leary commended the Planner on stating in her outline that there is always room for improvements regarding conflict resolution. He explained that recently the City has had several conflict situations relating to issues that were not clearly defined in the city code. He suggested that it would be best to have staff review the entire code of ordinances in order to identify all issues, and ensure that they are resolved and clarified for staff and residents.
Planner Johnson stated that she could either review the sections of the code that were discussed and identified by Council as needing attention, or she could review the entire document. She explained that there would be additional costs that were not budgeted by WSB to undertake review of the entire code of ordinances. She stated that she would prepare cost estimates so that the City was not “blind-sided” by the additional fees and Council could decide if they wished to spend the funds to pursue review of the entire code.
Mayor O’Leary supported review of the entire document and explained that he wished to ensure that the code was up-to-date so that the City would not be in violation of any laws. He further stated that he would prefer that the regulations were easier for residents to review and to find information relating to their questions. He commented that it may lessen the tension for residents when they submit an application for building or remodeling if the regulations were more clearly outlined and defined.
Councilmember Hansen stated she looked forward to working with the new planner based on her experience and expertise in municipal planning.
Planner Johnson thanked Council for the opportunity to work with Council and staff.
Council welcomed Planner Johnson to staff.
CITY ENGINEER: Engineer Sandberg explained that his strengths include excellent communication skills and responsiveness to concerns or issues raised by residents, staff and Council. He explained that he continues to seek ways to improve processes so they are more efficient and clearly defined and that this will be a continuous effort on his part.
Mayor O’Leary explained that he worked closely with the Engineer on some contentious issues and he commended the Engineer on his excellent communications skills and his patience when dealing with residents.
The Engineer pointed out that revisions to the City Code will be challenging for staff in the upcoming year. He noted that staff would work to prioritize and ensure that they have captured as much as is reasonable with the refinements to the code.
Councilmember Hansen stated that she was pleased with the Engineer and asked that he continue to use patience when dealing with residential problems.
Mayor O’Leary commented that the City has an obligation to clean-up the discrepancies in the code, which means the costs may go over the budgeted funding that was originally submitted by WSB. He expressed his confidence in the Planner and Engineer to review the document as economically as possible, and to ensure that it is done correctly.
Engineer Sandberg noted that it is staff’s intent to review the document and recommend changes as necessary. He pointed out that it may not be possible to capture and correct every situation, however, staff will work to ensure a comprehensive code document that is easier for residents to utilize.
Mayor O’Leary offered his faith in staff to find the major issues, to include new regulations, and to clean-up the regulations that are out-of-date and no longer applicable.
The Engineer stated that he is more optimistic entering 2022 than he had been in previous years. He offered his opinion that by having a very experienced planner on board, staff will now have improved communications and can work to improve City processes for a more efficient and comprehensive approach to issues that present themselves.
Mayor O’Leary suggested that the Engineer, Planner, Building Inspector and Forester continue to review projects together to ensure all issues are identified in the beginning of the project. He further recommended that the Engineer, Planner, Treasurer and Attorney continue to work to resolve the issues relating to escrow funds.
Councilmember Bulach stated his opinion that the Engineer had done an excellent job this year.
Mayor O’Leary agreed and stated that the Engineer is a valuable member of the staff.
Councilmember Hansen thanked the Engineer for his work with the snowplowing contractor and for offering residents the option of contacting the contractor and Engineer by email. She shared her opinion that it makes residents more comfortable knowing they have a contact person when a situation with weather conditions arises.
Engineer Sandberg stated that the snowplow contractor has made his job easier, as he is responsive to residents’ complaints. He thanked Council and stated it is a pleasure to work with both Council and staff.
Mayor O’Leary asked if there were any further comments and there was no response.
3. ADJOURN: Mayor O’Leary adjourned the meeting at 6:40 p.m.
Catherine Iago, City Clerk Dan O’Leary, Mayor