Independence enacts rate increase

BY SUSAN VAN CLEAF
SUN PRESS NEWSPAPERS

Independence property owners who have access to city sanitary sewers soon will get a notice of a rate increase along with their quarterly sanitary sewer bills.

On Feb. 28 the Independence City Council approved the rate increase to begin dealing with a working deficit in the city’s sanitary sewer fund.

At the meeting, the city council also took up other business.

SEWER RATE INCREASE
The sewer rate increase has been in the works for over a year. In 2015, Abdo Eick & Meyers, certified public accountants, studied Independence’s sewer rates and found a negative cash flow in the sanitary sewer fund for each of the three previous years. In a November report to the city council, Abdo accountants said, “In order to fund future capital operations, it will be necessary to increase rates and consider establishing a sewer district for all potential users of the system.”

To get the word out to city sewer users, Independence held public informational meeting on Nov. 29. In one-on-one talks with attendees, city staff and city councilors said Independence’s sanitary sewer system has aged to the point where it needs increased maintenance and repairs.

At the Feb. 28 council meeting, City Administrator Mark Kaltsas recommended gradual rate increases over the next five years to get the sanitary sewer fund to the point of being solvent. He proposed an eight percent rate increase from the $168 per quarter charged in 2016, to $181 per quarter in 2017 for properties currently connected to the sewer system.

Independence has a sanitary sewer availability charge for properties that have sewer access, but are not hooked up to the system. Kaltsas recommended an increase of the availability charge from the 2016 rate of $32 per quarter to $74 per quarter, a quarterly increase of $42.

The City Council approved the 2017 rate increases. The council is expected to consider rate increases again next year.

LAKE INDEPENDENCE WATER QUALITY
Independence resident Joe Baker reported on efforts of the Pioneer Sarah Creek Watershed Commission to identify water quality improvement projects for Lake Sarah and Lake Independence. Baker represents Independence on the commission. He said that Independence is responsible for reducing phosphorus loading by 143 pounds per year in Lake Sarah and 535 pounds per year in Lake Independence. These are unfunded federal mandates that are enforced by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

A 2,200-foot ravine near the Baker Park Reserve campground is a candidate for an improvement project, Baker said. The watershed commission, Three Rivers Parks and the cities of Independence and Medina recently shared costs for a feasibility study of ways to reduce runoff and erosion in the ravine. Researchers concluded that stabilizing the main ravine and two tributary ravines would cut down phosphorus input to Lake Independence by 134 pounds per year.

The four entities are applying for grants from Hennepin County and the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) to help them pay the estimated $460,000 project cost, Baker said. If the grant applications are successful, Three Rivers Parks, the watershed commission and the two cities would each pay $10,500 as their share of the total cost.

“This is a good example of a meaningful project,” Baker said. He wants to demonstrate to BWSR that the best way to measure progress in improving water quality is looking at how much phosphorus is removed, “not how much we spend.”

He added that he and Independence City Councilor Brad Spencer plan to meet with BWSR, which has set a six-year deadline for Pioneer Sarah Creek to show progress. Baker and Spencer want to explain what the watershed district is doing and the unique challenges Pioneer Sarah Creek is facing as a small watershed district.

POLICE GET QUICK RESULTS

Public Safety Director Gary Kroells, of West Hennepin Public Safety, described how investigators quickly solved a burglary in which someone stole all of the tools from a privately owned storage building in Independence. Armed with equipment serial numbers, investigators checked pawnshops and Craig’s List.

Responding to an ad on Craig’s List, an undercover cop met a suspect in Maple Grove. During the meeting, a bag of meth fell out of the suspect’s pocket. Police searched the suspect’s car and found many of the tools. The rest of the loot was recovered from pawnshops. All of this happened within a space of about three days, Kroells said.

During January, WHPS handled a total of 639 incident complaints, an increase of 42 incidents over last year, he said. Independence had 337 complaints and Maple Plain had 251.

OTHER
The city council also approved an interim use permit allowing Hoikka Construction and Beau’Selle Stable to construct a temporary building of less than 12,000 square feet for a commercial riding stable at 1060 Copeland Road. Beau’Selle is planning to build a permanent building to replace the temporary structure.

The council approved variances for reduced front yard and side yard setbacks that will enable Corey Oeffling to construct an attached garage and front porch at 5215 Sunset Lane.

During the meeting, the council approved a request of Randall and Margaret Mason to combine two lots into one at 3212 Independence Road.

The council approved the purchase of a new utility pickup truck at a cost of $36,411.02 and a 72-inch lawn mower at a cost of $12,900 (after trade in) for the Public Works Department.

The council also approved a non-city assembly permit for the Tour de Tonka Bike Ride, which will pass through Independence on Aug. 5.
Lastly, the council voted to cancel the March 14 regular city council meeting.