MINNETRISTA HIDES 65% FEE INCREASE FROM PUBLIC – Anyone reading the Minnetrista city council agenda for June 15, 2020 would never have known the item titled “Res. No. 068-2020 Approving Recycling Services Contract with Waste Management of MN for September 1, 2020 – August 31, 2025″ called for the approval of an initial 41% increase over last year’s recycle fee and by the end of the five year contract would approve a whopping 65% increase over the 2020 fee.
This kind of deception is egregious and unacceptable but apparently not to the Mayor or other council members who voted to approve the increase that evening on a 4 to 1 vote. Below is the memo from staff to the council explaining to the council, and more importantly to the public, what the resolution proposed. The actual resolution itself, below as well, makes no mention of the increase. (Exhibit B referenced in the memo just listed the new rates but did not compare them to 2020’s).
City staff appears to think that “doing some research” on competitive rates excuses them from doing an actual Request for Proposal (RFP) from several companies to ensure rates Minnetrista residents pay are competitive. My recommendation for doing an RFP was not supported by staff or council at a previous work session.
Mayor Lisa Whalen, obviously not in agreement with my concerns about this deceptive tactic to avoid complaints from residents, asked me “Ms. Bruce, what are the dollar amounts?” knowing the monthly recycle fees are small compared to others. What she doesn’t get is that Minnetrista residents object to deception.
Minnetrista residents seldom hear reports on council work session meetings because official votes are rarely taken there but direction is, nonetheless, given to staff and decisions are made, however informally. A glimpse into our work session last night where council was given a recommendation by staff to increase both the Sanitary Sewer utility rate (3% increase) and the Storm Water fee (7.7% increase) for 2019:
The largest expense increase used to justify the utility rate hike request was for the Met Council’s wastewater charge that amounted to an increase of around $26K. When I asked how much additional revenue the city would take into the Sanitary Sewer Fund from all the new residents added this last year the answer came to around $40K in new revenue. Isn’t $40K more than enough to cover a $26K increase in the Met Council’s charge? Council directed staff to bring back a 0% increase Sanitary Sewer budget for council’s review.
A similar discussion around the city’s storm water management (SWM) fee followed. City residents saw a 10% increase last year and an 8.5% increase the year before in 2017. They also pay storm water management fees to the county and state via their private waste collection bills. Asking for another 7.7% for 2019, even though it was argued the dollar amount per household is small (SWM fee would increase to $112 annually from $104), just doesn’t appear justified. I asked if there were no increase in the 2019 fee would the city still be able to meet it’s obligations and complete at least some of the SWM projects [the highest priority ones] planned. Council directed staff to bring back a 0% increase storm water fund budget showing projects prioritized for consideration.
None of the above means there won’t be an increase in either of these fees for residents in 2019. But it is a good sign the council knows, in this election year, that voters are paying attention.