May 28, 2007

HLWW unhappy with extra fees

District exasperated over extra costs required by City of HL that it says

are not needed for school

By Lynda Jensen

Extra costs associated with upsizing utility pipes, along with double engineering fees, caused exasperation for the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted school board Tuesday.

The extra costs are aggravating an existing disagreement over sewer and water hookup charges, which the school board says are too high; being based on metro figures.

The city engineer insisted that the school upsize the line from eight to 12 inches, as well as fire hydrants every 1/8 of a mile for maintenance of the line.

The extra costs for this add a total of $108,500 to an already tightly funded project – $76,000 for upsizing the pipe from an eight-inch to 12-inch line, which is $10 per foot over 7,6000 feet, plus the cost of installing new hydrants, which amounts to $32,500 (13 hydrants at $2,500 each).

The pipes were upsized because the school is located so far out of town, said city engineer Barry Glienke of Bolton & Menk. “We need a 12-inch line to get eight inches of capcity to the school site for fire protection,” he added.

It should be noted that the city went out of its way to speed up its development project south of town to meet the school’s utility pipes further out, said Supt. George Ladd.

Currently, the school is paying both for its own engineer, Larson Engineering, as well as a City of Howard Lake’s engineer, Bolton & Menk, to do essentially the same thing, Ladd said.

The project will be inspected by the city when it’s done either way, and must be built to code, according to the same standards that both engineers are using, he said.

However, the city says that it will be ultimately responsible for the long-term life of the utility lines, which are being built as a private line now and will be turned over to the city when the project is finished.

“We still have to make sure they are installed correctly,” City Administrator Kelly Hinnenkamp commented.

In the meantime, the school’s engineer has been trying to avoid being on the construction site when the city’s engineer is there, so that engineers are not charging the school at the same time.

This amounts to $89,600 in unneeded engineering fees, Ladd said.

The extra fees were detected by retired assessor Dale Engel, who is a member of the BUILD committee and has agreed to help police the construction fund.

The double-engineering fee scenario appeared to start last fall when the school opted to have its lines installed privately, which is a common practice for private developers to save money and time when it comes to public hearings and the like, Hinnenkamp observed.

However, since the school is a public entity, and must undergo that process anyway, it probably would have made better sense to not do it privately, she said. “I wish they would have kept us more involved,” she added.

At that time, the school received estimates on engineering costs from Larson Engineering and Bolton & Menk, which caused it to pick an engineer other than the city engineer.

Bolton & Menk came in much higher in cost, and since the board is required by law to go with the lower, Ladd said, it went with Larson.

However, the city says that Bolton & Menk was using estimates – not true bids with the proper specifications, as the school should have done – which caused Bolton & Menk to come in high, since it was basing its fees off estimates, and not actual numbers, as Larson had access to, Hinnenkamp said.

School board Chairman Dan Schaible said that the school board was told at one point in time that Bolton & Menk would be too busy to do the project. This does not appear to be the problem now, since the board complained about how much time the city engineer spends at the site.

Timing also appears to be a factor, since the school was unhappy with not knowing about so many different fees associated with the city until well after the fall approval of the project on the ballot, when the cost was quoted to voters at that time.

Nevertheless, the board decided Tuesday to sign the developer’s agreement with the city over the following conditions:

• the two entities agree to disagree over the $222,250 sewer and water access charges.

• the city provide a separate agreement over the water main.

- This agreement will require the city to pay for above-and-beyond costs, such as extra fire hydrants and upsizing of the line, that is not needed by the school district.

- Any usual and customary fees to connect to the water line will be paid to the school.

Discussion during the school board meeting was fairly even tempered, although a frustrated Al Doering of the school board suggested at one point in time that the school should keep the utility line for its own private use and prevent others from tapping into it at all. If this happened, the school would be responsible for long-term maintenance of the line.

Hinnenkamp acknowledged receipt of the agreement the next day, when it will be presented to the council for approval. An emergency meeting by the Howard Lake City Council was called Thursday night, but due to early copy for Memorial Day, the newspaper went to press before the meeting took place.

The board set its work session for 7 p.m. Monday, June 4 at the media center in the high school, but left the door open to the possibility of making it a special meeting in case action should be taken regarding the developer’s agreement issue.

If the two sides cannot reach an agreement, the city could withhold the certificate of occupancy, which would grind the project to a stop.

Watch www.herald-journal.com for updates.

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