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City Council approves rate study for water utilities

MORRIS – On Tuesday, the Morris City Council voted to hire engineering firm Bolton and Menk to complete a rate study for the city’s water utility.

City Manager Blaine Hill said utility rate studies are not uncommon for cities to complete. In this case, the city needs the study in order to set a new “conservation rate” for the water utility based on new state and federal guidelines.

“Probably the biggest thing that we’re going to see with that is people that pay for water to water their grass are going to see a hefty bill,” said Hill. “We’re mandated by the government to put in place rates that really penalize the excessive use of water in terms of human use.”

The rate study will also help determine whether current rates are covering the cost of providing water to city residents and propose potential rates for other outside users who may want to buy water from the city, Hill said.  

“I think it makes sense to be proactive in this area – it’s going to get more complex,” said council member Kevin Wohlers.

The total cost for the rate study from Bolton and Menk is $14,520 and will be paid out of the public utility fund. Hill estimated the study would take a couple of months.

City suspends two rental licenses

The Morris City Council voted to suspend rental licenses to two property owners, one for not paying their rental license fee and the other for non-payment and non-compliance with correction orders

Melanie Fohl, director of the Morris Housing Authority, said suspending the license, rather than revoking it, might help the property owners make corrections before tenants may be evicted.

Both property owners, Carla Drumbeater and Barry Bjornson, have had more than six months to comply with payments and corrections. Both properties are also currently being rented, Fohl said.

“We have the rental inspections to protect the people  that are renting the property so they have fit places to live – that’s the teeth that we have in it to have decent places for these renters to live,” said council member Jeff Miller.

In the past, property owners who have gotten a notice for suspension or revocation of their rental license have addressed the issues, said City Manager Blaine Hill.

Mayor Sheldon Giese said he thought suspending the license before revoking it is a good added step in this process.

“By making it public, it’s going to get taken care of, hopefully, if not, then we revoke it,” said Giese.

City settles on two special assessment appeals

The city of Morris has settled with two property owners who appealed the special assessments charged to their properties for an improvement project on Morris’ west side.

Kelly and Cindy Nichols as assessment amount of $12,815 and Michael Sax appealed an assessment of $12,853. The city settled with the Nichols’ for $6,000 and Sax of $5,178 after an appraiser determined the special benefit for the Nichols’ property was $8,000 and the special benefit to the Sax property was $7,000.

In a memo to the city council, City Manager Blaine Hill said the assessments present a legal quandary: “we aren’t allowed to assess based upon the value of the property, but it is clearly the case that the value of the special benefit is directly the result of the value of the property.”

Hill also stated that this decision will not impact other property owners because if they didn’t appeal there is no ability for an adjustment. However, the city will likely make some adjustments to how assessments are done.

Hill suggested taking sidewalks out of construction projects, changing the street assessment to target property in general rather than lots, and asking property owners to pay for driveways.

Hill said he didn’t anticipate many appeals in the future – “Only a few people have the time or the inclinations to fight these assessments,” he wrote.

“This is what it costs to repair infrastructure,” Hill concluded. “It is the right way to do them. We aren’t being unfair and we aren’t over charging. We are doing this for the property owners. If we chose not to because we can’t assess, then they lose.”

Other business

  • After some discussion, city staff plan to do a reclaim project on East Fifth Street between California and Montana avenues. This project will improve the road surface, but means pushing a bigger project to fix underground utilities back several years. A large improvement project for this area was scheduled for 2016. The city will also be working on a frontage road along Highway 28 on the east side of town.
  • The council voted to sell the old scoreboard and batting cage from Chizek Field. The scoreboard and cages will be listed on an online auction site.
  • The council approved a payment of $168,743 to Brietbach Construction for work on Morris’ west side, bringing total payments on the project to approximately $1.36 million. The total cost for the project is estimated at $1.6 million.
  • The council approved a resolution appointing election judges for Minnesota’s primary election on Tuesday, Aug. 12. City Manager Blaine Hill said it is increasingly hard to find a slate of judges for Morris’ six precinct locations.
  • The council approved a new agreement with Stevens County for attorney services. The city of Morris will pay $38,000 for services in 2015, a $1,000 increase over 2014. The agreement also includes a reimbursement for up to $1,000 in travel expenses for continuing legal education related to city issues.