Potential increases to wastewater and storm sewer fees was the main topic of discussion at the East Grand Forks city council’s May 11 work session as members debated setting a more specific policy.
David Murphy, city administrator, brought a proposal that increased the sewage rate $5 per month and the storm sewer rate by $4 per month. He explained that $3 of the sewage increase and $2 of the storm water increase are to keep the funds from going into deficit. The additional $2 in each increase is to fund sanitary and storm sewer reconstruction costs during street projects rather than assessing them.
Mayor Steve Gander broke the increases down into $5 to keep both funds solvent. The additional $4 would be to proactively fund additional maintenance for both systems.
Council member Marc DeMers said he felt the projected use of the additional $4 increase was too vague, saying it raised dollars in search of a purpose, which is different from having a purpose to raise dollars.
“I don’t understand how you can raise money to do this stuff if you don’t know how much you actually have to pay for it,” DeMers said.
He advocated for seeing a ten-year maintenance plan that outlined specific projects on a schedule and the associated cost estimates.
One of the needs mentioned for a decision on the issue sooner rather than later is the condition of the street and the storm sewer on 5th Ave. NW and 20th St. NW. Some council members questioned whether the proposal was specifically to lower potential assessments for those residents.
Steve Emery, city engineer, and Gander both said this was to be a policy decision to carry through the future and was not aimed at any one project. It was just that the northwest street project was one of the current urgent needs.
DeMers asked if 100 percent of sanitary and storm sewer projects would be funded through this account. Murphy replied it is not a policy now and the council would have to decide that.
Karla Anderson, finance director, clarified that when she met with Emery and Jason Stordahl, public works director, their intention was to be able to fund the same kind of replacement work as the water and light department does. They want to be sure there is coordination between the departments so all work can be done at the same time on specific projects instead of needing to tear up the streets within a couple of years for a different improvement project.
More information will be brought to a future meeting.
In other business the council:
• Postponed the discussion on possible uses for the federal sub-target transportation dollars to the strategy meeting set for May 17 and added a special council meeting, noting that the proposed Bygland Road and Rhinehart Drive roundabout is still an option.
• Discussed possible fees, timeframes and hours for a sidewalk café policy or ordinance, noting that fees should cover administrative costs and the option for sidewalk dining should be open to all restaurants in the city, not just the downtown commercial district. Snow removal and room for pedestrians also need to be considered.
• Discussed an increase to the farm land leases the city has with area farmers, particularly for land that is prone to flooding.
• Agreed to accept a petition from residents on Sawgrass Court to have the street paved and to order a feasibility study.
• Discussed and sought input on a possible long-term plan for updating city ordinances.