City’s sewer fee switch also hits governments

The city's new storm sewer fee hits a fellow unit of government hard: the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board would pay $334,000 more a year.

The Park Board, which owns the city's lakes, streams and holding ponds, had a ready response.

Don Sigglekow, the Park Board's general manager for administration and finance, said his group could have told the city, "If you are going to charge a [higher] fee to us, we are going to charge a fee for you - because we are holding your stormwater. That all gets pretty nonsensical."

As the back-and-forth shows, the city's utility bill overhaul doesn't just affect homeowners, businesses and institutions, but other local boards - the parks, libraries and schools.

The Park Board - with impervious parking lots, buildings and other surfaces - would pay 45 percent more under the new fee structure, Sigglekow said.

In the end, the Park Board didn't bill back the city. The two groups hired an outside consultant to review land parcel by parcel, calculating runoff and the park system's collective holding capacity.

Siggelkow believes the Park Board should pay only for sanitary fees - $208,000 a year - and nothing for runoff. That would mean a $170,000 savings with the new fee structure.

If the Park Board prevails, the city's sewer fund would have $504,000 less than planned. (The Park Board's projected $712,000 payment less the $208,000 sanitary-only payment.) That is a net loss of nearly 2 percent of the $30 million the city expects to collect. Other ratepayers would pick up the cost, said John McLain, Public Work's stormwater fee project manager.

"We knew there would be some adjustments along the way," he said.

The libraries expect to pay $20,000 more, at least double the current payment, said Kit Hadley, the Minneapolis Library Board's executive director.

In the grand scheme of things, the utility fee increase is "teeny," she said. She did not criticize the change, saying stormwater runoff is a serious problem. The downtown Central library has a green roof to reduce runoff, she noted.

The Minneapolis Public Schools did not yet have estimates on sewer bills changes.

The city doesn't escape its own rules. It owns a lot of property, including half of City Hall, police and fire stations, and parking ramps and lots.

McLain said he did not yet know how the new system would affect the city's bottom line.