By Teri Knight, News Director
In a 4 to 3 vote, the Northfield Council approved an 11.5% preliminary tax levy last night. Councilors Grabau, Peterson White and Zweifel, along with Mayor Pownell, voted yes, while Nakasian, Ness and DeLong all believed it to be too high. Peterson White blamed past councils, saying,“What I see are short-term political gains with long-term real costs for our constituents.” She called it sustainable. Delong called it unrealistic, saying, “This isn’t about political gain and short term/long term, this is about real costs and real implications to a lot of our residents that aren’t getting a cost of living raise, that are seeing their utility rates rise, they’re seeing their valuations go up.” He said they should concentrate more on needs rather than wants. Pownell commented this morning that the 11.5%: “it equates to about $14 a month for a homeowner of a home that’s valued at $250,000.” City Administrator Martig said this morning that the difference between 11.5% and
7.5% was about $5 a month based on the same criteria. Pownell added that, according to an outside study, our police department is “down about 3 positions. We know that we’re down and we don’t have adequate staffing in our public works department. How do we ensure that our community is well cared for?” No citizens stepped up to the open mic last night to speak out. There was one eComment and that person was against 11.5%. DeLong noted last night that 59% of the taxes come from residents with only 23% from commercial/industrial. When compared with other cities, Northfield has a lower business tax base along with the two colleges that don’t pay property tax and host 5,000 students. The question becomes, if they are added into the population, is that a fair comparison. The preliminary levy cannot be raised but it can be lowered, and likely will be when it’s set in December.
Fugalli gets 6.5 years in heroin case
Twenty-eight-year-old Anthoney Fugalli has been in the Rice County Jail for 456 days. Yesterday he was finally sentenced for 1st degree sale of heroin in cases from April and June of 2018. He was sentenced to 6.5 years in St. Cloud State Prison. He has pled not guilty to 3rd degree murder in the June 19, 2018 death of 38-year-old Jason Madow, who bought heroin from Fugalli that was laced with fentanyl. He was charged in that case last November. Rice County Attorney John Fossum said in an email that the trial will likely take place after the first of the year as the defense puts together their case with experts. He added that the trial will probably take about three weeks. Fugalli could face an additional 9 to 10 [years] if convicted in the murder case.
The mentally ill and jail
Beds to hold those having mental health issues just aren’t that readily available. This is an ongoing issue that is NOT slowing down. Rice County Attorney John Fossum commented that those who have serious mental health issues but don’t meet the criteria for civil commitment, which is a danger to themselves or others, yet clearly have mental health problems, can’t be forced into a treatment program. He added, “If they don’t want it and we can’t force them to do it, what do we do with them?” If they are committed, the time is generally six months to a year; after that, they often get out, get off their medications and the cycle begins again. He explains the disappearance of facilities like Faribault and Willmar State Hospitals have exacerbated the problem. He said, “We’ve eliminated those programs and said we’re going to have community mental health, but community mental health hasn’t sprung up in its place, and even where it has, if it’s voluntary and people don’t feel like they need the help, even though everyone around them can see that they do, it’s not necessarily going to work either.” The point being, these people often don’t belong in a jail setting yet need to be secured. Funding is a major hurdle; Fossum believes it will have to come from all branches of government. Minnesota ranks 49th for mass incarceration. For comparison, Minnesota has about 9600 people in prison; Wisconsin, with roughly the same population, has over 25,000.