consultants are sandburs

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

RAMSEY - The intentions underlying present effort to meet road upkeep needs. Council Member Chris Riley has taken time to send an email which deserves posting, entirely as sent.

Dated Feb. 23, Riley wrote:

SUBJECT: City Services

I see on your blog that you have concerns about the city forcing residents onto city services. You are reviewing the new assessment policy to bolster this idea. This assessment policy was born out of necessity to help fund our road reconstruction. The assessment policy was updated to cover all types of assessments that the city may encounter. As you know, the city charter and this assessment policy (with specific references to the charter) make signing up for city services voluntary. No resident can be forced to hook up to city water and sewer.

No member of the city council or staff has any intention of forcing any resident to sign up for services that they do not want. This has specifically been stated during the assessment policy discussions and at the recent council meeting regarding the upcoming assessment for the residents of Garnet St. It has been made clear that nobody on council or staff is contemplating applying the assessments for sewer and water to residents that do not want these services.

I hope this sets your mind at ease.

My mind is at ease as to present needs and intentions.

On the part of present city officials with regard to road engineering and road-related public works.

The statement is most helpful, that way.

HOWEVER, people on staff and in elected positions come and go. Over time, NOW only one council member, Mayor Strommen, remains from the time the City's commitment to moving a contiguous "MUSA line" northward (with at one time Alpine being the boundary) was abandoned to permit MUSA areas, an approach sometimes called "leapfrog development," north to Trott Brook as a border, so that Ramsey now has at least two non-contiguous northern MUSA blocs, at the former St. Anthony Gun Club and on the west side of Nowthen Blvd. at Trott Brook.

At the time of that sewer/water policy shift, with the move allowed whereby the key developer pledged six milion dollars toward trunk line costs in return for future recoupment rights thereby not socializing his development costs to the entire citizenry, James Norman was city administrator, Brian Olson City Engineer, Tom Gamec Mayor, and Bill Goodrich City Attorney. Pat Trudgeon was the staff person responsible for City Planning and Sean Sullivan for Economic Development.

Similar near-total turnover in personnel can be anticipated over time, and in relation to 2030 and 2040 Comprehensive Plan implementation details; from today going forward.

While Lord Keynes was correct in saying that in the long term we are all dead, that aphorism is not a reassuring one in any measure.

While Riley correctly points out no single-family homeowner not wishing to be connected to municipal services can be forced to, because of current charter protections, there still remains cold comfort. Also, the Charter intent is that no connection would be forced under a "due on sale" policy so that only existing homeowners would have the refusal of connection right.

Charter Chapter 8, at its Section 8.6 moreover constrains the city, for as long as the section remains in effect as now written, to not assess a homeowner who does not connect. Putting aside questions of possible multi-family housing connection where presumably at the development-building stage city officials will set specific rules, and the question of new housing permitting powers the city holds and will exercise, existing homeowners still face one uncertainty which, over time and absent corrective charter language, may come to haunt people.

Specifically, while historically the Sect. 8.6 intent has been to forestall any charge upon homeowners electing not to connect, that is not precisely what the Charter says. And that is the problem.

The best outcome to reassure those worrying, would be to amend Section 8.6 to track the language of Minn. Stat. 645.44, subd. 19; specifying no exaction, as a "fee" or whatever else it may be called, will be imposed upon a homeowner electing to not connect.

For all I know, the terms SAC and WAC mean "sewer availability charge," and "water availability charge," with such charges based on availabilty - pipes in the ground adjacent to a dwelling property along one property line or another, being "available" to that property.

The worry is a charge imposed, regardless of hooking up or not, it is the charge and not the hookup that is the worry, and hairs can be split over what is or is not an "assessment" per Charter Chapter 8.

Such "hair splitting" unfortunately can be decades from now done in ways of great potential fiscal impact on some citizens. And that outcome should be nailed shut totally as out of the question, by amending the Charter. There is no other reliable answer; longterm. And at best, fixing the Charter now still would allow its alteration later. No 100% assurance is available.

So again Council Member Riley has been helpful and his help should be appreciated by everyone, but my mind surely would be more at ease if the Charter this year gets fixed to match the actual historical intent that no exaction of any kind can/will be imposed upon ones declining to connect - and that no "due on sale" contravention of that intent will be allowed either.

The need is real, longterm. And there is no better time than the present to simply and cleanly tighten up the language of Charter Sect. 8.6 which can be done by a majority of the Charter Commission in concert with a unanimous vote of the council - putting all its members on record long term with the reassuring intent Council Member Riley expressed.

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