East Grand Forks is set to hike residents’ sewer bills next year.
City Council members on Tuesday OK’d a quartet of rate increases that would raise sanitary sewer and stormwater fees by a total of $9 per month. The increases are set to take effect in January of 2022. They are: $3 per month to pay for regular wastewater system maintenance, $2 per month for larger-scale wastewater replacement projects, $2 per month for storm sewer maintenance, and $2 per month for larger-scale stormwater system replacement projects.
The two maintenance votes were both unanimous, and the two larger-scale replacements were approved 6-1. Council member Clarence Vetter, who represents the southeastern corner of East Grand Forks, was the only “nay” vote for the latter two. He told the Herald he didn’t think the city should begin building up a fund for infrastructure replacement projects and should, instead, stick to an existing city policy that calls for people who live adjacent to a project to pay for the entirety of its cost.
“I paid for my storm sewer and sanitary sewer, so I don’t expect someone from the north end to pay for mine,” Vetter said shortly after the vote. “When it needs to be replaced, I’ll pay for it, and, consequently, I don’t think I should be paying for someone else’s.”
The council’s decision is part of a much longer civic debate about how to best pay for larger-scale infrastructure plans. City leaders considered changing their policy, which calls for residents to pay exclusively for replacement projects via city charges called “assessments,” but ultimately decided to keep it as-is in the fall of 2019.
The policy has become a problem in at least one Eastside neighborhood, where a badly needed street -- not sewer -- reconstruction project has been delayed for years because residents there are both reluctant to foot the project’s increasingly large bill. The rate hikes to which Vetter objected would, technically, only pay for new sewer lines, but those sorts of projects are almost unavoidably linked to street repairs because workers need to tear up and rebuild roadways to work on the sewers underneath.
In related news, council members:
Voted 6-1 to hire Construction Engineers to be an early-stage construction manager for the city’s hoped-for renovations at the East Grand Forks Civic Center, VFW Memorial Arena and Stauss Park ballfields. Council member Dale Helms, a frequent skeptic of the projects’ financials, was the one vote against the proposal.
“I don’t think I’m ready to accept this, yet,” Helms said. “I just don’t know enough about this whole project. Haven’t heard enough about it.” The city’s coming agreement with Construction Engineers is set to pay the construction company $22,500, which would add to the $66,000 the city would ultimately need to pay JLG Architects if or when the projects reach fruition and between $31,000 and $40,000 it would pay Convergent Nonprofit Solutions to help with a private fundraising endeavor to subsidize the projects’ $13.4 million pricetag.
Allowed the East Grand Forks Police Department to buy a new SUV, which would replace a 2018 model that has logged about 97,000 miles. The new vehicle itself is set to cost $32,000, and would have another $13,000 worth of additional equipment and striping.
Approved a “premises permit application” for the East Grand Forks Blue Line Club, a nonprofit booster organization, to host charitable gambling at Up North Pizza Pub in downtown East Grand Forks. The club’s application is set to head to state gaming regulators for final approval.