Thursday, September 3, 2015

Research Q of the Week: Setting Building Fees in MN Cities ( 9/3/15)

Question: Can our city generate revenue from building permits?

Answer: It depends on what you mean by revenue. Municipal fees must be proportional to the cost of administering the program tied to the fees. First a little background:

At one point, the Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) published a schedule of what the building permit fees should be, but then they stopped. The League of Minnesota Cities briefly picked up where DLI left off, but we promptly stopped when cities were challenged for using these recommendations.

The underlying problem with the fee schedule was that any single entity setting rates for all cities cannot possibly account for the varying range of program costs from one city to another. This led to the perception that cities were using building fees as a revenue generator.

That was probably 10 years ago. Ideally, at this point, there’d be no cities relying on schedules from that time. You're not, right? Of course not.

Just thought I'd check.

These days, we direct folks to the language that was added to rule and statute in response to these discrepancies.  Minn. Rule 1300.0160, subp. 2 says “Fees established by the municipality must be by legal means and must be fair, reasonable, and proportionate to the actual cost of the service for which the fee is imposed.”  There’s similar language in statute under Minn. Stat. § 462.353, subd. 4.

The most important thing to remember in setting building permits is that it’s not allowed to be a money-maker. It’s there to cover costs only.  However, if it’s not currently covering the city’s costs, then of course that should also be addressed. It is important to work with the city attorney and financial services provider because building fees continue to be very actively litigated by the building community. The fees must be defensible, and this is something which only the city attorney and financial services provider can help determine.

Written by Edward Cadman, special counsel with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: or (651) 281-1229.

This blog post conveys general information. It’s not legal advice. Please check with your city attorney before acting on this information. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Research Q of the Week: How to Amend an Ordinance (8/28/15)

Question: We just passed an ordinance not that long ago, and now it needs to be amended.  How does the city amend an ordinance?

Answer: You actually already know how to do it! The council must follow the same procedures for amending an ordinance as it does for passing the ordinance in the first place. That means the change in an ordinance can’t be done by resolution, but must be passed as an amending ordinance.

After the amendment is passed by a majority of the council, the ordinance must be attested to, published, and included in the ordinance book.

A common question is how should the amendment look? The form of the amendment should be like new ordinances with respect to title, enacting clause, body, closing, and signatures.

If the ordinance is short or if the changes are numerous, the council will usually re-pass the entire ordinance in its amended form, repealing the old ordinance in a separate section. Another option would be to title the new ordinance as an amendment, and then recite the entire ordinance as it would read after amendment.

If the ordinance to be amended is so long that the cost of publishing it in its entirety would be costly, the council can pass an amending ordinance that only includes the sections that will change. The council can include several amendments to the same ordinance in different sections of the same amending ordinance.

For more information, see the chapter on Meetings, Motions, Resolutions and Ordinances found in the Handbook for Minnesota Cities. 

Written by Irene Kao, research attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: or (651) 281-1224

This blog post conveys general information. It’s not legal advice. Please check with your city attorney before acting on this information.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Cities Matter Game Show is Back at the State Fair

Do you know which Minnesota city is the lutefisk capital? Or how many Minnesota mayors are women?

If you're going to the State Fair this year (Aug. 27-Sept. 7) you can find out! Step right up and test your Minnesota city knowledge at the Cities Matter booth located in the Education Building--we'll be there the full run of the fair with the interactive Cities Matter Game Show. Everyone who plays has a chance to win a prize!

Minnesota students entering grades 4-6 will also have the chance to compete in the League's annual Mayor For A Day essay contest. Pick up an entry form at the booth, or print one from the League's website. The deadline to submit an essay is Oct. 23.

So don't forget to add the Cities Matter Game Show booth to your route at this year's State Fair and see how many questions you can answer!

Cities Matter is a project of the League of Minnesota Cities. Find out more at

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Video: Getting to Know 'The New Guy' Dave Unmacht

Well there's a new face at the League of Minnesota Cities—David Unmacht recently took the helm as executive director. He brought his coffee cup and desk tchotchkes into the office on Aug. 3.

Dave has a background in both city and county government, and most recently worked for Springsted as a strategic planning consultant.

You may have received a letter of introduction from Dave recently—isn't it great to get mail? Because letters can feel a little formal, Dave sat down with a few LMC staffers and a video camera to share a bit about himself and to answer some not-so-serious questions too.

