Workshop update topics discussed at council meeting

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Staff Writer
Bill Morgan
In a very brief meeting, the Big Lake City Council covered three areas of business, focusing much of the discussions on what was covered at last week’s workshop.
Franchise Fees
At last Wednesday’s council workshop, Big Lake Attorney Soren Mattick reviewed the previous budget discussions on establishing franchise fees. 
Mattick noted there are two electric service providers (Connexus and Xcel) and two natural gas service providers (CenterPoint and Xcel). Mattick said the city has a current gas franchise agreement in place with CenterPoint but not with Xcel or Connexus. 
Mattick also recapped that council had considered establishing franchise fees in an effort to keep the proposed levy increase within a certain range.
The primary consumer of gas and electric services are residential users, it was noted. The proposed fee is expected to be $4 per month for both gas and electric services. The fee would be imposed on the provider, which is then passed on to the consumer. The provider then passes collected fees on to the city. 
Mattick noted the fees are expected to generate $350,000 annually and stressed the 2014 budget does depend on these fees being enacted in 2014. He also stressed that providers will need approximately 90 days to implement the franchise fees.
Council discussed the need to inform the public why the franchise fees are necessary and that these fees will help to fund some of our capital improvement needs. Council directed staff to draft an ordinance similar to the Elk River version and to forward it to the utility providers for their review. Council also directed staff to prepare a press release and marketing materials identifying what the fee is and why the city is establishing it. 
Staff noted that the finalized ordinance will be brought to an upcoming council meeting for consideration.
Easement Issues
City Administrator Todd Bodem reviewed the request for a terminable easement from Barna, Guzy, & Steffen, Ltd., representing the property owners at 18859 180th Street NW in Big Lake. 
Joan and David Roberts own the parcel located adjacent to a large city-owned parcel south of the Waste Water Treatment Facility. Bodem said there are six identified encroachments from the Roberts parcel onto city property consisting of a garden shed, underground natural gas lines, underground electric lines, a landscaping retaining wall and concrete steps. 
Council discussed the encroachment request and it was noted that the city is not in favor of rewarding people who don't bother to find out where their property lines are.
Council explained their concern that the city-owned parcel belongs to taxpayers and they must act to the benefit of the whole city. Council directed staff to draft a response to the property owners denying their request for a terminable easement and to notify them that all encroachments must be removed from city property no later than July 1 of this year.
Rate Analysis Study
Finance Director Jessica Green reviewed previous conversations related to the possibility of the city hiring a firm to conduct a rate analysis study. Green noted that recent discussions have centered on multi-family units and how they are being billed. A new rate study will review and assess the current rate structures for residential and commercial users and will also provide direction for developing a new tiered system for multi-family users. 
Green noted that by hiring an outside firm, the city would get an unbiased, qualified opinion that could be utilized to educate the public on how rates are set in the city. 
Green also noted the city would most likely have to recoup the analysis fee with the new multi-family tiered system rates. The city has never done an outside utility rate analysis and this type of analysis would help Big Lake develop an accurate tier. 
Council directed staff to proceed with conducting an outsourced utility rate analysis.
Building Inspections
Bodem discussed the possibility of the city providing building inspection services to area townships. Council questioned how this would help the city’s revenue and discussed their concern with how this would be perceived at the county. 
Mayor Raeanne Danielowski said her concern is that sometimes the city gets into things and then the end result doesn't match what the analysis was. Council directed staff to discuss this concept with Big Lake Township to get a
feel on whether they would be interested in this type of cost sharing arrangement.
Development Statuses
Economic Development Manager Heidi Steinmetz informed council that a new realtor has been hired to market the Hudson Woods Development. She also said the realtor has asked for an update on the status of the completion of the project and if the completion will financially affect future buyers. 
Jared Voge reviewed the history of the development and punch list items that still need to be completed on the project and he noted the developer defaulted on the development agreement and that the letter of credit held for this project isn't valid because the lender also went out of business. 
The engineer's estimate of punch list items remaining to be completed on this development is expected to be somewhere from $475,000 - $500,000.
Voge reviewed how a similar development was handled as far as completion of the project and costs  assessed to adjacent properties within the development. He clarified the Northland Meadows Development still has a few punch list items remaining and the Sanford Select Acres still needs to be finished, but that developer is still active. 
Mattick informed council that in past years, Big Lake always followed the stance of "development pays for itself". Council directed staff to provide the current assessment policy to the realtor.
Frozen Pipes
Public Works Director Mike Goebel discussed the frozen water pipe issue that many residents are experiencing throughout the area. Goebel said there are currently 28 City of Big Lake services that have frozen up. Goebel discussed the lack of options available to get these services unfrozen. Costs for thawing pipes is running homeowners anywhere from $500 to $1,000 if they are even able to get someone to come out to work on their pipes. Goebel said his staff is also trying to purchase equipment that can be utilized to help thaw some of these locations.
Other News
•Council approved a cash donation of $1,000 from the Monticello Lions Club to be used towards non-budgeted capital items at the Big Lake Fire Dept.;
•The engineering, finance and building departments gave their monthly updates as well as the liquor store.
The next Big Lake City Council meeting is March 12 at 6 p.m.
 

photos


Brad A. Braun

PAIGE DOMYAHN at number three singles, had two wins this week. (Photo by Jennifer Edwards).

THE BIG LAKE HORNETS celebrate a win at their relay invitational Saturday. The Hornets took second place overall. (Submitted photo).

COLLIN TEIGEN goes wide right after a handoff to score Big Lake’s first touchdown in the first quarter Friday against Buffalo. It gave the Hornets a 7-3 lead. They won, 20-19 for their first win of the season. (Photo by Ken Francis.)