Board OKS funding district for lake dredging
In what may prove a fruitless gesture, Olmsted County commissioners on Tuesday approved creating a local funding district to help pay for dredging Lake Zumbro.
"Typically I would say we are getting in deep water," said Commissioner Mike Podulke. "But not on this one."
The final decision now rests with the commissioners in Wabasha County, which shares the 600-acre reservoir with Olmsted County.
Wabasha commissioners are scheduled to vote Feb. 16 on the Lake Zumbro Improvement District.
There, fewer residents appear to support the improvement district, which would collect money from residents through assessments.
In both counties, affected residents triggered the issue by collecting signatures on petitions calling for formation of the funding district.
In Olmsted County, about two-thirds of affected residents signed the petition. The improvement district would levy up to $6,000 per property for dredging.
Across the border, in Wabasha County, a smaller majority — 52 percent — signed. Opponents there say that many signers have since withdrawn their support.
Even if it is fully approved, the improvement district faces a likely challenge in the form of a referendum vote.
Opponents collecting signatures from one-quarter of affected property owners can bring the matter to a vote this summer.
Alternatively, opponents can bring about an outright termination of the district any time by delivering signatures from more than one-half of the affected property owners to the joint Olmsted-Wabasha authority overseeing the improvement district.
There are about 340 homes on the lake.
No one disputes the need to dredge Lake Zumbro, a widened area of the Zumbro River formed by damming nearly a century ago.
Since then, the lake has lost about one-half of its volume to sediment carried from upstream.
Where sides differ is how dredging should be paid for.
Money collected in the improvement district would serve as a required local match for federal or state grants.
The overall cost estimate for dredging is about $10 million. Local assessments would collect about $2 million over a 10-year period.
Opponents argue that the local cost of dredging should be shared broadly across a wider area, not shouldered solely by lakeside residents.
Olmsted commissioners had questions Tuesday about the composition and powers of the improvement district board.
They learned the district cannot extend its boundaries without approval from the two counties.
The district would be overseen by a board of at least five members. Some members would be affected residents, and some would be commissioners from Olmsted and Wabasha counties.
Petitioners' proposal for the district calls for a flat-rate assessment to residential properties, but there are other possible methods of fund-raising.
State law authorizes improvement districts to charge user fees, such as a fee charged at public boat ramps, or to levy assessments that differ from property to property based on factors such as feet of water frontage.
Commissioners voted 6-1 to approve the district. Commissioner David Perkins cast the "no" vote.
"Too many unanswered questions for me," he said.