No levy increase in Scandia

Mary Bailey
Community Editor

“Wouldn’t it be a novelty if we could lower the levy?” Scandia council member Chris Ness asked during the Sept. 10 budget workshop.

That didn’t happen, but the council did vote not to increase it.

The maximum 2014 property tax levy will be $2,171,074. This amount, certified to Washington County on Sept. 16, can be decreased but not increased. A public hearing will be at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 10.

For the recently created Economic Development Authority, the council voted to divert $1,000 from the general fund to allow for incidental operating expenses such as postage.

The vote was 3-2, with Ness, Jim Schneider, and Mayor Randall Simonson voting yes and Sally Swanson and Dan Lee voting no. Swanson and Lee serve on the EDA.

A motion to budget $5,000 for EDA failed, with Swanson and Lee the only aye votes. “We can find $5,000 in a $2 million budget,” Lee said.

The EDA had sought $10,000 in 2014 for legal, engineering and planning services.

City Administrator Kristina Handt said if the EDA needs more than $1,000, the council can approve an inter-fund loan to be repaid in 2015.

The levy includes $1,648,168 for the general fund, $327,506 for debt service, $194,400 for the capital improvement fund and $1,000 for EDA.

Amounts for fire department, health insurance and audit service may change before the budget is final.

The levy brings in 80 percent of the city’s revenue. The total proposed budget is $2,551,386.

Washington County projects a 9.8 percent decrease in Scandia property values, so residents may see a decrease in the city portion of their tax bill.

Social host law                                                         

Scandia may soon join the list of Washington County cities that make it a misdemeanor for adults to allow underage drinking.

The council voted 4-1 to have a social host ordinance on the Sept. 17 agenda. Lee was opposed, saying it is already illegal to provide alcohol to minors.

Rose Hauge, coordinator for Washington County Chemical Health Action Collaborative, encouraged adoption.

The legal drinking age in Minnesota is 21. A social host ordinance makes it illegal to provide an environment where underage drinking takes place, regardless of who provided the alcohol. A host found criminally responsible faces a potential $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail.

The state does not have this law, nor does the county, Hauge said. In Washington County, seven communities do.

Forest Lake has issued citations since adopting the law in 2010, Hauge said. Most fines were $300; some offenders spent a night in jail.

The ordinance gives law enforcement teeth, she said, and also gives parents a tool to resist pressure from kids. “There’s a lot of confusion by parents on whether they should let their kids drink. This helps them say no.”

Hauge said her son wanted to have a party that included alcohol use. She and her husband disagreed, but in the end did not allow it. “If there had been a social host ordinance, we would not have had any disagreement,” she said.

Sheriff’s Deputy Chris Majeski also expressed support. “It gives us a chance to hold someone accountable,” he said.

He could have used the law this year. “I got a phone call saying booze was served in a person’s house. I knew they were home,” he said.

The ordinance includes a definition of “reasonable steps” to determine whether the parents tried to prevent alcohol use. The law would not apply if parents had no knowledge that underage drinking occurred at their home. “It’s not about creating new criminals,” Handt said.

Lee said the law  “puts parents responsible for people they have no control over.”

Paying for roads

The council continued work on a policy to deal with aging streets.

Residents pay part of the cost of paving a gravel road, and then the city covers seal coating, crack filling, mill and overlays.

Under the policy being considered, when a paved road needs total replacement (“full depth reconstruction”), residents would be assessed again. The city cannot borrow to rebuild roads without a referendum unless a percentage is assessed to homeowners.

Handt presented a draft policy that would charge homeowners 75 percent and the city 25 percent. Ness argued that was too high. “Residents should pay 25 percent,” he said.

After discussion, the council changed the draft to assess property owners at 30 percent.

Schneider opposed any assessment for reconstruction.

Council members were also troubled by the effect on home sales. “I’d hate to see someone buying a house have to ask how old the road is,” Lee said.

Ness agreed. “I don’t want to see somebody have to sell their house,” he added.

The council will continue the discussion in October.

Other actions

– Public Works Director Tim Kieffer presented a storm water management plan proposing an inspection and maintenance schedule for catch basins, ponds, culverts and ditches. The council voted to place the plan on the consent agenda for approval on Sept. 17.

– The council discussed the last-minute scramble to find volunteers to serve as dodgeball referees for Taco Daze and debated changing this to a paid position. A joint meeting with the parks committee will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 2.