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City passes new boat ordinances, gears up for budget debate

New limits on boat slips will improve safety and water quality of the lakes after a City Council vote Monday, city officials said, though they don’t expect a wave of new tickets next year.

The council voted unanimously to limit homeowner associations one slip per 40 feet of shoreline, up from one slip per 19 feet but a less drastic change than originally proposed.

The changes also limit private residences to five slips instead of six. Both types of properties can share slip space with immediate family and grandchildren only.

Councilman Kevin Burkart told residents if their boats and slips aren’t frustrating the community, they have no reason to worry.

“If they don’t call the city, then you’re not going to hear from the city,” Burkart said. “Our code enforcement officer is not going out looking for stuff. That person is busy enough with what they have.”

Burkart and Councilwoman Annette Thompson were the council’s representatives to the committee that drafted the proposal.

Renting personal boat slips remains illegal, but the city now has more power to compel residents to prove of tenancy and watercraft ownership in any violation investigations.

The changes drew support at an earlier Planning Commission hearing but have become somewhat divisive. Some residents argued they unnecessarily infringe on homeowners’ rights to enjoy the lakes and that they favor associations.

The ordinance doesn’t apply to 13 of the city’s lakeshore homeowners associations, which have a combined right to 424 slips.

Community Development Director Casey McCabe said these associations have previously agreements with the city that allowed them to have a unique number of slips. McCabe emphasized the changes are primarily to set the rules for future development.

“What this ordinance does is it makes it easier for staff to enforce existing regulations,” McCabe said previously.

According to city documents, officials expect two properties on Lower Prior Lake to be developed in the coming years. Each property has just over 1,300 feet of shoreline and could install 70 boat slips before the changes; that number will now be 33.

City staff members proposed limiting slips to one per 50 feet, but Mayor Kirt Briggs said that went a little too far.

“A change must be made in this 18.75. That is no longer a number that this community is anywhere near comfortable with,” Briggs said.

Before the vote, an afternoon work session on the proposed 2020 city budget ended in an impasse when members said they had philosophical differences over spending.

In September, the council approved a preliminary 2020 tax levy of $13.7 million — an increase of $893,000 or 6.99% compared to 2019. The preliminary levy sets the caps on the amount the city can levy from property owners next year.

The number was about $127,000 less than city staff proposed. Finance Director Cathy Erickson told the council cutting a one-time trail replacement allocation of $90,000 and reducing the Economic Development Authority’s levy by $36,000 would get them where they wanted.

Erickson said the preliminary levy would result in a 1.6% decrease in city taxes on a home with no market value change, but she added Scott County expects nearly all of Prior Lake’s residence would increase their property values next year.

Members Braid, Burkart and Thompson said they’d prefer a levy increase of up to 5.9% instead of 6.99%. Burkart called discussions about the city’s growth possibly decreasing the city’s tax rate was a “seductive lie” meant to obscure the increase.

Briggs, meanwhile, said cutting the proposed budget any further would keep the city from making any headway in its debt payments.

“Where I think we’re debating is you’re saying no, Kirt, don’t do that, give that money back to the pockets of the taxpayers,” Briggs told Burkart.

The council plans to vote on the final levy amount Dec. 2.