If you have your own ice breakers for Dave, he'll be attending each Regional Meeting scheduled this fall in a city near you, and now has his own official LMC email address for connecting with members. Welcome, Dave!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

More Resources and Training Available for City Employees

Since you’re reading this, you’ve successfully found one of the League of Minnesota Cities’ (LMC’s) blogs—but did you know there are two others created expressly for municipal employees?

The On the Line blog (found at is written for Minnesota’s public safety professionals. Rob Boe—who worked for nearly 40 years in public safety as a peace officer with the Prior Lake Police Department, as chief deputy with the Scott County Sheriff’s Office, and as a firefighter with both the Burnsville Department of Public Safety and the Bloomington rescue squad—posts regularly to this blog in his role as the public safety project coordinator with the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust (LMCIT).

The work that firefighters, medics, and cops do is dynamic, rapidly changing, and unpredictable—and unfortunately this often leads to injury on the job. LMCIT wants to keep first responders safe and also help cities reduce costly claims.

So on the On the Line blog, you’ll find topics ranging from body armor on the shooting range to lessons from a live burn, from stretch-and-bend to reduce injuries to what public safety departments can learn from NASA on how to promote a strong safety culture.

The Pipeline blog (found at is geared toward Minnesota’s public works professionals. Several of LMCIT’s field consultants—who focus on helping municipalities with loss control issues—consistently write about timely topics for this industry.

The goal of the Pipeline is to give city public works departments the tools needed to do their jobs safely while faced with budget constraints, fewer hands to help, and rising city service demands.

You’ll find timely and topical posts on the Pipeline like making sure your outdoors workers take preventive measures for tick-borne diseases, proper safety techniques when on skid steers, how to prevent frozen pipelines, and public works apps for your smartphones.

Two of the latest posts from each blog focus on the upcoming Safety & Loss Control Workshops, happening this fall. On the Line gives an overview of the police report-writing workshop, and the Pipeline discusses the all-new safety committees workshop.

Hope to see you at one of these trainings in September or October—and in the meantime, check out the League’s blogs!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Research Q of the Week: Posting Lost Dog Info on Facebook (8/14/15)

Question: Is it appropriate for the city to post pictures on social media of dogs we have found and are impounded at our kennel? It might help us located their owners faster.

Answer: If the city thinks it would be helpful, that is certainly a permissible use of social media.

Activity intended to find the owners of lost pets has become popular on social media sites like Facebook. By reuniting wayward furballs and their families the city could see a savings in boarding costs and staff time devoted to taking care of the animals.

Your city will want to consider potential pitfalls too. Staff time for posting and removing photos as well as how you would handle multiple people trying to claim the same animal are things to consider in advance.

The city should have a policy that describes the general types of information it will share on social media regardless of whether you have animal control facilities or not. Other common examples of content shared on social media include notices about city meetings, community events, public works projects, job openings, and pictures from happenings around the city.

For more information on this topic, including sample policies, check out the League’s memo on Computer and Network Loss Control.

Written by Amber Eisenschenk, staff attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: or (651) 281-1227.

This blog post conveys general information. It’s not legal advice. Please check with your city attorney before acting on this information.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

MN Medical Cannabis Program: What Should Cities Know?

In May 2014, the Medical Cannabis Therapeutic Research Act (the Act) was passed by the Minnesota Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Mark Dayton. On July 1, 2015, the law came into effect, legalizing medical cannabis in liquid, pill, oil, or vaporizing form for specific illnesses.

According to the Star Tribune, 528 patients have qualified for medical marijuana as of August 7. Three dispensaries are currently open in Minneapolis, Eagan, and Rochester, and a fourth will open in Moorhead in the next few months. Though these numbers are low, they will grow—the Act allows for up to eight dispensaries to be opened throughout the state, and patient enrollment continues to increase.

As employers, cities need to consider how the new legislation will impact hiring, firing, disciplinary practices, and employee/patient protections. Within the Act, there is a provision providing that a registered employee cannot be disciplined for testing positive for cannabis unless the employee used, possessed, or was impaired by cannabis on the premises of employment or during the hours of employment.

There are many questions to consider when working the Act into personnel policies, such as when medical cannabis should be treated as an illicit drug? Though medical cannabis is legal in the state of Minnesota, there are cases where use of medical marijuana can result in termination. One example of an exception to state law is the Department of Transportation, which treats use of medical cannabis as it would any other type of illicit drug.

Do you have questions about the Minnesota Medical Cannabis Program? Register for the League’s free webinar Minnesota Medical Cannabis Program: Introduction and Legislative Update by 12 p.m. on Tuesday, August 18.