NB council contemplating contracting with county for planning/EDA

The “times are tough” adage might be overused nowadays, but North Branch City Council members have that maxim in mind when it comes to hiring a new planning/economic development authority director.

At its workshop meeting June 26, the council, sans Mayor Amy Oehlers who was absent for the meeting, mulled over possibilities about how to replace former Planning/EDA Director Al Cottingham, who took a job in Cloquet last month as that city’s planning and zoning director.

Cottingham, who had been with the city for more than a decade, cited job security as his reason for leaving North Branch.

North Branch City Administrator Bridgitte Konrad suggested the city replace Cottingham with a full-time community development director, who would take over planning responsibilities and working with the city’s EDA, but the cost associated with hiring another city staff member did not resonate with council members Theresa Furman and Ron Lindquist.

“In these economic times, we really have to watch it,” Lindquist said. “If we hire someone and give them $70,000 a year and we get nothing for a year, how do we justify that $70,000?”

Furman said she’d be in favor of exploring a joint powers agreement with Chisago County to implement the use of its Housing and Redevelopment/EDA director, once one is hired.

The county is still in the process of hiring someone to replace former HRA/EDA director Chris Eng, who left for a position in Duluth last week.

Council member Kathy Blomquist said the council should look into that possibility, but added that the city should also consider having someone full time to fill Cottingham’s vacant city post because it’s a burden on existing city staff to do those duties.

She also noted a full-time planning/EDA director would be able to more aptly help residents and potential builders when it comes to areas like zoning, land use and building regulations.

At the end of the meeting, Konrad said she’d meet with Chisago County Administrator Bruce Messelt to talk about the possibility of North Branch implementing the use of the county’s HRA/EDA director on a part-time basis.

“My feeling is we would be best served by having our own person, but I understand your concerns and if we can accomplish some of these same goals in another manner, we will definitely look at them,” she said to the council.

Limited capital improvements 

North Branch residents concerned about the cost of city projects might be pleased to know the city doesn’t plan to go all willy-nilly with capital improvement projects next year.

During the meeting, Konrad said North Branch would stick with just the basics.

“There’s not a lot in 2013 or 14 in terms of capital improvements,” she said. “We’ve asked staff to be cognizant of the current budget situation and try to hold off as much as they can.”

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