Herald JournalHoward Lake-Waverly Herald, Oct. 28, 2002

More issues raised than settled at water tower meeting between city, county

By Lynda Jensen

Few issues were settled, and more seemed to float to the surfaced , during a meeting between Wright County officials and the City of Howard Lake Wednesday.

The main issue is an ongoing dispute over free water usage to the Wright County Fairgrounds and the city's water tower, located on county land.

Both sides accused the other of changing the agreement, which was passed by both the city and county in 1998, but not signed by the city at that time.

County commissioners Pat Sawatzke and Ken Jude expressed frustration with the city over what they perceived as backing out of an existing agreement.

In contrast, Howard Lake City Administrator Kelly Bahn and Council Member Shelly Reddemann disputed the unsigned agreement, in addition to other issues.

Other issues related to the county

The rift between Wright County and the City of Howard Lake over the water tower is also accompanied by other issues, some of which are related and others not. At the meeting Wednesday, participants on both sides agreed that all of these issues should be sorted out.

· Sewer usage. During the meeting, it was discovered that sewer was not included in the disputed agreement in the first place, and that the city has been providing free sewer service to the county. However, it was noted by Reddemann that the water being used at the fair generally goes down the storm sewer, and not back into the sewer system.

· Building permits and fees. Since the fairgrounds was annexed in 1995, there have been a number of buildings erected without the knowledge of the city, and without fees being paid. The county thought it was exempt and was given incorrect direction, Commissioner Pat Sawatzke said. The fees amount to $37,303 during a five-year period.

· Road access and truck traffic. The fair board has complained about truck traffic and road access to the fairgrounds.

Truck traffic is and will be causing problems because a private railroad crossing was roadblocked for pending development, which will permanently close the crossing eventually.

Trucks started using First Street at the fairgrounds last year to get around the railroad bridge at Wright County Road 6 when the railroad crossing at 13th Avenue was blocked by Pete Fischer, who plans to build a residential development on the other side of the tracks. First Street is a city-owned road, although the county was upset about the usage of the road since truck usage would ruin it, because it is not designated for truck tonnage.The closing also blocks access to the fair on the western side.


"You want to accept what is beneficial, but don't want to act on what isn't," Sawatzke said.

"Why should our residents pay for a county function?" Reddemann asked. The fair is not worth the problems it creates, he added. "It doesn't bring that much to Howard Lake."

Bahn pointed out that a "motion" is less binding than a "resolution" in legal terms, which generated a discussion about agreements in general.

"What is an agreement?" Jude asked, saying that the county makes resolutions every day that count for something.

"Would you have built a water tower without an agreement?" Sawatzke asked.

If this was the case, the county should have a charge for rent, which would amount to $1,000 a month on the average, Sawatzke said. "We're not asking for $1,000 a month," he said.

"We want to be good neighbors; we don't want to be held hostage by it," Jude said.

Sawatzke indicated that he heard word of mouth that Howard Lake people thought the water tower issue is ridiculous.

Interestingly enough, Mayor Gerry Smith urged Howard Lake residents Tuesday to contact Sawatzke, Jude, and others on the county board to express their feelings. Smith made the comments during the Howard Lake City Council meeting, which was the night before. Smith was unable to attend the county meeting Wednesday.

"Our hand is better if we had to go to court," Sawatzke said; although this was contradicted by Commissioner Dick Mattson at the last county board meeting, who said it would be tough to defend an unsigned document.

Sawatzke pointed out that the city asked first to have the water tower built on county land because it solved several problems location-wise for the water tower.

"I feel like you're doing all the taking, and we're doing all the giving," Sawatzke said.

In the end, the situation was unchanged, although the two sides took part in mild-tempered negotiations. Jude mentioned the possibility of an arbitrator, which Reddemann also alluded to at the meeting.

Sawatzke and Jude, who represented the ways and means committee for the county, indicated that they will recommend the county reject the counter agreement offered by the city.

The county asked Bahn to bring another memo to the council; have it signed, and then move forward with discussion on other issues; however she was doubtful about this.

Memo with murky past

The disagreement relates to a "memo of understanding" approved in 1998 by both the city and the county, but not signed by the city.

The memo has a murky past, according to records from both the city and county.

In 1994, an agreement was made giving the county five years of free sewer and water use in 1994 ­ long before the new water tower was constructed in 1998 ­ in exchange for the county paying an assessment early to the city of about $65,000 early, in a lump sum. This helped the city out in a time of need, it was noted.

This agreement also detailed that the county would pay for the installation of a water meter in 2000, when the agreement expired, according to county records dated Dec. 21, 1994.

In 1997, the city decided to erect a water tower, and Mark Custer, who was mayor at the time, attended a county fair board meeting proposing the idea of building the water tower on county property; however few details are included in the county minutes about what was discussed.

The county claims that an understanding was reached which resulted in the memo, including the free water ­ but no one from Howard Lake can recall discussing the issue with the county, and county records show only a single meeting with the fair board and Custer.

"I don't see where free water ­ forever and ever ­ was ever discussed, Reddemann commented at the meeting Wednesday. "That wasn't part of the gentleman's agreement."

Interestingly enough, the 1998 memo reads "As in the past, all water service to the county fairgrounds shall be provided at no cost to the county," a reference that did not match the existing 1994 agreement.

"It was misleading," Bahn commented.

The memo was passed by the Howard Lake Council in 1998, which pertained to free unlimited use of water to the county.

The council was told at its meeting that engineers would be breaking ground in about two weeks for the water tower and that it had to be passed quickly, Reddemann said.

There was no acting city administrator at the time.

The item had been tabled from the previous meeting, which gave the council plenty of time to think about it, Commissioner Pat Sawatzke pointed out.


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