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Paynesville Press - January 2, 2002

Township designates $200,000 for airport

By Michael Jacobson

On a divided vote, the Paynesville Township Board of Supervisors voted to create a new airport fund last week and transfer $200,000 to it to pay for the township's portion of a new airport.

Supervisor John Atwood, who has opposed the airport since being re-elected to the board two years ago, voted against the resolution to transfer funds on Monday, Dec. 24. He argued that the board had to vote unanimously to transfer funds.

But legal advice obtained by clerk Don Wiese indicated that the transfer was legal and supervisors Don Pietsch and Warren Nehring voted to do so. Doing otherwise, Nehring noted, would not only jeopardize the airport project but the orderly annexation agreement between the city and the township and the working relationship that has been established in the past two years.

The orderly annexation agreement includes a graduated scale for how property taxes are split between the city and township after annexation. The township's percentage is frozen if land goes undeveloped for two years, meant to maintain the township's tax base and to be a disincentive for land to be annexed to the city unnecessarily,.

The money for the new airport will come from reserve funds in the township's road and bridge fund ($100,000), its revenue fund ($85,000), and its cable fund ($15,000). "In light of all the things that are going on, we're lucky to be locked in at $200,000," said Nehring.

Originally, the township and city were equal partners in the airport, but a revised agreement last April locked the township in at $200,000. Maintenance will be split between the city and township at the same percentage as the final contributions to the construction costs.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation's Division of Aeronautics will pay roughly 60 percent of the building costs for a new airport, leaving 40 percent to be paid for locally. The city and township will split the costs until the township has paid $200,000. Then the city will pat the rest.

The township had looked at using interest from its EDAP funds, since it has nearly $140,000 in interest (plus $200,000 in EDAP funds) but that option was eliminated when it was determined to be unlawful.

The township board meeting was held at a special time on Monday, Dec. 24. The meeting was held at noon due to it being Christmas Eve.

No action on eminent domain
At its meeting in December, the Paynesville Regional Airport Commission approved sending resolutions to the city council and township board asking for permission to acquire land for the new airport, including the use of eminent domain.

Those resolutions, which are being prepared by a St. Paul attorney, were not ready last week, but several township residents expressed concern to the township board about using eminent domain.

"From day one, we've been saying that's an absolute last resort," said board chairman Don Pietsch, who also serves as the township board's representative on the airport commission.

Township resident Jason Mages criticized the appraisal offers and the Press story on Dec. 19, which was an account of the airport commission's December meeting. "I don't know where you got that appraiser, but the offer is less than what is owed on the land," said Mages, who owns a farm west of Paynesville that is needed for the new airport construction.

Mages is entitled to an independent appraisal, and the commission will pay up to $500 of the cost, said Pietsch.

Supervisor Warren Nehring noted that the appraisal is not based on the amount borrowed. Mages responded that the current offer was not possible since he could not pay off the loan on the land "unless I was expected to donate the land," he said. "The offer wasn't enough to pay off the debt."

Mages added that the current offers to the landowners put the airport commission's land acquisition over budget already. The commission needs to purchase 210 acres, but has budgeted only $250,000, which also has to be used to pay for appraisal costs and legal fees.

As for the Press article, Mages said it contained "not one truthful statement" and wondered from where the information came. It was a report from the airport commission's last meeting.

Specifically, Mages took issue with the statement "after nine months of negotiations with the four landowners," saying he did not receive an offer until November.

That Press statement was inaccurate, erroneously implying that negotiations with landowners have been going on for months. The airport commission has been in the stage they call land negotiations for nine months, but much of that time was taken by the initial appraisal and a revision of that appraisal.

Mages also objected to a statement about a landowner hiring an attorney, which he said made him appear greedy. Mages has hired an attorney, but "the truth is you guys forced it by coming up with that laughable offer," he said.

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