The Fergus Falls City Council did their part Tuesday evening for Northstar Behavioral Health of St. Paul to open a 60-bed facility at 1174 Western Avenue.
In addition to holding a public hearing for tax abatement, the council passed a tax abatement resolution. Tax abatement by both Otter Tail County and the city of Fergus Falls was required in order to bring Northstar to Fergus Falls.
For the last decade the facility has been owned by the county and utilized by the state so the property has not generated taxes.
“Frankly, in order to get a for-profit entity in here, such as Northstar, abatement was one of the economic development tools we had to consider,” Otter Tail County Communications and External Relations director Nick Leonard said.
Northstar has already signed a five-year lease with the county. One of the conditions of the lease is abatement by the city and the county.
The facility in northwestern Fergus Falls was built by the state of Minnesota and Otter Tail County more than a decade ago but operated at full capacity for less than two years.
Otter Tail County officials found out from the state the 60-bed facility in Fergus Falls was the most expensive in their system to operate.
Fast forward to 2019. According to Mental Health America more than 44 million American adults have a mental health condition. There has been a growing sentiment in Minnesota and the rest of the country that serious mental health problems have to be reckoned with professionals in the field and not handed off to law enforcement.
Northstar Behavioral Health operates on a for-profit basis and provides both chemical dependency and mental-health treatment.
Northstar vice president of business development, Luke Wendlandt was on hand for Tuesday’s meeting to brief the council on Northstar, their services and their plans in Fergus Falls.
Wendlandt pointed out that Northstar employs more than 800 people in the Twin Cities area. He expects to staff the facility in Fergus Falls with 20 employees initially and another 30 when full capacity is reached. He also encouraged the council to get the word out that Northstar employees moving to Fergus Falls will be looking for homes.
“We want to be a big part of this community not just operate here,” Wendtlandt said.
“Ultimately the nuts and bolts of this agreement will be ironed out in the abatement agreement,” Leonard said.
Leonard hopes to present the council with the abatement agreement as early as Sept. 16.
The tax abatement is based on a 10-year run and will end at that time according to Leonard.
A resolution accepting a $47,500 proposal from USAquatics for preliminary design work on an aquatic project generated a healthy amount of fencing between council members.
“Even though this is a nice plan, the pool plan itself I think is nice, there has to be some homework done before this goes to a vote,” Kvamme said.
Councilman Justin Arneson, who has been a part of the Aquatics Committee, responded to Kvamme by saying “All the information you are asking for is out there. The work has been done and we do have a record of it.”
USAquatics anticipates looking at two sites for the facility – an 11-acre piece of ground east of Kirkbride Park and city-owned Adams Park.
Councilman Jim Fish did not like the idea of council members attempting to “micromanage” the work of the committee.
“We asked this group to go ahead and put this whole plan together and they’ve come back with this plan,” Fish said. “Now when we have the plan we want to micromanage what they did and I think it’s ridiculous.”
The resolution accepting USAquatics’ plan was passed on a 6-2 vote by the council. A motion authorizing staff to engage in negotiations with property owners for an aquatics project passed 7-1.
If the project continues to move forward the final say on the outdoor municipal center will be decided by the voters in November of 2020.
The probable cost estimate for the project has been set at $6,380,895 by USAquatics.
The council also passed resolutions approving summary publications of Ordinance 86 (rental registration) Ordinance 90 (sales tax on all online sales) and Ordinance 91 (tobacco).
The council accepted the donation of an updated HVAC and filter system for the gun club building at 508 West Adolphus from the Fergus Falls Rifle and Pistol Club.
Consent agenda approvals were given to:
• A resolution approving the city of Fergus Falls’ 2020 fee schedule.
• A resolution accepting the state airport maintenance and operation grant contract offer for fiscal years 2020 and 2021.
• A resolution approving the federal and state grant agreement for the airport taxilane relocation project.
• A resolution putting wheels under the Highway 210 reconstruction project review and accepting Interstate Engineering’s professional services proposal for preliminary design in the amount of $7,500.
• A motion directing city attorney Rolf Nycklemoe to draft an ordinance amending the sale and consumption of tobacco products.
• A motion directing Nycklemoe to draft a sales tax ordinance.
• A motion directing Nycklemoe to draft an ordinance restricting parking from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. in the downtown business district.