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Birchmont Drive residents seek SAC/WAC extension

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The Bemidji City Council does not appear to be moved by the request of Birchmont Drive residents objecting to the city's implementation of sewer and water access charges.

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Birchmont Drive residents are facing up to $21,000 in assessments if a planned utility improvement project is approved by the Northern Township Board of Supervisors on Monday.

In addition to the assessment charges, residents also would face a $1,830 fee for new sewer customers and an $845 fee for a new water connection through the city's SAC/WAC charges.

However, residents who connect to sewer and water prior to Jan. 1, 2010, don't have to pay a SAC/WAC fee.

During a public hearing on the Birchmont Drive project last week, affected residents objected to the city's timetable for SAC/WAC fees.

They asked the Northern Township board to appeal to the city for a longer deferral period to allow those with newer septic systems more time before having to hook up and face the connection fees.

A letter was sent to and received by the city of Bemidji.

City Engineer Craig Gray said during Monday's council meeting that the SAC/WAC fees are meant to cover associated costs for the water towers, treatment plant and wells that new customers benefit from, but do not pay toward.

"It's really not fair nor reasonable for everyone along Birchmont Drive to get these water towers, treatment plant and wells for free," he said.

Councilor Roger Hellquist asked if a letter could be drafted by city staff to respond to the one sent by Northern Township outlining the reasons behind the fees and the city's position.

City Manager John Chattin said that probably would not be appropriate as the township board is seeking a policy decision from the council.

"The reality is none of us like having an additional charge," he said.

But, the city needs to raise revenue from somewhere to avoid generating a sewer fund deficit in 2011, he said.

Councilor Nancy Erickson pointed out that the city got into its current predicament regarding the sewer fund due to earlier deferrals - adding another one certainly won't help.

"You don't want to exacerbate the problem," she said.

She also said the Birchmont Drive residents at least have a choice as to whether they want to connect prior to 2010 or not.

Some city residents, particularly those in her ward, do not even have access to sewer and water and will not have the opportunity to avoid the SAC/WAC fees, she noted.

What's next?

At the conclusion of the March 10 public hearing on the project, the Northern Township Board of Supervisors voted to poll residents through a mail survey on whether they would like the utility project to proceed.

Surveys were sent to about 200 property owners along Birchmont Drive who would be affected by assessments. They were to be returned by March 20 to Northern Township.

Their responses were then to be compiled for review prior to the Northern Township board meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Northern Town Hall. Supervisors must vote on whether to have the project proceed that night, as the Bemidji City Council would have to award the bid for the work during its April 7 meeting.

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