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Wendy Reuer, Published February 24 2014

Moorhead delays vote on Oakport annexation resolution until after March 27 public meeting

MOOREHAD – The City Council here decided Monday to delay a vote finalizing the annexation of Oakport until after a public meeting March 27 with township residents.

Oakport and Moorhead officials drafted and approved the annexation agreement in 1990. On Monday, the council was scheduled to approve an “initiating resolution,” which City Attorney John Shockley said is mandated by the agreement before the annexation goes into effect Jan. 1.

At the council’s committee of the whole meeting on Feb. 17, Councilman Steve Gehrtz said he thought the council should delay approval of the resolution until Oakport residents had their say.

His comments sparked a public discussion about the annexation, including an informal poll by residents that claims about 80 percent of the township oppose annexation.

About 40 Oakport residents attended Monday’s council meeting. About a dozen spoke, wanting explanations about how their neighborhoods might change. Nearly all said they hoped to retain the rural quality of life they enjoy in Oakport.

Kara Schmitz Olsen, a resident and Oakport Township board officer, said there has always been opposition to the annexation.

“There have been concerns for quite some time,” she said. “Now, because the city was going to take action, it was a time for us to raise our concerns.”

Schmitz Olsen said the value of Moorhead’s services does not seem to equal the additional taxes she will pay.

As part of the annexation agreement drafted by Oakport and Moorhead officials in 1990, many exceptions are already written in to ensure the neighborhoods remain a quiet, rural setting, said Councilwoman Nancy Otto.

Otto said the Moorhead city planner has drafted zoning ordinances unique to Oakport. For instance, residents will still be allowed to snowmobile or use ATVs in the areas they do now. There will be no plans for sidewalks, curb or gutter installations. Horse farms now in the area will be grandfathered into the laws so they will be preserved, Otto said.

Fire, police and emergency personnel have been drafting policies and plans to accommodate adding service to Oakport, she said.

Tom Schons, a former Moorhead firefighter, said public safety is important to him and he is excited for the annexation.

Electric rates will also be lower, Moorhead Public Service General Manager Bill Schwandt said.

Schwandt said the annexation agreement calls for rates to be half the difference between current providers. So if a customer pays 12 cents per kilowatt hour through a private company now and MPS charges 10 cents, the customer may pay 11 cents for MPS.

“In no way would the rate ever be higher than what they are currently paying,” Schwandt said.

The public meeting for Oakport residents is scheduled for March 27. Deputy City Manager Scott Hutchins said a time and place is yet to be determined.

The council voted to table the annexation vote until April 10.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530