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September 27, 2020

9/3/2020 2:38:00 PM
Chisago City citizen disputes water tower fee

On Aug. 25, the Chisago City Council heard a resident’s plea for the city to rescind the current flat fee of $27.45 a quarter to pay off the water tower renovation and to consider an increase in the water use rate instead.

A document from Mark Karnowski at 2863 Green Lake Ave., Chisago City, was reviewed as part of the public comment portion of the meeting. Karnowski, who is a retired city administrator, cited the League of Minnesota Cities Handbook which states that water rates should be high enough to pay all costs of both operation and maintenance. He also quoted the Minnesota Rural Water Association which states that flat fees do not encourage water conservation, are unfair to small water users and should be confined to systems that don’t have water meters in place.  

Karnowski contended that it was not fair to charge that same flat fee to small water users as the largest water users.

While Mayor Bob Gustafson said he agreed with the concept that larger water users should pay more, he also commented that it was “too late in the game” to change the debt repayment approach for the water tower project now.  The council previously voted to implement the flat quarterly fee for the time it will take to retire the water tower renovation bonds.

Councilman Jeremy Dresel pointed out it would be difficult to determine how much to raise water rates to repay the debt based on water use not knowing exactly how much water residents will use in the future.

The council did agree that it will take Karnowski’s concern and suggestions under consideration as part of future water rate studies.

- Also, as part of the public comment portion of the meeting, the council read an email from Debby Kerschner, 29207 Scenic Dr. Kerschner asked if the city planned to add ordinances which limit residential street parking to disallow parking of campers, work vehicles and trailers on residential streets. She said her neighborhood has several vans, trucks and campers parked on the street that make it difficult to drive and to back out of driveways.

Administrator Pechman informed the council that current ordinances do not prohibit parking anything on the street in Chisago City other than during winter snow removal hours. Pechman said it was becoming a problem and that some people used the street as a storage facility for campers, trailers and vehicles. Mayor Gustafson agreed the problem should be looked at.

Police Chief Bill Schlumbohm pointed out that many cities required vehicles parked on the street to be moved every 24 hours. Pechman suggested referring the issue to the city planning commission.

In other business, the council:
- approved rezoning of 7.3 acres on Lake Lane from Medium Density Residential to Highway Commercial.

Landowner Stephan Perry plans to build an office, garage and showroom for his business, Affordable Doors Company, on the site.

The majority if the acreage is wetland. Only 1.3 acres is buildable and is immediately adjacent to other property zoned Highway Commercial. The design review by the city planning commission had recommended more windows and a parking plan to be reviewed and approved by the city. The city council approved the rezoning and the building design.

- After a lengthy discussion agreed to have Mayor Bob Gustafson, Councilman Jeremy Dresel, Administrator Pechman and City Attorney Tom Miller meet with IPS Solar related to their application for a solar garden off County Road 22 and 275th Street. The council had previously denied a variance request from IPS Solar and approved an Interim Use Permit (IUP) for the project. At that time, IPS indicated they could build the solar garden without the variance.

On Aug. 25, council discussion indicated IPS is now claiming a hardship exists due to wetlands in the center of the site and seeking a variance. Mayor Gustafson bristled at the request for a negotiating meeting alluding to the fact that IPS has threatened legal action against the city in the past.

The mayor said the city had spent a year working on its solar ordinance and “They’re trying to take away everything we did saying it’s not legal.”

Council members Dresel and Marie Rivers indicated a willingness to meet with the group. “I don’t think it hurts to sit down with them,” said Dresel.

Councilman Anderson remained strongly opposed, saying “Why are we going to waste our time? If you negotiate something else with them I’m going to vote no.”

“We already approved their plan without a variance,” said Anderson. “They put up a plan without a variance and now they want a variance.”

City Attorney Tom Miller reminded the council that the IPS request for a meeting had passed through him to the city. “If there’s anything we can do in the way of a variance, that’s what a variance is for,” said Miller, adding he was trying to help the city avoid the expense of litigation.
- approved an evacuation plan presented by Stephen Witzel of Croix Estates mobilehome park, to use a room in the basement of an adjacent rental property he owns as a storm shelter for park residents. A separate entrance with a lock box will be provided and residents informed of the code.

Entering the shelter requires navigating six steps. Councilwoman Rivers wanted to be sure the steps were safe and in good condition. Witzel said if the steps failed to meet approval he will replace them.

- tabled a decision on implementing a study of water and sewer rates to the January meeting. While the council agrees the study is needed, timing became an issue.

City Engineer Ryan Goodman pointed out that part of the rate study process involves getting historical utility data as well as information on sewer connection charges, usage and future capital improvement plans. All of this takes time and must be done before a new rate can be determined and put in place.

“We don’t want to lose any ground,” said Goodman. “We want to be ahead of the game, not trailing.” He added that Chisago City had some of the lowest rates he’d seen in the metro area.
Councilman Dresel said, “I think we’re ready to go. We are getting a lot of development and there are going to be a lot of meetings and budget discussion.”

The mayor, however, continued to suggest action on the rate study be tabled until January and ultimately the council agreed.

- pondered what to do about scheduling a face-to-face meeting with residents of Jonquil Dr. regarding their request for a cost estimate to upgrade the road. The council agreed in October 2019 to direct staff and the city engineer to prepare a rough estimate of what it might cost to upgrade the road to a city standard gravel road.  The estimate was completed in June, but by then Covid 19 intervened and prevented any type of public informational meeting from taking place. Resident Cyndy Tubbs has contacted the city offices several times in the past year asking for an update and made another request on Aug. 12.

Jonquil Dr. was platted as a public street but at request of the original property owners was always treated as a private road not maintained by the city. As a result, the existing road no longer follows the platted public right of way in many spots and is in poor condition.

To become a city standard public road, Jonquil would have to be widened to 20 feet. After driving the road, City Engineer Ryan Goodman said trees and considerable personal property lies within the road right of way and widening the road would also impact drainage in some portions. Considerable grubbing and grading would be involved.

Goodman said rough cost estimates approach $240,000. The cost would be spread over benefitted property owners. The engineer said there are 26 addresses and some vacant lots on the lake side of the road. He said determining benefitted properties on the west side of the road could be tricky.

Because of the complexity of the project, the council indicated it would rather meet with the property owners face to face to answer their questions rather than trying to send a printed document.

In the end the council voted to contact Tubbs to see if the residents want to move forward yet this year. If so, the council may try to have a socially distanced informational meeting at Strom Hall at Ki Chi Sago Park.

- accepted a petition for annexation of property at 31705 Karmel Avenue submitted by Steve Bratrud. The property will be hooking up to the city sanitary sewer. Bratrud will contact Chisago Lakes Township.

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