June 1, 2007

'Emergency' HL council meeting aimed to clarify city's position

Discussion of a resolution approved by HLWW and clarification of issues

By Jennifer Gallus
Staff Writer

An emergency Howard Lake City Council meeting was called May 24 with the end result being the decision to give the HLWW school district a 10-day notice to sign a utility agreement without contingencies or have utility construction shut down.

Council agreed that shutting down the utility construction is not something it would like to impose, but also agreed that action of this kind would be warranted to get an agreement signed.

The meeting was called for the purpose of discussing a recently received resolution approved by the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted School District regarding the development agreement for the extension of water and sewer lines for the new school.

In addition, the city administrator, the city engineer, and the city public works director briefed council members on how the city arrived at figures and policies that HLWW takes issue with.

The meeting was open to the public, but closed to public comment during the session.

The main issue the city is concerned about is the fact that construction is currently underway without a signed agreement between the city and the school district regarding sewer and water improvements.

“The school is required to enter into an agreement for the private installation of the utilities,” City Administrator Kelly Hinnenkamp said.

“We (the city) were assuming the agreement was approved, which it was, but with contingencies, and we were not aware of that when we allowed the construction to start,” Hinnenkamp explained.

It was the school’s choice, Hinnenkamp told the Herald Journal, to opt to install the utilities privately rather than petition the city for the public improvements and then pay the city back over a period of time.

The city has never allowed construction to begin in the past without a signed agreement, Hinnenkamp noted.

The HLWW School Board approved a resolution May 22 relating to the development agreement for the extension of the utilities, but attached three contingencies to the resolution.

Two of the contingencies are in agreement with the city, but one, the SAC and WAC fee remains an unresolved issue with the school even though the city has already voted and established the fee.

The city has a policy in place for the SAC and WAC fee, and any reduction of that fee, as requested by the school, would have to be assessed to the residents of Howard Lake, which is something the city will not allow.

“I would feel much better if we didn’t have different documents signed at different times by different people that don’t say the same thing,” Council Member Al Munson said.

“We need to come up with an agreement between the city attorney and the school board – sit across from the table, sign, date, done. This sending an agreement given by our administrator, and have it changed or modified or added to and sent back a month later – that’s not the way to operate at all,” Munson added.

Without an agreement, the city is not legally covered, the city’s liability is not covered, and the costs the city incurs is also not covered, according to Hinnenkamp.

Council discussed frustrations with changes made by the school district to its development agreement, which is the same agreement, only tailored to the type of project, that every other developer in the city needs to sign.

Clarification of the line up-sizing debate

A grievance that the school district has had with the city is the extra costs incurred to the school for the mandatory up-sizing of the water line from an 8-inch main to a 12-inch main.

According to City Engineer Barry Glienke, the upgrade is necessary for fire protection.

Glienke explained that the city abides by the state standards for hydrant spacing and fire flow protection.

In order to get the required minimum water pressure for pumper fire trucks to work, the fire flow needs to deliver 2,000 gallons per minute for a period of two hours, according to Glienke.

“The 8-inch main would have required us to have almost 600 feet of vertical change between the top of our water tower and the site,” Glienke said.

“Obviously, that’s not going to happen, it’s pretty flat out here. At most, we could deliver 800 gallons per minute with an 8-inch line, that’s why we had to change it to a 12-inch main,” he added.

Regarding fire hydrants, state standards require hydrant spacing every 350 to 600 feet for maintenance of the water main and for flushing, Glienke explained.

“We settled on allowing spacing just a touch over 600 feet and did reduce one because the grades didn’t work out,” Glienke said.

Current water usage at school clarified

Another source of conflicting numbers between the city and the school district is in regards to the average water usage calculation allowed for in the Met Council fee schedule, from which the SAC and WAC fee was derived.

Based on the current high school’s water usage, the school district insists that it uses only four gallons per student per day, whereas the Met Council calculation figures 20 gallons per student per day into the utility fee.

Public Works Director Tom Goepfert presented council with some research he conducted in regards to the very old water meters installed at the current high school and its limitations.

At the meeting, Goepfert described the main meter coming off of Eighth Avenue as a turbine meter, which are said to be less accurate than compound meters, but has since discovered it is a rare single-dial compound meter.

“I’ve never seen a single-dial compound meter like that before,” Goepfert told the Herald Journal.

“I talked with a meter guy who said it’s pretty rare and I have someone looking up the serial number to find out how old it is,” Goepfert explained.

“I still question its accuracy,” he added.

The meters at the high school are at least 20 to 30 years old. They have never been calibrated or taken out and inspected, and their accuracy is questionable, Goepfert told council.

Goepfert talked with the new Cokato school, which reported averaging 20 gallons per student per day, based on flows from the lift station since that school has its own well.

The nursing home recently switched from a turbine meter to a new compound meter and called the city to say how surprised they were with how much their water bill had gone up, according to Hinnenkamp.

Regarding TIF benefits to new businesses

One other sore subject the school has mentioned is the fact that the city has given tax increment financing or other monetary breaks to city businesses, so why not extend a similar break to the new school’s SAC and WAC fee?

“Tax increment financing is provided to some businesses, that is true, but we (the city) reimburse ourselves through those taxes,” Hinnenkamp said.

“The benefit is an increased tax base in the future – that is the purpose of TIF. In this case, the district doesn’t pay taxes,” she added.

The council meeting closed on the note that if the public were to ask council members why the city is requiring the above mentioned items, the council would know how to answer those questions.

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