Baxter City Council will consider assessments at March 17 meeting
About 26 people attended a recent assessment hearing on the 2020 South Interceptor, North Forestview project with specific questions on costs, water use and the city's portion of the bill.
BAXTER — If past hearings on a street, water and sewer project in southeast Baxter could be described as contentious, Monday’s special Baxter City Council meeting may have been procedural.
That isn’t to say everyone is still in agreement, but the March 9 meeting focused on an update of the project so far and specific questions from an audience of about 26.
Streets involved in the project include Chestnut Drive, Camwood Trail, Scenic River Drive, Mississippi Road, Forestview Drive, Land O Lakes Road, Loredo Road and Fuschia Drive — roadways in southeast Baxter, near the Mississippi River. In past meetings, residents voiced strong objections to the project while others indicated support for it.
For Baxter, the conundrum in recent years is trying to find the best way to provide municipal water and sewer in established neighborhoods that are using septic systems and wells. For a city established with large residential lots, the next challenge was keeping costs borne by residents from rising beyond an ability to pay. Street projects have typically provided a catalyst for consideration of putting in the pipes for both water and sewer.
With Baxter’s now maturing infrastructure and streets in need of repair or replacement, the window to add the water and sewer infrastructure opened. The council, which voted 4-1 with council member Mark Cross opposed, to move the proposal forward, citing the long view for Baxter’s environmental and growth needs. Cross noted the large city lots and corresponding large costs, particularly for municipal sewer to replace septic systems. Cross was absent Monday.
Questions from residents
Doug Johanson, Loredo Road, started the question and answer session with a question about using the well for water and if capping it was included in the overall bid.
Trevor Walter, public works director and highway engineer, said if residents want to cap the well that is up to them. It can be used for lawn and outside activities. If it isn’t going to be used, Walter said he recommends it be capped.
Property owners will need to have a master plumber do the final connection and have the option of having two water meters and they wouldn’t have to pay a sewer charge on the outside meter.
In regard to a question on the well water use and a desire to keep it for drinking, Walter noted the well water cannot be retained for domestic use and added it would pose a contamination point if connected to the city system.
“If your well goes bad it can pollute our whole system,” Mayor Darrel Olson said.
Other questions centered on whether residents were paying more than their share of the project or if there was a benefit to delay in hooking up to the system, given the city is extending the connection window from one to five years.
“We are only assessing about 40% of the overall project costs,” said Jeremy Vacinek, city finance director. “So the other city costs, about 60% of the overall project, is being paid for with other funding sources.”
Vacinek said if the entire project was based on the assessments, those costs would be well above the $15,000 and be closer to $23,000-$24,000.
“You're really picking up no costs for the future,” Walter said. “The city has picked up 100% of that with the way that the new assessment policy is with the cap at 15,000. That is not even covering 100% of the costs of running your place for streets, water and sewer. … The city's picking up about 60% of your costs for the sewer, 60% of cost for the water and 60% of the cost for the street just in front of your house.”
As for the time to connect to the system, City Administrator Brad Chapulis said that additional time allows property owners to get more use out of their septic system before the hookup. Although, Chapulis added, it might be financially advantageous for homeowners to connect while the overall project was in place based on dewatering costs to lower the groundwater for the needed work.
The public hearing lasted about an hour.
Chapulis said the city received five notices of objection. The city also identified four properties warranting further review to see if adjustments need to be made.
The road thus far
The council hosted improvement hearings, receiving feedback from property owners at the end of 2018.
In early 2019, the project was not approved as proposed as the council sought additional study seeking more data regarding groundwater quality, existing septic systems and the city’s assessment policy.
After the additional study in August 2019, the council approved going through the North Forestview neighborhood. The council adjusted the assessment policy to cap assessments in developed neighborhoods at a $15,000 flat rate for residential as of 2020, with adjustment for inflation in future years.
Broken down the assessment amounts to $4,500 for residential water assessment, $4,500 for sewer assessment and $6,000 for street assessment.
The time to connect with the available sewer and water services was extended from one to five years after the project is substantially completed.
The sewer availability charge was set at $600 and water availability charge at $600 for existing houses.
A $500 lift station fee for existing houses was eliminated.
The council will consider adopting assessments on March 17.
If that progresses, the council will consider awarding a construction contract on April 21 with the project to begin in May and continue to October 2020.
Renee Richardson, managing editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchBizBuzz.