New city hall? City asks voters to decide

Elected officials rarely turn down the chance to move into a bigger and better publicly-funded building, particularly if it means new offices and meeting rooms. So it’s no surprise the Post Bulletin found city officials in the southeastern Minnesota community of Eyota have been eying the vacant Bremer Bank building since last fall.

“As a council person and a person in the city, I would prefer the bank always remain a bank,” said [city councilor Tyrel] Clark. “But if that’s not a possibility, it’s a really good building. … It’s a newer building than our city hall and a lot larger. Actually, our current city hall is a former bank, so it would be fitting if the new former bank became a city hall again.”

City officials said if and when they got serious, residents would be consulted before making the move into new quarters, obligating taxpayers to the tune of $400,000.

“The public will have a chance to weigh in,” he [city councilor Ray Schuchard] said. “We would be paying for it with financing, and part of financing is having hearings with the public to make sure that there is support in the community for this.”

Four months later, the Eyota City Council has decided to move ahead and purchase the former bank. But not before giving taxpayers the final say in whether or not to proceed with the deal. There were other options besides putting it before the public, but city leaders opted to pay for the project with municipal bonds that must be approved by the voters.

Every council member wanted to pursue the purchase, Clark said, so they considered three options during Thursday’s meeting: finding cash to purchase the building directly, have the Eyota Economic Development Authority buy the building and lease it to the city, or finance the purchase through bonding.

“The council elected that they thought it should be a democratic decision going to the public to decide,” Clark said.

It’ll take more time and work to get the electorate up to speed by putting the project on the ballot. And there’s always the chance voters could turn them down. But it’s nice to know there are still some places where getting the public’s say-so is worth it to the local government.

Details on the ballot question and what the tax impact of the bond will be are yet to be determined.

“We will get that information out as far as tax impacts on, you know, a $200,000 house or a $300,000 house,” Clark said. “As time goes on, we’ll send out more information to make sure everybody’s educated about it as much as we are.”