Councilors Call for Better Communication with Watershed District Leaders about Projects

Albert Lea City Council members discussed the need for more communication between the Shell Rock River Watershed District, the council and members of the public Thursday night as the district works to renew its local option sales tax.

The comments were made at a joint session between the two entities at City Hall.

Albert Lea First Ward Councilor John Schulte V said the public isn’t always aware of the benefits the Watershed District’s water quality projects have on their day-to-day lives.

Albert Lea Second Ward Councilor Larry Baker denied he was against the renewal of the sales tax but said there needs to be more trust between the Watershed District and members of the public to foster growth.

Albert Lea Third Ward Councilor George Marin wants the city to play a more active role in the operation of the Shell Rock River Watershed District.

Marin said he would be more comfortable if the city increased its role beyond just collecting the Watershed District’s half-percent sales tax. Marin suggested the city, Watershed District and Freeborn County increase collaboration by agreeing upon projects.

Marin said in the past, the city of Albert Lea has held money for other entities and withheld it when certain parts of the agreement weren’t being met.

He said collaboration and accountability to taxpayers was the main reason why he proposed his plan.

“They’re the ones footing the bill, and somebody has to be accountable,” he said.

Shell Rock River Watershed District Administrator Brett Behnke said after the meeting that the city already has a major focus on running the city of Albert Lea and should trust the Watershed District and let it focus on its sole mission of enhancing water quality of the city’s lakes.

Fifth Ward Councilor Larry Anderson said Watershed District members have the kind of specialized experience of hydrology and roles to make the decisions as to where money is spent without the help of the City Council.

Despite the comments for better communication and accountability, Behnke said he was pleased with how the joint session went.

“It’s great to see the Watershed District and the city of Albert Lea working so well together,” he said.

The district’s request is to extend the current sales tax for either another 15 years or until $15 million has been collected.The funds are used for projects to improve area lakes.

The sales tax renewal could be on November’s ballot, but the request could go to the Legislature in 2017 and be put on the ballot in late summer to fall 2017.

Marin said he wants the request to be on the ballot in November.

© 2015 Shell Rock River Watershed District, 305 S 1st Avenue, Albert Lea, MN 56007