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City Council discusses proposed sewer, water access connection fees

LuAnn Lissick did her homework. She reviewed city requirements, met with city planners and developed a budget for a 40-unit townhouse project in Bemidji.

Back then, the city's proposed sewer and water access connection fees did not exist, so Lissick didn't budget them into her plans. Now, Lissick is looking at SAC/WAC fees of $2,675 per unit for those that are not completed.

"That just blows us out of the water," she said.

Lissick, of BTL Construction in Cass Lake, was one of two people who spoke against the proposed SAC/WAC fees during Monday's public hearing on the amended fee schedule for 2008.

In 2005, BTL Construction began working on a 40-unit townhouse project at Fifth Street and Jefferson Avenue. It was planned to take five or six years to complete, Lissick said. She met with city officials and planned out the costs of the project based on what they told her, she said.

SAC/WAC fees were never mentioned, she said.

Also opposed to the proposed fees was Mark Dickinson from Century 21, who argued that SAC/WAC fees discourage commercial and residential development. He, too, considered the city's requirements before planning a project.

"It's changing the rules in the middle of the game," he said.

Dickinson asked the Bemidji City Council to consider "grandfathering in" projects whose plats already are on record.

While the city has not yet adopted SAC/WAC fees, Mayor Richard Lehmann said it isn't a new topic -- the City Council has been discussing them for at least three years, he said.

"Now we're establishing the rules by which SAC/WAC fees are administered," he said.

Councilor Jerry Downs said SAC/WAC fees could help protect the city's natural resources.

"Water quality is becoming a really big issue, not just in Bemidji but all around," he said.

Monday's public hearing was held in conjunction with the second reading of the ordinance dealing with the 2008 fee schedule. No action was required this week; the City Council must again consider the issue for adoption.

Earlier in the meeting, the City Council voted 6-1 to approve a fee policy dealing with SAC/WAC fees that allows existing structures that have city sewer and water available to connect to the city's system before Jan. 1, 2010, without having a pay a SAC/WAC fee. Any vacant buildable parcel will be required to connect to the city's systems and pay a SAC/WAC feel when a building or digging permit is issued.

Councilor Nancy Erickson voted against the motion. She said it was unfair that existing structures that do not have sewer and water available will have to pay the SAC/WAC fees.

"I absolutely feel this is not fair," she said.

Additionally, Erickson explained that it was her ward - ward five - that would be stuck with the bulk of the fees.

"You know who's going to get sacked and whacked," she said.