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Brainerd looks at new storm water utility fee structure

A possible new fee structure in the city's storm water utility ordinance could make future rate changes simpler and produce more money for later improvements.

A possible new fee structure in the city's storm water utility ordinance could make future rate changes simpler and produce more money for later improvements.

At a Brainerd City Council meeting Monday, the group held the first reading of a proposed storm water utility ordinance change.

The second reading is scheduled to be held at the council's first January meeting. If approved, fee adjustments could start for the February 2015 Brainerd Public Utilities billing cycle.

The average single family residential lot is about 7,000 square feet (or 1/6th of an acre). A high estimate of impervious lot coverage is 50 percent of that, said city engineer Jeff Hulsether.

The proposed ordinance change suggests establishing an equitable fee structure between single family residential property and commercial land, based on the runoff. The proposed change would base the commercial fee structure at the single family residential fixed rate times the number of 1/12th acre impervious units, Hulsether said.

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By doing that, a one-acre lot with 75 percent impervious surface would still have a fee of about $27 per month as in the original proposal, he said. If that lot were 100 percent impervious, the fee would be $36.

Additionally, lots around that 75 percent impervious surface rate would now have a fee based on the actual area of impervious surface, not the total area.

The proposed change is expected to generate an additional $100,000 per year to the city. Those funds would "give us a good start as we continue to fund our storm water improvements," Hulsether said.

The proposed new method is more simple, and if the council makes a rate adjustment, they will only need to adjust the single family residential rate and the formula in the ordinance will automatically adjust the commercial fees, Hulsether said.

It's more equitable for commercial properties and "more based on actual amount of impervious surface" than other fee structures the city discussed, he said.

"This puts residential and commercial properties on an equal footing," he said.

In other city council news:

Heard an update on a recently completed vacant building survey, which measures the amount of empty buildings in the city.

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That last vacant building survey was done five years ago. Since, there's been a drop in vacancy by about 100,000 square feet.

"It's nice to look at the city and get an understanding of vacancy rates," said city planner Mark Ostgarden.

He added, "It's just an idea and snapshot of where we're at."

Industrial vacancy has dropped since the last survey in 2009. Vacant larger commercial square footage increased, but the amount of smaller square footage vacancies decreased.

The overall commercial square footage increased slightly.

In downtown alone, there's about 50,000 square feet of empty building space, which equates to about half a block.

Heard an update on progress staff made in possibly changing fee structures and adding additional fees proposed by the Fire Department.

The city attorney is in the process of drafting a possible ordinance to allow for the new fees and the possible resolution setting the fees.

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That will be brought back before the council in the near future for two readings, should the council decide to move forward with it.

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