Part of Monday's Brainerd budget discussion will include an accusation by one council member that city staffers have lost $180,000 in 2003 -- money the council member said could've been used instead of a tax levy.
At Tuesday's regular city council meeting, council member Bob Olson was upset that the city had not begun to collect on a storm water utility fee that the council approved Sept. 16, 2002.
He blamed City Administrator Dan Vogt and City Engineer Jeff Hulsether.
"I think it's ludicrous that our two staff people didn't take the necessary mechanics to get this thing started," said Olson at Tuesday's meeting. "Simply put, Dan and Jeff, you two didn't do your job."
In an interview Friday, Vogt said city staffers fully intended to get the fees implemented last year but ran into problems, including how to set up a database identifying parcels and how to bill residents.
"We didn't want to make any mistakes," Vogt said Friday. "To rush it and do it wrong doesn't make any sense."
And while the storm water utility fund currently has a deficit of about $80,000 in 2003, with expenditures coming from costs and wages of working on the current storm water system, Vogt said once fees are collected these expenses should be covered within a year.
At Tuesday's regular city council meeting, the only other council member to respond to Olson's allegations was council member Mary Koep, who said the $180,000 not collected in storm water utility fees was $180,000 that remained in the taxpayers pockets and not a loss for the city.
"It was money that they could spend as they wished," Koep said at the meeting.
On Friday, Olson said Koep was trying to cover up for Vogt's and Hulsether's mistake.
"Mary Koep was just blowing smoke," said Olson. "She was trying to take pressure I was putting on the city engineer and the administrator off of them."
Koep objected to Olson's allegation against her.
"I feel terrible Bob (Olson) would think that, but it never occurred to me," Koep said in an interview Friday. "It wasn't true... my whole thought was that it is a little extra money people would have to spend. That statement (of Olson's) was so far from reality."
The storm water utility fee is its own fund, set up to pay for the costs of storm water rehabilitation, maintenance and administration. One- and two-family homes and light density parcel with 33 percent or less of impervious surface will pay a flat rate of $3 per month. Medium density parcels, with between 33-66 percent impervious surface, will pay $6 times the acreage of the parcel per month. Heavy density will pay $9 times the acreage of the parcel per month.
Work on putting in place the storm water utility fees was started soon after the council passed the ordinance creating the fund and fees in 2002, said Assistant City Engineer Don Klein.
Part of the delay in setting up the storm water utility fees came from attempting to put the best system in place. At first the city worked on creating it's own database for billing customers, but the time and effort to keep it up to date with Brainerd Public Utility data on water meters and Crow Wing County's data on parcel owners within the city wasn't feasible.
"It got to be a bookkeeping nightmare," said Klein. "We had to start over." Instead of billing customers directly the fees will be included on Brainerd residents public utility bills.
Time was also an issue in delaying the implementation of the fees, said Klein. As the only city staffer working on implementing fees, he also had to respond to other duties, including the start of the construction season and four months of handling the duties of interim transit coordinator.
Brainerd residents should be mailed notice about the storm water utility fee in October, Vogt said, with the fees appearing on the December utility bill.
On Friday, Olson said the timeline for establishing the fee wasn't the issue, but the fact $180,000 in projected revenues were listed in the 2003 budget were not collected. Olson noted the $84,000 spent for the installation of the fees had to come out of the general fund.
"Why did he budget for it if he wasn't going to collect it?" said Olson. "The bills have to be paid and we have to take it out of reserves and eventually the citizens will have to pay for it.
"Basically I'm saying he's (Vogt) incompetent. He didn't follow the instructions of the city council."
Olson also criticized his fellow Brainerd City Council members, saying most of them didn't pay any attention to the budget.
"I challenge any member of the city council to be more of a watchdog for the city's interest than I am," said Olson.
Olson said he will again address the issue of the storm water utility fees at the city council's budget meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at Brainerd City Hall.
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