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Park Rapids city staff to look at possible credits for storm water utility

City staff will go out to look at properties receiving high storm water utility fees to negotiate possible credits.

The Park Rapids City Council directed staff to do this after receiving feedback from citizens at a public meeting Nov. 17. At that meeting, many business owners called the high storm water utility fees unfair.

A few property owners also attended Tuesday's regular council meeting to find out more information. Many weren't satisfied with the council's decisions. Many larger businesses are being charged the maximum of $900 per year, or close to the maximum.

"I'm very disappointed," said property owner Jeff May Tuesday.

The city council directed staff to look at several properties but took no action to change the policy.

City administrator Bill Smith told the council Tuesday he and other members of the staff reviewed comments from the public meeting and brainstormed several ideas.

First, he outlined the assumptions staff based ideas on.

n The environmental movement will remain strong.

n The Clean Water Act will only be strengthened.

n The Federal Environmental Protection Agency and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency will continue the five-year review with increased requirements each time.

n Storm water utilities will continue to be adopted by municipalities.

n No other alternatives have been identified to finance storm water treatment. Tax levy limitations by the state are likely to continue. A local sales tax option is not likely for use on storm water treatment.

City staff took into consideration the practicality of the implementation, fairness and views expressed by citizens when looking at ideas, Smith said.

Staff recommended staying faithful to the science behind the formula for calculating the commercial and industrial rates, which are pro-rated based on contribution, he said. City staff also looked at the lots on the outskirts of the city but decided against excluding anyone from the fee because there would be no fair way to decide where to draw the line.

Members of city staff discussed adjusting the maximum allowable credit or lowering the cap but didn't recommend making those changes. They thought it would defeat the purpose of the utility.

Staff did recommend, with reservation, eliminating the requirement to have an engineer examine properties for credits.

Another recommendation was to give a credit for those with contiguous parcels. Staff will need to identify these parcels in the city before looking at possible credits.

The staff also recommended making credits retroactive to the start of the storm water utility.

City councilman Rod Nordberg wanted to remind people that storm water management is a citywide benefit, "just like street lights, stop lights," and that's why everyone should contribute.

Property owner Jim Stengrim wondered if the city council considered implementing a storm water utility fee to specific districts around town instead of the entire city. He thought that would be more beneficial than a blanket policy.

He also wondered if the city had a water shed district plan.

"We're feeling pressure for a storm water utility, not a water shed plan," Smith said.

Stengrim also asked for better communication from the city in the future.

City councilman Pat Mikesh did not attend Tuesday's meeting but sent an e-mail to Smith regarding the storm water utility. He wanted to see the storm water utility issue tabled until spring and addressed then.

Mayor Nancy Carroll said the council will continue to look at the storm water utility and provide updates as they are available.

Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
(218) 631-2561