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City stalls Straub's deal

News editor

Reluctance at giving up a potential commercial economic asset was reason enough Monday for a divided Marion city council to delay the county’s proposed purchase of the former Straub International dealership by sending its rezoning request back to the planning board for a new hearing.

After an hour-long deliberation made tedious by repeated requests for clarifications from attorney Joshua Boehm about convoluted regulations and resolutions, council members failed to come up with four votes to override a landowners petition and approve the change to governmental use. Mayor Todd Heitschmidt and council member Jerry Klein voted against approval.

Heitschmidt voiced his concern that the economic implications of eliminating the property as a future possible business site generating jobs, property tax, and sales tax for the city hadn’t been fully considered at the initial public hearing.

“While I’m concerned about the taxpayers of the county, I’m mayor of the city of Marion,” he said. “If the county has to raise county taxes, that maybe makes some sense so it’s not a burden to fall on the city of Marion that’s giving this up.”

Heitschmidt addressed earlier comments that while the West Main St. location would come off the tax rolls, relocation of the county road and bridge, planning and zoning, and economic development departments would open up the Bowron building at Main and Third Sts. and the county shops on Coble St. for business use.

“I’ll call it a crisis,” he said. “We need that here, and we need it for the county. If we had a business out there that put 10 jobs that added $500,000 to our economy, whether they lived in Marion or not, that’s better for the county, then we spread the tax burden out. This is a forever impact.”

Commissioner Randy Dallke addressed Heitschmidt’s concern by saying that moving ahead with the rezoning and purchase wouldn’t automatically stop considerations for business use instead.

“If we don’t have work started, if we don’t have money spent on this building, and somebody comes along to the city of Marion and brings this company to us, I’m open, and I hope the rest of the commission is open to it, because jobs are important,” he said. “Come to us in a public meeting, sit down with us, and we’ll talk about it.”

After the initial approval vote failed, Boehm told council members that they still had the option to refer the matter back to the zoning board.

Heitschmidt moved to send the proposal back to the planning board, which prompted board member Margo Yates to question whether economic considerations fell within the parameters the board could consider.

Zoning administrator Clayton Garnica read a list of items for consideration from the regulations, and economic impact wasn’t expressly specified, but could possibly fall under one or more general items.

Heitschmidt, Klein, and Chris Costello tipped the vote in favor of the motion, with Melissa Mermis and John Wheeler, also a planning board member, opposed.

Sure to come out at the next public meeting will be the county’s perspective on economic considerations, most clearly stated at the outset of the discussion Monday by county clerk Tina Spencer.

Addressing projected property tax losses for the city, USD 408, and Hospital District No. 1 outlined in the petition, Spencer noted that the impact on the city’s budget would be one-third of 1 percent, one-fourth of 1 percent for the school district, and 1/100th of 1 percent for the hospital.

What petitioners didn’t consider, Spencer said, were potential costs to all county taxpayers if the county didn’t acquire the Straub property.

Commissioners have already considered and rejected a multimillion dollar plan to add on to the courthouse to deal with office space, storage, and service issues, she said. Two different expensive alternatives for relocating road and bridge, noxious weed, and hazardous waste operations have been considered. A structural restoration assessment of the Bowron building wasn’t cost effective. A new storage facility near the jail has been considered.

The Straub building and property is a low-cost, effective solution for most of those needs, Spencer said. Without it, the county would have to move ahead with far more expensive options, with taxpayers shouldering the increased financial burden.

Spencer also pointed out that Marion benefits economically from being home to the county’s 100-employee operation and the people who come to Marion to conduct county business and spend money at local businesses.

With their rezoning request mothballed until a new public hearing has been properly advertised, commissioners discussed possible ramifications at their meeting Tuesday, the same day they were to notify Straub International about the resolution of the zoning issue.

County counselor Susan Robson, who was present at Monday’s meeting, told commissioners the city’s action could jeopardize the purchase.

“I have to let Mr. Straub know that it didn’t pass,” Robson said. “He was the one that wanted the short time frame and he may want to back out.”

Spencer said $300,000 encumbered for the purchase in 2016 had to be used or released Tuesday. Commissioners voted to release the money for other purposes.

Former commissioner Dan Holub was present and contended Marion officials had mistaken impressions about losing property taxes, as well as transfer station and hazardous materials items that were removed from the rezoning request.

Holub also said he’d been “jumped” by a couple of people about the county shutting out the city from recruiting a business for the building, which he denied.

A new public hearing to reconsider the zoning question can’t take place until at least 20 days after the city of Marion publishes the meeting notice in the official city newspaper.

Last modified March 2, 2017

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