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Developer gets utilities deal after all

Compromise settles ‘contentious’ issue

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

MORRISON – In August, the City Council approved an agreement to give a developer free utilities in exchange for improving a part of a sidewalk on Market Street. It later took action that put the deal in jeopardy.

On Monday, the council again gave the go-ahead.

Each time, Alderman Leo Sullivan held the pivotal vote. 

Under the agreement, businessman Bob Vaughn will get free water and sewer for the next 10 years. In return, he will assume ownership of a city sidewalk in the 200 block of West Market Street and improve it. 

Opponents contended the agreement would result in higher water and sewer rates for other utility customers. They questioned whether the city should provide such incentives to businesses.

The supporters, however, said the deal would provide incentives for the renovation of Vaughn’s buildings, which would help the local economy. This fall, Vaughn and his wife, Debby, plan to open the Donnybrook Bakery Cafe in the buildings. They also say they’ll lease space to other businesses.

Vaughn said he wanted to improve the sidewalk to provide access to the handicapped, which was impossible to do on the Main Street side of the buildings. 

Alderman Michael Blean, a supporter, asked whether the deal would affect anyone’s water and sewer rates, saying he didn’t think it would. 

“The money has to come from somewhere,” Alderman Harvey Zuidema, an opponent, answered.

Mayor Everett Pannier, though, doubted it would have any noticeable effect because the amount involved – $6,000 a year – was a very small portion of water and sewer revenue.

The city needed a three-fourths supermajority to pass the part of the deal giving Vaughn ownership of the sidewalk. Last month, the city reached that threshold because Sullivan went along. However, 2 weeks ago, Sullivan switched in a vote on the sidewalk plan, putting the whole deal up in the air.

On Monday, though, he said he was open to voting for it if the council agreed to transfer the $6,000 from the general fund to the water and sewer fund to make the free utilities possible.

“It would be much more palatable if the city paid the water bill,” he said.

All the others agreed, except Zuidema and Alderwoman Marti Wood, reaching a three-fourths majority.

“Mr. Sullivan offered a good compromise to what has become a contentious issue,” Blean said.

Vaughn told the council it was important to provide developers incentives to improve crumbling downtown buildings.

“Is [the deal] unusual? I think it is,” he said, “but the end result is the betterment of that particular part of downtown.”

The mayor and council members said they would have to explain the agreement to residents, whom they said had misconceptions about it.

 

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