BIWABIK — The Biwabik City Council and Town of White Board of Supervisors met separately Monday to discuss a petition from Giants Ridge residents to detach from Biwabik and join the Town of White (TOW). Both the council and the board denied the petition.
The area under question is around Giants Ridge, totaling 2,639 acres. According to the petition, the proposed area has 413 property owners, 324 of which signed the petition.
“In 2002/2003, the Petitioned Area was annexed by the City from TOW. During the ensuing years, property development has not materialized, the projected increase in area residents has not materialized, municipal services to the Petitioned Area have deteriorated and remain substandard, and the revenue sharing agreement between the City and TOW substantially restricts or eliminates any prospect for improvement of the status quo,” the petition stated. “Consequently, detachment from the City remains in the best interest of the Petitioned Area and nearby municipalities.”
Four areas were identified as part of the petition. Area I includes eight state-owned buildings, seven single-family homes, five in the Woodlands, one in the Residence Club and one separate home. Area II contains 37 buildings of the Villas and Lake Villas which are condominiums and rental units. Areas III and IV contain 48 single-family houses all within the Voyageurs Retreat.
Town of White
A special meeting was called for the Town of White Board of Supervisors at 5 p.m. Monday. The meeting was already scheduled to discuss the East Range Joint Water Project Agreement with the city of Aurora, and the petition to detach was added to the agenda when it was received by the township.
Township Attorney Michael Couri joined over the phone and the board held a closed session to discuss the detachment petition with him..
The motion to approve the resolution opposing the petition to detach property from the city of Biwabik and into the Town of White was unanimously passed, killing the petition.
“We already have an agreement with the city of Biwabik over this area,” said Board Chair Jon Skelton following the meeting.
Skelton explained that around 2002-04 the Giants Ridge area was annexed by Biwabik from the Town of White. Following litigation, an agreement was reached between the two, in 2014, that Biwabik would pay the Town of White annually.
“The payment is a formula based on the taxes collected,” explained Jodi Knaus, Town of White Manager/Clerk over the phone Tuesday. “The city of Biwabik pays the Town of White 40 percent of the taxes collected from the whole annexed area. This is in the mediated settlement agreement between Biwabik and Town of White. The payment formula is per the court order and goes on perpetually.”
Also, according to this agreement, Knaus said the annexed land will remain the property of Biwabik forever.
“We are in good standing with Biwabik now,” Skelton said. “Statute supports the agreement and it is a good agreement. We are committed to continuing to work hard with Biwabik and Aurora.”
As a show of good faith, the Town of White also provides some services to the Giants Ridge area, including snow plowing.
“We’ve already fought this battle,” said Skelton, referring to the detachment petition. “This group is trying to get us back in it.”
City of Biwabik
A special meeting was also called for the Biwabik City Council at 6 p.m. Monday, and the petition was the only agenda item.
Unlike the empty Town of White meeting, almost a dozen area residents watched and participated in Biwabik’s meeting, almost raucously at times.
Biwabik City Council meetings have a history of audience participation and Monday’s meeting leaned toward an open conversation with the Giants Ridge residents versus a discussion of the council.
“I’m just asking for more time,” said Dave Richter from the front row. “I’m not saying you will change your minds. Just take some time.”
Responding directly to Richter, Councilor Steve Bradach said: “We don’t just have you to think about. We have all the residents of Biwabik and if we lose a portion of the tax base it will affect everyone. We have to look out for all of the residents and businesses.”
As if at an auction, Richter continued to ask the council to table the discussion for one week, three weeks, up to 60 days.
Trying a different tactic, Steve Scheuring, a board member to the Voyageurs Retreat Homeowners Association, said the detachment would financially benefit the residents of Biwabik. After back-and-forth, the council asked City Administrator Jeff Jacobson about this part of the argument.
“I did a calculation that eliminated the settlement agreement payment and accounted for the decrease to the tax capacity and it resulted in a 70 percent increase in the tax rate for the remainder of Biwabik,” Jacobson said. “Again, that calculation was only those two factors.”
The audience talked about money that would be saved in a smaller patrol area for the police contract, other amenities and a reduced workforce.
“I don’t see detachment as a solution,” Bradach aaid. “I don’t see laying someone off as a solution.” A few minutes later he continued stating that he did not believe in the principal of detachment.
It was acknowledged that this petition is not a new topic.
“Detachment was brought up four years ago,” said Councilor Robert "Chipper" Kovatovich. “I have never seen anything that will change my mind.“
A vote was called and the petition was unanimously opposed.
“I heard from some that this was closing a door,” said Mayor Jim Weikum following the meeting. “It isn’t. A dialogue needs to continue on where Giants Ridge is going in development. The League of Minnesota Cities is going to help us with the engagement process.”
The final say
Both Biwbaik and Town of White ruled against the petition to detach, but they are not quite the final decision makers.
“The Administrative Law Judge assigned to this matter would make the final decision,” stated Kendra Schmit, the communications director for the Office of Administrative Hearings, over email Monday. “Any party aggrieved by the judge’s order could then appeal it to the District Court in the county where a majority of the area is located.”