Board Vote Opens Door For Levy

Watershed managers could approve dredging plan in meeting next week

The Freeborn County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday petitioned the Shell Rock River Watershed District to move forward with the first phase of the Fountain Lake dredging project.

The vote opens the door for the Watershed District to implement a property tax levy of a maximum of $166,000.

The measure passed on a 4-1 vote. Commissioners Glen Mathiason, Mike Lee, Jim Nelson and Chris Shoff voted yes. Dan Belshan voted no.

Watershed officials have said the money would provide funding security for the $1.9 million bond for the first phase of the dredging project, which would remove 550,000 to 690,000 cubic yards of sediment from Edgewater Bay.

The levy is expected to increase taxes by $6 on a home valued at $100,000. The expected property tax levy increase on a $200,000 home is $15, and the property tax is expected to increase taxes by $55 on an 80-acre parcel.

In voting no, Belshan said though clean lakes are important and he supports the sales tax, he wanted the board to consider a different funding solution than a property tax — especially with the suffering agriculture economy. He noted his family’s history with local lakes.

“I cannot support the resolution, which gives authority to the SRRWD to raise property taxes,” he said.

Prior to the vote, the county’s counsel, lawyer Jon Kolb of St. Cloud-based law firm Rinke Noonan, discussed the parameters of the district’s request.

According to Kolb, in issuing the request, the district followed state statutes when it initiated the dredging project and construction of a confined disposal facility, which will be used to house sediment gathered from Fountain Lake during the dredging process.

The CDF will siphon off and settle water after a mixture of water and sediment is dredged from the lake.

The district will not be able to cover any shortfall from revenue from the property tax, Kolb said. According to Kolb, however, the district could use its general fund to cover any funding differences.

District Attorney Matt Benda discussed financial negotiations Freeborn County and the Watershed District have had since July.

Fountain Lake dredging is expected to remove 1.2 million cubic yards of sediment from Fountain Lake. The project is expected to cost $15 million.

Benda described the groundbreaking ceremony Friday at the site of the confined disposal facility as an exciting day for the community, and he showed a graphic printed in the Tribune that describes the funding sources the district has used since its inception.

The Shell Rock River Watershed District board of managers could approve a project plan for dredging on Tuesday. A public forum will be Tuesday, along with one in mid-May before a final vote on issuing the bond is taken by the board.

According to Benda, approval from the county board confirmed the levying authority the district has under state statutes and would send a strong message that the community views the lakes as an asset and is open to business.

Local resident Brad Haugen said more detail was needed from the district on the project, and Benda said the district is in a cost-discovery phase. He noted financial figures on the parts of the project that have been completed are available for the public.

Lakes Foundation of Albert Lea volunteer Laura Cunningham spoke in favor of dredging and other water quality efforts, describing them as “critically important.”

She noted that 72 percent of voters approved extending the district’s half percent sales tax for either 15 years or until $15 million has been collected. Extension of the sales tax is awaiting legislative approval.

“Collaboration is definitely key to the water quality effort,” Cunningham said.

Susie Petersen, executive director of the Albert Lea Convention and Visitors Bureau, discussed the organization’s support for the dredging project.

She read letters of support from herself, Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Randy Kehr and Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea and Austin CEO Mark Ciota.

Albert Lea real estate agent Rick Mummert discussed the impact local lakes have and thanked the district for its effort in cleaning lakes, and Albert Lea Hy-Vee store director Peter Streit said high-quality local lakes will entice millennials who are looking for a balance between work and play.

District officials last month requested Freeborn County either sign the petition, allow for a loan request or allow the district to borrow money from county reserves.

In other action, the board:

Named Sara Barnes, Gina Gullickson and Michelle Pink as Freeborn County employees who were named volunteers of the year.

Accepted the resignation of Freeborn County planning and zoning coordinator Wayne Sorensen and Highway Department employee Larry Flatness. Sorensen plans to work for the city of Albert Lea.

Awarded a contract for the reclamation and slope widening, culvert replacement, aggregate surfacing and bridge replacement on Freeborn County Road 4 from Highway 11 to Highway 46, two miles west of Conger, to Ulland Brothers for $2.41 million.

Approved a cost-sharing agreement with the city of Emmons for the installation of a dynamic speed display sign.

Accepted the retirement notice of Candice Herman and approved filling the vacant position.

Appointed a member to the Board of Adjustment.

Approved repairs to the drainage system.

Placed Highway Department employees Daneth Jukulen and Blaine Bias and Auditor-Treasurer Department employee Kelsey Stevermer on full-time status.

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