Organizers behind a Serpent Lake Improvement District got caught up in a policy discussion at the Crow Wing County Board meeting Tuesday that had them considering withdrawing their application.
At issue is whether public hearings for lake improvement districts should be hosted solely in the spring - meaning more seasonal residents may attend. Lake improvement districts are typically created for lake management and control of invasive aquatic vegetation. Money to pay for the lake improvement comes from the district's taxing authority, which is designed to divide costs among riparian or lakeshore property owners.
The county auditor's office received a petition with the needed 51 percent of the affected property owners in favor of establishing the LID. County records indicate there are 296 property owners on Serpent Lake with 150 signatures on the petition. The petition listed the costs for services at $13,500 per year, or $50 per property owner each year.
Once the county has the petition, by law it needs to act within 30 days to set a public hearing. And that time frame became the greater issue at Tuesday's meeting.
Administrator Tim Houle said the board could telegraph its intention to deny the petition this fall with the promise to revisit it in the spring. The delay would not affect the proposed Serpent Lake district as the first collecting year for the district would have to be 2010 because of time deadlines already in place.
Houle suggested a policy where the LID public hearings would always be in the spring and set on a Saturday morning in the district to allow more people to attend. And he said the county could send out mailings to all riparian owners with detailed information about the lake improvement district and how their voices could be heard.
Steve Crum, Deerwood, who was actively involved in the petition, said he was concerned the group would become an example while the board debated the process when they put considerable time and effort into doing things correctly.
Commissioner Paul Thiede said the Serpent Lake petition was not being singled out as the same discussion came up for other lake improvement districts.
Board Chairwoman Rachel Reabe Nystrom was not in favor of setting the Serpent Lake petition aside. Nystrom said she didn't disagree with Houle's suggestions but it was important to remember the petitioners had the required support. Nystrom said this petition could go through and the board could consider its policy discussion for the future. The Serpent Lake petitioners said most of their property owners are year-round.
Thiede and Commissioner Doug Houge said they have heard from residents who signed petitions without fully understanding it meant they were agreeing to an additional tax.
Nystrom said she couldn't believe Thiede, who was strongly opposed to give an absentee ballot voter an opportunity to correct a ballot that was rejected, was doing a position reversal regarding a petition when the costs and information was spelled out on the petition residents signed of their own will. Thiede said it wasn't a reversal at all and said there were people who have signed a LID petition who didn't realize what it meant.
Commissioner Rosemary Franzen said in her experience with petitions, people wanted to know what they were signing and the Serpent Lake petition spelled out the details.
Commissioner Dewey Tautges said it was just good public policy to have as many people as possible at the hearing. Tautges said he wouldn't support the petition when it comes to a vote in the fall as he wanted the hearing in the spring.
For organizers behind the Serpent Lake district, the county board assured them this delay did not mean they would have to spend the time and effort to gather petition signatures again. Crum asked about a deadline to withdraw the petition in time to cancel the public hearing.
The public hearing is planned at 9:05 a.m. Nov. 13 in Meeting Room 2 in the Land Services Building next to the historic courthouse on Laurel Street.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.