City of Isanti approves CARES spending

Small business owners and nonprofit organizations in the City of Isanti will have access to small grants, administered by the city, due to excess funds received by the city as part of the CARES Act.

The council approved setting aside $77,377 for grant assistance, of which business owners and nonprofit organizations can request grants of up to $5,000. The deadline to fill out an application for the funds is Friday, Sept. 25. 

“Once we’ve gone through the first wave, they can apply again to receive more (if there are remaining funds),” explained Community Development Director Sheila Sellman.

Permitted fund uses include payroll obligations for employees who were not furloughed, expenses for personal protective equipment (PPE), lease or mortgage payments, non-government utilities, accounts payable, and payments to suppliersand/or other critical business expenses that cannot be paid as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Funds cannot be used for businesses outside of Isanti city limits, home-based businesses, businesses that derive income from passive investments without operational ties to operating businesses, businesses that primarily generate income from gambling activities, businesses that generate any of their income from adult use or tobacco/vaping-related activities, businesses that have no current or historical financial statements, national or corporate chains, businesses in default prior to Feb. 29, 2020, businesses that have received any federal assistance due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Other CARES Act expenditures approved at the meeting include:

•$100,000 in payroll reimbursement for eligible staff;

•$24,000 for public health and safety, which includes PPE and testing; 

•$147,000 for emergency management;

•$82,000 for technology and software support;

•$24,000 for Isanti Fire District for PPE and other needs.

Council postpones decision to grant variance

Due to the absence of Council Member Dan Collison, and a split 2-2 vote, a decision to grant a variance to an Isanti city resident who started building a structure not compatible with city code will be postponed to the Sept. 15 city council meeting. 

The motion made at the meeting was to deny the variance, and council members Jim Gordon and Paul Bergley voted against the motion, with Mayor Jeff Johnson and Council Member Steve Lundeen voting in favor. Mayors may at times break a tie vote, but not when it is in regards to a variance.

Sellman provided background to the council regarding the variance application, which the planning commission and city staff recommended denying. 

Isanti resident Scott Zimprich requested a variance to build a structure on his property that exceeded the size of the primary structure, which is not allowed due to city code.

Zimprich originally applied for a building permit May 12, 2020, to construct a 720-square-foot detached garage at the property, and was informed by Sellman that the structure exceeds the size limit according to city code.

After Zimprich asked some questions regarding city code, Sellman emailed him several options, which included building the structure at 580 square feet; build the garage attached to the house, which would allow it to be larger than the 580 square feet, but not allow it to exceed the size of the house; or apply for a variance, which requires a public hearing at a planning commission meeting with notification to surrounding property owners, and a recommendation from the planning commission to the council.

Zimprich did not follow-up with Sellman, and laid the foundation of the garage without a building permit. The city issued a work stop order July 13. 

According to city code, a variance shall not be approved unless it is in harmony with the general purposes and intent of the ordinance, is consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan, and findings are made that failure to grant the variance would result in practical difficulties on the applicant.

Gordon asked about penalties if a building permit were not obtained and a resident applied after construction started. Sellman explained the resident would have to pay double the building permit fee. She also explained the city building inspector noted the garage had in-floor heat, and it was unclear what the footings were made of, so Zimprich may be forced to tear it out or hire an engineer to sign off on the footings.

“It’s already poured,” Gordon said. “There’s a penalty in place for that, it’s going to cause lots of issues as far as getting things approved. I mean, if he would have just came to us the right way originally, there probably would have been something we could have done for him. And now he’s already done it, which he shouldn’t have, but it’s going to be costly for him now and he’s going to have to pay double that permit fee.” 

Lundeen said if the council granted a variance in this case, it was setting precedence for other residents to ask for forgiveness rather than obtaining a building permit before beginning construction of a new structure.

Johnson told the council that Zimprich had sent him numerous emails since the planning commission public hearing, and it seems like the resident does not understand city ordinance and why he cannot continue construction on the garage, adding that it was like telling his two-year-old not to touch something, but the child touches it anyway. 

After Gordon noted you wouldn’t slap cuffs on the child, but put him in a timeout, Johnson retorted, “No, but you set him straight and tell him the right way to do it, and that’s what we’re doing. This is your right way of doing this and you didn’t do it the right way, so I’m not going to reward you by giving you a variance and say, ‘Hey, don’t do it again.’ The way I’m going to do it is, ‘You’re denied, don’t do it again.’”

City Administrator Josi Wood informed the council that, although she was not at the planning commission meeting in which the public hearing took place and the commission recommended denying the permit, she had met with Zimprich and Sellman regarding his request.

“He did apply for the permit; he was denied the permit. Why he moved forward, is, what he told me, is that he did not agree with Sellman; he thought she was wrong. That’s why he moved forward,” Wood said.

“So now you have a gentleman telling our staff they don’t know what they are doing,” Johnson said.

Gordon stated that if the council would have granted the variance if Zimprich had gone about the process correctly, he thinks the variance should be granted. 

Bergley said he thought it would be more of a penalty to Zimprich if the council allowed him to continue building, saying that it will have to be inspected and may need to be torn apart.

Preliminary levy set

Isanti City Council approved its preliminary budget and levy at its Sept. 1 meeting.

The proposed preliminary property tax levy is approximately $2.99 million, and reflects an increase in the preliminary taxable market value for 2021 of 10.71%, explained Finance Director Mike Betker.

The proposed preliminary property tax rate is 61.18%, which is a zero percent increase from 2020, Betker added, noting the 15-year average tax rate is 67.63%.

Rum River BMX approved to host another race

The council approved an event permit for Rum River BMX to host the 2020 USA BMX Land O’ Lakes National Event, which will take place Thursday, Sept. 10 through Sunday, Sept. 13.

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