City hears complaints about FL stormwater fees at ‘Community Conversation’

Listening series continues

Jennifer Mevissen
Staff Writer

On Monday night, the city of Forest Lake embarked on a journey that will guide which direction the organization intends to go.

Around 50 people attended the first Community Conversation at Hosanna Lutheran Church. The sessions are designed to gather feedback from the public as the city moves ahead with establishing a strategic plan for Forest Lake.

“We’re looking forward to the input you’re going to provide,” said City Administrator Aaron Parrish.

What do you love about living in Forest Lake? What is Forest Lake missing? What can Forest Lake do today to be vital in the future? What can bring economic growth to Forest Lake?

These are all questions the small groups were asked to consider Feb. 6.

The two sessions this week are for residents with the final one being for Forest Lake business owners.

Times and locations for the series are:

•Wednesday, Feb. 8 from 7-8:30 p.m. at the FLAAA Sports Center, 5530 N. 206th St.

•Thursday, Feb. 9 from 7-8:30 p.m. in the media center at Forest Lake Elementary School, 204 SW 4th St.

•Friday, Feb. 17 from 7-8:30 a.m. at the FLAAA Sports Center, 5530 N. 206th St.

Additional information about the Community Conversations can be found online at www.ci.forest-lake.mn.us or by calling 651-209-9727.

Mayor Chris Johnson outlined some of the highlights from the organization: formation of a street task force, the EDA’s completion of the University of Minnesota’s Business Expansion and Retention program as well as outsourcing the city’s utility billing, etc.

Parrish said the goal of the listening sessions is to gain a perspective of where the community-at-large wants to be.

Attendees weigh-in

Though the focus of the series is to set a positive tone for the future, many people commented on what’s occurred in the past and present.

Bruce Scott said staggering increases to the stormwater utility fee have not been presented well. The only literature he had seen on the city-wide charge was in his most recent bill.

The legislature created a tool that allows cities to collect utility fees for street lights and stormwater maintenance outside the general tax levy. Forest Lake established both of those charges in 2009. Last year, the city council abolished the street light charges but the stormwater utility fee is still intact.

The stormwater costs for 2011 were $32, up from $12 in 2010; it was $6.60 when first set.

Johnson explained that in the past, the city’s stormwater management program has been understaffed and underfunded to meet the demands of what Forest Lake needs to be doing in regards to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s requirements.

City Finance Director Ellen Paulseth said the fee is covering 100 percent of the costs as of now.

One gentleman wondered what’s the next charge property owners will be assessed.

Johnson said the council agreed to roll the costs of the street lights back into the general fund this year. Eliminating the separate billing resulted in a reduction of $70,000 in revenue in 2012, and part of the reason the city levy increased 3.9 percent. Expenditures for street lights are $94,000.

“Everybody’s just exasperated those charges keep going up and up,” said resident Roxanne Bzdok.

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