Almost no utility rate increases for Blaine customers

The Blaine City Council over the past two meetings approved utility fund budgets pertaining to sanitary sewer, water, storm sewer and refuse collection.

With the exception of a 75-cent increase per quarter for all residents on their garbage and recycling bills, the council did not authorize any other fee increases in 2014, but Finance Director Joe Huss said the council would be discussing potential 2015 increases in the coming months.

Sanitary sewer

Over 95 percent of Blaine citizens are serviced by city sewer and water. The less than 5 percent that have their own septic or well systems do not pay for maintenance and upgrades of the city’s sewer and water utility infrastructure.

About $3.17 million of the total $7.91 million in expenditures Blaine has budgeted for 2014 is for the disposal charges it must pay to the Metropolitan Council for the collection, treatment and disposal of wastewater.

About $2.5 million is also being set aside for capital projects such as $2 million for the continued slip-lining of sewer pipes, improvements to lift station No. 12 and 13 and some equipment replacement.

Public Services Manager Robert Therres said the city in recent years has spent between $1 million and $2 million annually on its slip lining program. The city has completed the first phase of its program to line smaller clay pipes in residential neighborhoods and the next step is to work on larger diameter pipes.

Stormwater manager Jim Hafner said the city does visual inspections with video equipment to check on the condition of its underground pipes. If a pipe is in really bad shape, the city would have to dig it up and replace it. Slip lining allows the city to extend the life of a pipe that has cracks in it that could lead to water leaking and in some cases sinkholes.

Water

Total expenditures have been under $5 million over the last four years and below $4 million in 2012, but the 2014 expenditures are expected to be $5.32 million, according to projections Huss showed the council.

The big reason for the increase is that the city is in the planning stages to construct four new wells, which could cost $500,000, in the northeastern part of its community.

The council in May 2013 had entered into a not-to-exceed contract of $140,000 with Barr Engineering of Minneapolis to study drilling of new wells in the area of 125th and Lexington avenues.

However, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources would have to sign off on drilling any well because of the impact that pumping of groundwater could have on local surface waters, private wells and sensitive wetlands, according to Therres.

In addition to planning for the new wells, other 2014 projects could include maintenance at wells No. 11 and 13, water main over-sizing, cleaning the exterior of water tower No. 2 and equipment replacement.

Storm sewer

This utility fund is designed to recover the costs of maintaining the city’s storm drainage system, which includes over 100 miles of storm sewer pipes, almost 80 miles of ditches and numerous catch basins, outfalls, manholes, weirs, culverts and ponds.

Storm sewer expenditures total $1.83 million and will include some capital expenditures such as system repairs in the Belmont Acres/Erksin Street area and slip-lining an arch pipe near the Toys-R-Us property. But similar to other utility fund accounts, some expenditures are to pay for city staff time, contractual services, supplies and depreciation of infrastructure.

Hafner said the area in the Belmont Acres/Erksin Street neighborhood is very flat and the stormwater drainage bottlenecks near a cul-de-sac on the north side of Erksin on the east side of Lexington Avenue. To fix this problem and reduce water runoff, the city is looking to make improvements such as the installation of rain gardens.

The arch pipe being slip-lined is part of a larger stormwater drainage system that eventually goes to the Springbrook Nature Center and the Mississippi River, according to Hafner. A section of pipe under a commercial development area that includes Toys-R-Us on is older, but not in bad enough shape to replace, Hafner said.

Refuse collection

The city since Jan. 1, 2009 has had a contract with Veolia Enterprises for garbage and recycling collection.

The 2014 contractual services amount of $2,965,400 is up from $2,853,040 in 2013. Total expenditures in 2014 is expected to be about $3.12 million once city administrative charges are included, according to the spreadsheet from Huss.

The Veolia contract runs through the end of 2015.

The council in 2013 had directed city staff to include a $1.50 per quarter increase from 2013 to 2015 followed by $2 quarterly increases in 2016 and 2017, according to Huss. Due to an adequate fund balance, however, staff recommended a 75-cent increase for 2014.

Eric Hagen is at eric.hagen@ecm-inc.com

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