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Sewer fees help stagnant fund

Published (3/11/2010)
By Kris Berggren
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Because housing and commercial developments in the Twin Cities metropolitan area have slowed since 2007, the Metropolitan Council’s wastewater reserve capacity fund is in danger of being depleted to the last drop.

Metro area wastewater fees flow through several channels. First, when a new residential or commercial development or expansion project is built in the seven-county metropolitan area, cities and townships assess a sewer availability charge. These fees are deposited into the council’s reserve capacity fund. Then, a portion of the reserve capacity fund, determined as a percentage of the total reserve balance, is transferred to the Wastewater Operating Fund to cover debt service payments.

Because of stagnant development in recent years, SAC receipts have decreased 40 percent last year and 70 percent since 2004, according to Jason Willett, director of financial management and planning for the council’s Environmental Services Division. He said the council has deferred capital projects and tightened SAC credit rules to help rein in nearly $1 billion wastewater debt, but the reserve fund remains low.

Any bond rating decline associated with the decrease in fund capacity could affect the council’s bond rating, too, Willett added.

Rep. Paul Gardner (DFL-Shoreview) sponsors HF2949, which would allow the council, if it deems necessary, to temporarily change its source for debt service payments from the reserve capacity transfer to regular sewer fees. The shift would require a public hearing and “appropriate study.” The change would sunset Dec. 31, 2015.

The fee would likely be less than $1.20 per month per household, according to Willett.

The House Local Government Division approved the bill March 8 and sent it to the House State and Local Government Operations Reform, Technology and Elections Committee. Sen. Ann Rest (DFL-New Hope) sponsors a companion, SF2925, which awaits action by the Senate State and Local Government Operations and Oversight Committee.

— K. Berggren

Peace officer probationary period

New Hope and East Grand Forks were the only communities in the state with a six-month probationary period for their peace officers.

A new law signed March 9 by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and effective the next day, lengthens that period to 12 months.

Rep. Sandra Peterson (DFL-New Hope), who sponsors the law with Sen. Ann Rest (DFL-New Hope), said the longer period is consistent with all other municipalities in the state and a reasonable period for mentoring new officers.

Last year, a newly hired officer in East Grand Forks had an extended medical leave; by the time he returned to work, he had missed the training requirements for probationary officers and had to be let go.

HF2713/ SF2309*/CH186

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