By Tara Mathews
HOWARD LAKE, MN Howard Lake City Council approved a contract amendment with Short Elliot Hendrickson (SEH) at its meeting Jan. 19.
“The city has an existing contract with SEH to provide grant writing and technical expertise related to the renovation of the historic city hall building,” City Administrator Nick Haggenmiller noted.
In order to proceed with the grant application process, the city must commission elevation drawings of the building.
“These drawings would provide an as-is, or baseline for the building, in order to determine if the proposed improvements would be appropriate per historic guidelines,” Haggenmiller stated.
The drawings will also help determine if the project fits within the guidelines for funding, and will be helpful for engineers and architects if the project moves forward.
The cost is expected to be $4,100. The city has $2,500 available in its general fund for professional services related to the project, and $2,500 in its proposed 2016 liquor enterprise budget for professional services, which, combined, will fund the drawings.
In November 2015, the city’s grant application was submitted, and in December, SEH was notified that the city was invited to submit a full grant application, which is due in February.
Grant awards will be announced in May, and if awarded, the city is expected to kick off the project in late July or early August, according to Heidi Peper of SEH.
The council also approved changes to the city’s utility rates, which include an increase to water, sewer, and storm sewer rates.
“I just want citizens to know that these rate increases affect us on the council just as much as they affect the rest of Howard Lake’s residents,” Council Member Tom Kutz noted. “I pay the same rate; we all do.”
The city’s sewer fund has had a deficit for many years, and it is not improving, according to Haggenmiller.
The sewer fund deficit, $340,000, would continue to grow if rates were not changed, he added.
For 2016, the sewer fixed rate will be $30.87, and volume charge will be $8.87 per 1,000 gallons, making it an increase of 15 percent, or $4.29 on its fixed rate, and $1.16 per 1,000 gallons.
The water rates are also increases, not due to a budget deficit, but due to planned future maintenance.
The increases in water rates are not as significant as the sewer rate increases, because the water fund covers itself.
In 2016, water rates will increase 10 percent, which is $2.44 on the fixed rate, and 39 cents per 1,000 gallons. The new fixed water rate is $26.88, and the volume charge is $4.26 per 1,000 gallons.
The council also increased the storm water charge, due to foreseen drainage pond maintenance.
“Typically those pond systems need maintenance after 20 to 25 years, and Howard Lake’s systems have to be nearing that mark,” City Engineer Sheila Krohse of Bolton & Menk noted.
In the past, the storm water fund has had a deficit, but has been paid by the general fund, according to Haggenmiller.
“The increase in the storm water rate will allow it to carry its own weight,” he said.
Eventually, the city will need the storm water fund to build, so it can complete required maintenance, but the council didn’t want to overload citizens with too many large increases.
Over the next couple of years, citizens may notice an increase to storm water rates, so the city can be prepared to clean out sediment in its drainage ponds.
“Cleaning out the ponds can cost up to $100,000 per pond, as far as I’ve heard,” Haggenmiller commented.
Greens of HL
The Greens of Howard Lake golf course owners, Jeff Carlson and Paul Hockert requested an extension on their request to rezone the golf course.
Carlson and Hockert requested that the golf course property be changed to an urban reserve used for agricultural purposes, following an inability to sell the property for the purpose of recreation.
The city received the rezoning application in October 2015, and the city’s planning commission met regarding the request in November.
The planning commission proposed denial, based on the request being inconsistent with the comprehensive plan.
In December, the city hosted a public hearing to receive input from citizens, and the council tabled the matter for up to 60 days so more information could be obtained.
The council approved a new agreement with the course owners Tuesday, which extends the amount of time both entities have to complete the required steps.
Based on state law, the city has 120 days to approve or deny the rezoning request, or it is automatically approved, according to City Attorney Mike Couri.
An agreement extending the city’s deadline was necessary in order to give an extension to course owners, for the city’s protection.
The council approved the request for an extension, and gave course owners until Tuesday, Feb. 16 to review information and present any new information at that time.
The council has to make a decision by Friday, March 18 to satisfy the new contract.
“We want to make this work ,as well,” Carlson noted. “We have put our heart and soul into this golf course, and it didn’t work. We don’t want to create animosity.”
Odds and ends
In other business the council:
• heard the municipal liquor store report from manager Myra Laway. In December 2015, the revenues were $63,771, and expenses were $66,926; resulting in a loss of $3,154. Laway noted that the loss is partially due to purchasing more inventory than normal for the holidays. She also stated that the store will begin buying a large portion of its inventory on a quarterly basis, which will save the store money.
• heard a Wright County Area Transit (WCAT) update from Council Member Al Munson. Trailblazer Transit is still in need of drivers, and if 11 more drivers were hired, that would mean 11 more buses on the road, he said.