By Jennifer Kotila
COKATO, MN “It went well very, very well,” Cokato’s financial advisor Shelly Eldridge, of Ehlers and Associates, told the Cokato City Council last Monday about the refunding of its 2006 general obligation bonds.
The city will be saving approximately $72,000 in bond payments in the next 10 years, or more than 7 percent of the refunded principal, according to Eldridge.
To receive the best interest rate and save the most money when refunding the bonds, the city sought a credit rating from Standard and Poors, receiving an A+.
The rating reflects Standard and Poors’ view that the city:
• participates in the deep and diverse Minneapolis-St. Paul economic base;
• has good-to-adequate income and market value per capita indicators;
• has a very strong fund balance; and
• a low to moderate debt level.
Other factors Standard and Poors viewed as positive about Cokato was its diverse tax base, and its strong financial profile despite reductions in local government aid, Eldridge said.
Cokato taken to task over ordinance enforcement
An unhappy landlord took the Cokato council to task regarding city ordinances and enforcement.
Brandon Johnson, of Sartell, owns numerous single family properties in Cokato, and is frustrated with the city over its enforcement of the water shutoff ordinance.
“You can’t pick and choose what you want to enforce,” Johnson said. “Tell me the rules I’ll abide by them.”
He was also frustrated that the city refused to send duplicate water bills to both the residents living in the home and him, as landlord.
Although his renters are required by the lease to pay the water bill, Johnson acknowledged he was fully responsible for it as the property owner.
However, when Johnson has approached the city in the past to shut the water off at a rental property due to delinquent water bills, the city has refused during the winter months, citing the cold-weather rule, he said.
Because of this, the delinquent water bills are not paid by the renter, and are eventually assessed to Johnson’s taxes, he said.
There is no reference to the cold weather rule in the city’s ordinance, Johnson noted, adding that the cold weather rule only applies if the home has a hot water heating system.
The city does not have access to information regarding how a house is heated, which is why the city uses the cold weather rule uniformly with all utilities, said Council Member Butch Amundsen.
The city administrator was informed at the time of the request to shut the water off that the home did not have hot water heat, Johnson said.
“I don’t know why Cokato would want to accrue three, four, or five hundred dollar balances throughout the winter months,” Johnson said.
He added that a customer will typically pay the water bill as soon as the disconnection occurs.
“I’m asking you to authorize the administration to do its job; adhere to the ordinance,” Johnson said.
Johnson noted he had contacted 12 neighboring municipalities, and all disconnect water 12 months out of the year.
The city of Dassel references the cold weather rule directly in its ordinance, Johnson said.
There are several things the council would have to do to change the ordinance, said City Administrator Don Levens.
“This is the way it’s been done for 30 years,” he added.
“I know there are several ways to do this, working in utilities,” said Mayor Gordy Erickson.
The council directed Levens to begin modifying the city’s water ordinance to be able to shut the water off for customers with delinquent bills.
“The city of Dassel’s is online,” Johnson said. “I think it’s excellent.”
Regarding the mailing of duplicate water bills, Johnson again used the city of Dassel as an example.
The city of Cokato has repeatedly told Johnson it cannot send duplicate water bills to both the landlord and the renter.
This reduces the time his renters have to pay their water bill, since the bill is first sent to him, then he sends it to the renter, Johnson said.
The city of Dassel sends duplicate water bills to landowners and renters, one marked “do not pay duplicate,” Johnson noted. “They have the exact same software,” he said.
Erickson reassured Johnson he would have staff look into the issue.
“We’ll keep you informed as we go,” Levens said.
Cokato’s winter parking ban waived
The council approved waiving the winter parking ban for the rest of the season due to lack of snow and “soupy” driveways.
However, the council also asked residents to use good judgment if it does snow again this season.
“Obviously, if we get a big snowfall, keep the cars off the street,” commented Council Member Carl Harju.
Odds and ends
In other business, the council:
• approved a lot split at Daniel’s Restaurant, 525 West Cokato Street, as recommended by the planning and zoning commission.
The State Bank of Cokato, which owns the restaurant, requested the lot split in order to sell it to Cokato Charitable Trust to use for additional employee and guest parking.
• approved a resolution establishing one precinct, with the boundaries being the city limits of Cokato and the polling place being Cokato City Hall.
• approved a merchant’s license for Chito’s Ice Cream for 2012.
• was informed that a formal agreement was being drafted outlining the responsibilities of the city and the Cokato Historical Society in regards to the operation of the museum.
• heard from Public Works Director Jeff DeGrote that the sanitary sewer line from the Dassel-Cokato High School has been sealed.
Although it was sealed, DeGrote had not yet had the opportunity to review flow numbers to see how it affected infiltration into the line.