Ottertail City Council hears update on annual year-end audit report

By Chad Koenen


Several dozen people filled the Ottertail City Hall last week to discuss one of Ottertail’s most recognizable features.

During its regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday night, the Ottertail City Council heard from landowners along the Otter Tail River and the Otter’s Tail. 

The issue was brought forth by John Carlson, who requested that the unnatural cut of the Otter Tail River be closed. Carlson said closing the unnatural cut would improve the flow of the river and not doing so could violate the riparian rights of land owners further down the river. 

“We would like to have the city consider closing the breach, the unnatural mouth, so we can restore the Otter Tail River to its natural state,” said Carlson. “We feel that unless that is eventually done we are going to be sitting down here with just a swamp, basically, with no water flow.”

After hearing from Carlson, several people spoke against closing the unnatural cut in the river. These people stated that closing the unnatural cut would violate their rights as landowners. In the past, the Minnesota DNR reportedly said they would not close the unnatural cut of the river unless every property owner in the area was in favor of the decision, something a number of people in attendance said would not happen.

Carlson said he spoke with representatives from the Minnesota DNR who stated the issue must first be addressed by the city council, before they would take up the issue concerning the unnatural cut. However, several city council members and the city attorney questioned if the issue was a city one, a land owner dispute or an issue that should be addressed by the Minnesota DNR.

When asked by Ottertail City Council members about the next step the city should take concerning the unnatural cut of the river, city attorney Sam Felix suggested the council should not oppose or support filling in the unnatural cut of the river at this time. He said doing so could put the city in a legal jeopardy in the future as it was unclear if the issue was a City of Ottertail or Minnesota DNR issue in the first place.

Following a lengthy back and forth between residents and the city council, Ottertail City Councilwoman Jill Carlson urged the residents along the Otter Tail River to work together with the DNR and city to find a common solution. 

“Can we all work as a group with the DNR so everyone on the river can have a river,” said Carlson. “That’s the main goal, all of the landowners have to get together and work together.”

The city council said it will seek a work session with representatives from the Minnesota DNR to see if a solution could be determined for the Otter Tail River and the Otter’s Tail.

Audit report

Cash and investment balances in Ottertail’s general fund grew by approximately $280,000 last year, according to the City of Ottertail’s 2021 year-end audit. In fact, the city’s fire, loan pool, general obligation bond and water accounts all grew last year. 

The audit was presented by auditor Brian Kane during last week’s regularly scheduled city council meet. 

The audit also found that Ottertail’s capital projects fund decreased last year after the city completed work at the Happy Acres housing development. In all, the city’s cash and investment balances were up by nearly $100,000.

The city’s revenue also increased slightly last year by about $6,000 to a total of $884,458. The audit also found that expenditures decreased dramatically in 2020 by about $121,000 to just $772,701. The biggest decrease in expenditures came in general government and public safety. 

In other news

• Heard a concern from Aaron Menze about ongoing curb stop fees that have been assessed to his property and others in the community. Menze said when curb stops were put in the community in 2002, property owners could pay $2,000 for the curb stop or pay a monthly fee which has been raised to approximately $30 per month. Over the past 20 years he said he has paid well over the $2,000 initial fee. The city council said it has asked Ehlers to complete a water study and will hold a special meeting to address the concerns that have been addressed. 

• Approved looking into installing a culvert to help with water flow near Thalmann’s Road and Hilltop Road. High water has reportedly washed out part of the road this spring and city engineer Bob Schlieman suggested the city complete a study to look into potential solutions to improve drainage in the area. 

• Officially swore in Amanda Thorson as city clerk/treasurer and Nessa Burlingame as deputy clerk. 

• Denied a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for Christine Angulum to convert her commercial property into residential. There were concerns raised by the city’s insurance company regarding the CUP. 

• Discussed a solar ordinance after hearing a request by Tom Lavelle to potentially install a small solar energy system at his property in Ottertail. 

• Discussed closing the office on Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s at 3 p.m. to help training for the new office staff. The office will remain open until 4:30 p.m. on Monday’s and Thursday’s as regularly scheduled.