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City Council discusses water sprinkling options

The Bemidji City Council on Monday discussed possible incentives to get residents to "green up" their lawns.

Finance Officer Ron Eischens presented information about the current sprinkling program in place and a proposed change that may help residents with the costs associated with the program.

The city now allows residents to pay $125 plus installation fees for a second water meter that accurately measures the water usage for sprinkling purposes. The cost from installation, he said, is about $150, depending on the situation.

Staff recommended that the city absorb the cost of the water meters, $125 each, and residents would pay for their installation.

Of 3,300 total utility accounts, there are now 171 sprinkling meters in the city, Eischens said. About 18 meters are added annually, so the cost would be about $2,300 to the city each year, he said.

Eischens said the city formerly used to use the "honor system" and residents would call and say when they were sprinkling. This past practice was discontinued due to the staff time involved in manually adjusting residents' bills.

Councilor Onen Markeson said he spoke with someone whose son is a computer programmer and thought that it perhaps would not be too difficult or expensive to develop a computer program that could adjust the water usage.

"Personally, I think it's a very good idea," he said.

Mayor Richard Lehmann said staff had presented an idea and the council should consider it.

"I would say let's give this a shot and see what happens," he said.

City Manager John Chattin said it is not uncommon for a computer program to average the water usage for non-summer months and charge that average during the watering season.

"It's probably fairly accurate," he said. But "having a second meter is obviously the most accurate way you could possibly measure" water usage.

Markeson was concerned that the cost for the meter and installation was too high.

"It's got to be the most expensive way of doing it," he said, "even if it is the most accurate."

The council voted unanimously to table the matter and direct staff to begin researching the associated costs of a computer program that could average water usage for non-summer months.

Councilor Ron Johnson also asked staff to look into possible grants that may be available to help off-set costs.