Road Rage: Lino Lakes City Council elections could hinge on road-repair debate

  • Article by: SHANNON PRATHER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 29, 2013 - 1:05 PM

The city charter requires a referendum for most road rebuilding projects. That’s an issue in the race for two seats.

In nearly all instances, it takes a citywide vote to rebuild a city street in Lino Lakes.

Voters have said no three out of four times over the past three decades, and it’s been 15 years since the one and only time they gave the OK.

The Anoka County suburb of 20,000 has one of the most restrictive charters in the state when it comes to big-ticket public improvement projects, according to city staff. Critics of the charter say a “not my neighborhood, not my problem” mentality is behind the defeats.

Now, the road rebuild issue is raging in this year’s City Council election, with candidates taking sides on whether the charter should be changed.

Four candidates are vying for two at-large seats on the City Council, which will go to the top two vote-getters.

Two candidates, incumbent Rob Rafferty and Park Board member William Kusterman, support loosening the charter to allow for road rebuilds without a referendum; one candidate, Melissa Maher, believes the requirements are just right, protecting taxpayers from overreaching city government. The fourth candidate, Park Board member Byron Roland, could not be reached by the Star Tribune for comment.

Charter history

Lino Lakes voters approved the city charter in January 1982 after a contentious sewer and city water expansion. City Administrator Jeff Karlson says Lino Lakes is the only one of Minnesota’s 107 charter cities to require voter approval for most public improvement projects.

Under the charter, most such projects, including road rebuilds, require four steps:

• First, the City Council must initiate the project.

• Second, affected property owners have 60 days to petition the city. If more than 50 percent of them oppose the project, it is killed.

• Third, if the city cannot assess affected property owners for 100 percent of the cost, the project goes to a citywide vote.

• Fourth, if voters approve the project, the City Council formally orders it.

“If we use $1, or any money, from the general fund, it has to go to the vote,” said Lino Lakes Community Development Director Mike Grochala. “Then, everybody in the city is weighing in on our street improvement.”

The city can rarely assess affected property owners for 100 percent of the cost of a road rebuild because of provisions of state law.

According to an August report, 12.5 of the 95 miles of city roads need to be rebuilt. That mileage will only edge up, along with the costs, if voters keep saying no to road rebuilds, city staff said.

West Shadow Lake Drive, which skirts waterfront properties along Lake Reshanau, has become the epicenter of the charter debate.

Voters said no three times to rebuilding the road: in 2003, 2005 and 2007. The city has done some patching and resurfacing, but needs to rebuild down to the dirt to fix the road, Grochala said.

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