By Lynda Jensen
Higher water and sewer rates were the dubious subject of a special session of Cokato City Council, with council members reluctantly talking about the unpopular idea.
Three times previously, city accountant Paul Harvego has warned the council that the water fund has no money and the sewer fund is “sinking,” as Mayor Bruce Johnson described it. “We have to do something or we’ll be caught flat-footed,” Johnson added.
The rates haven’t been raised in three years.
Over the years, the city has bonded for a water treatment plant and recently done South Broadway. The water treatment plant is funded solely through revenue in the water fund and a portion of the South Broadway project and the current wastewater treatment plant is funded through revenues in the sewer fund.
No decisions were made during the meeting, but council members picked through billing procedures to see what other ways could be found to help the situation.
It was noted that several meterless waters existed that were merely charged flat rates. There are 13 water accounts and 22 sewer accounts that are set up this way, usually from customers who do not have city water, but are connected to the sewer system, have unheated spaces that do not support a meter in cold weather, or have a shallow water line that has to run water to keep the water and sewer lines from freezing, as well as city buildings that are not metered.
It was proposed to change them from a flat rate to a base fee plus the equivalent of 3,000 gallons per month at a rate agreed upon by the council.
The council spent a fair amount of time discussing whether it should increase heavy users of the 14 industries that exist in town, but decided quickly that they didn’t want to chase away business with higher water rates, or encourage a business to relocate for the same reason.
It was noted that Faribault Foods gets a discount for water that has to do with use over 500,000 gallons.
Sewer credit charges were also discussed. In the early 1980s, when the rates were increased for the water treatment plant, the council made a decision to give a sewer credit for rentals in homes an small apartment buildings.
These discounts ranged from one full base charge to three base charges on buildings containing two units and up to eight units.
“This is another fairness issue and a bookkeeping nightmare,” commented Clerk Peggy Carlson. “Many apartment buildings in the city have vacancies, small as well as the large ones. She proposed eliminating the credit.
It was noted by Carlson that there are 146 commercial/industrial users, and 1,067 residential users.
Indexing an increase to cover the cost of inflation appeared to be a favorable consensus.
The subject was tabled for a future meeting.
New fire hall location discussed
The council also talked about a possible new fire hall location, going into closed session at the end of the special meeting to discuss potential land dealings.
It was questioned whether the city was prepared to take on such a project financially.
Council members appeared to give a cool reception to the top choice in location along Highway 12 and Third St. E. (on the northwest corner, not the northeast corner, as previously reported), as recommended by the land search committee recently.
Council Member Gordy Erickson noted that this was a bad spot for pulling into traffic. “Why take Highway 12 frontage off the tax base?” he wondered.
Council Member Wayne Murphy disagreed, saying that there was plenty of frontage along the strip and that the location seemed like a good choice.
It was noted that the existing fire hall isn’t on Highway 12 and has the fire department respond there without trouble.
“Response time is critical,” Council Member Jan Severson observed.
Erickson said that ideal location would be along Wright County Road 3.
It was said during the discussion that the council would still be open to anyone who might be willing to offer up their land for a new fire hall at a reasonable price, or even free, so that the city could successfully pull off the project.
Few attend truth in taxation
During the truth in taxation hearing, council members Butch Amundsen and Jan Severson spent a fair amount of time thinking of ways to chew down the budget to the minimum needed.
Amundsen expressed the desire to remove $50,000 out of the capital improvement fund, in order to lock in a lower levy increase. Severson recalled $25,000 that was previously added by Murphy during a previous session for the capital improvement fund. She suggested taking it out.
Amundsen reasoned that by taking out the $50,000 out of this fund, the amount left over would be mainly increases attributed to cutbacks in local government aid (LGA).
Murphy said that the city should keep the amounts in to preserve some kind of cushion in the budget. Previously, the council talked about the fire hall and whether it was ready to take on such a project.
“The city won’t misuse the money,” he said, noting the lack of attendance at the meeting. He said the levy should stay the same.
At this point, resident Crystal Foust, who is also a planner for the City of Watertown and the only Cokato resident to attend the meeting, spoke with the council, admonishing this idea. “Don’t take money you don’t need,” she said.
Amundsen said the council is charged with being fiscally responsible.
The city will adopt is final levy 5 p.m. Monday, Dec. 10.
Odds and ends
In other business, the council:
• decided it will go with Waste Management for its recycling services instead of Mumford Sanitation, due to the convenience of single sort recycling.
The contract will begin March 1, although Waste Management has said it can assume the current program until new carts are ordered. The vote was somewhat split, with Johnson voting against it, and the others voting in favor (Murphy, who made the motion, Severson, Amundsen and Erickson).
• tabled a stringent ATV and motorized go-carts ordinance, so that the police commission would be able to discuss it further.
• noted that the Akerlund Studio will be fully funded by a grant for its restoration work. The application was greatly assisted by an engineering report, which the Historical Society contributed toward, as well as the fact that the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.