City reaps few legislative successes amid stalemate

Sewer bills could focus more on runoff; Lake of the Isles renovation skunked

Who said the Legislature didn't get anything done? It passed a bill that will allow Minneapolis to change how it bills for sewer use. The city's top priorities went down the drain, however.

The city, park and library systems had significant requests in the state's bonding bill -- including money to finish renovation work on Lake of the Isles. These all died when the Republican-controlled House and DFL-led Senate failed to reach a compromise and adjourned May 16. The governor could call a special session. That decision hinges on bitterly divided legislative leaders agreeing on an agenda, observers said.

What the city received

Councilmember Scott Benson (11th Ward), who chairs the Council's Intergovernmental Relations Committee, said the new sewer law allows the city to create a separate storm water utility. The city currently charges property owners based on water use but doesn't measure the amount of storm water a property sends through city sewers, said Pierre Willette, a city lobbyist.

City leaders sought the change when some property owners brought legal action, saying the current system isn't fair.

Apartment buildings, for instance, have high water usage but a relatively small land area and runoff. Willette said they could see lower fees. Surface parking lots don't use potable water, but do generate storm water runoff. They could see a fee increase, he said. The Public Works Department is still working on the new billing formula, and the fee changes are as yet unknown.

Other Minnesota cities already had permission to create such a system.

Parks and libraries

The Park Board lost a chance at its $5 million request to finish a $10.2 million project to renovate Lake of the Isles, its top bonding priority.

The money would pay for bridge repair, parkway improvements, and shoreline and path work on the north arm and south shore. Park lobbyist Brian Rice said the project appeared to be in good shape: the Senate had $2.5 million for Lake of the Isles; the House had $2 million when the Legislature adjourned.

"We are like everyone else," Parks Commissioner Walt Dziedzic said. "We didn't fare too well."

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board's biggest legislative achievement was getting the state to include sections of the Grand Rounds in Northeast Minneapolis in the Metro Parks regional park system, said Dziedzic, who chairs the Intergovernmental Relations Committee. It makes Columbia Parkway, Stinson Boulevard and Ridgeway Parkway eligible for Met Council trail maintenance money.

When the bonding bill died, the Park Board lost approximately $3 million for various projects through Metro Parks, a regional park improvement program administered by the Metropolitan Council, Rice said.

The Library Board also lost out on $24 million so a downtown planetarium could be built at the same time as the new Central Library (the Senate included the money but the House zeroed out the request).

Benson noted that the Legislature at least did not further cut the city's local government aid or cripple light-rail transit (LRT).

"We kept a lot of bad things from happening," Benson said. "That is usually half the battle."