SPUC continues to make a splash in Shakopee, after the possibility of getting a donated splash pad became jeopardized by a $211,000 upfront fee that would have to be paid for the water.
On Monday, the Shakopee Public Utilities Commission discussed the recently city-approved Lions Park splash pad project and addressed City Administrator Bill Reynold’s letter questioning SPUC’s high water capacity charges.
In early June, the Lions Club pumped the brakes in the planning process after learning the splash pad would come with a $211,000 water capacity charge, formerly known as a water connection charge. Such charges are used by SPUC to pay for water needs as Shakopee grows, SPUC utilities manager John Crooks said. Reynolds sent a letter to Crooks demanding answers to help him understand the high water fees.
The managing director for the water division of Landscape Structures, Greg Stoks, offered his $50,0000 invention — an all-inclusive hydraulic toy that allows kids to turn the water stream on and off — to the Shakopee Lions Club for free.
The problem? The city of Delano wants it, too. And Stoks needs it to be built somewhere this summer, because he’s using his donation to test and market the splash pad toy.
If the city of Shakopee, Lions Club and SPUC can’t figure out a way to cover the $211,000 fee in the next three weeks, Tracy Pink, chair of the Lions Park Committee, said Delano will most likely get the splash pad.
Lions Club asks for waiver
Pink and Shakopee Lions Club President Scott Trosen asked SPUC Monday to either donate or waive the $211,000 water charge. They did everything but get on their knees as they made one last-ditch effort to save the splash pad.
Crooks said SPUC has no interest in thwarting the project, and the commission is trying to find ways to mitigate the cost.
“We typically treat every customer we have the same. The grandmother that lives on Second Avenue is treated the same as Amazon when they come, or even a splash pad water park,” Crooks said. “There’s a calculation that goes with that… to pay that fair share of the system.”
The Lions Club argued it isn’t a normal customer. Pink and Trosen said they have no self-interest in bringing the charges down.
“This is a not-for-profit,” Pink said. “We’re not looking to make anything off this. We’re trying to provide a service to this town.”
The commission then spent nearly an hour discussing ways to solve the issue, from ways to reuse the splash pad water, which would reduce the water charge, to ways SPUC could move money around to fund the splash pad.
One idea was to route the used splash pad water into the neighboring pool, which would require a chlorination system but reduce the water charge.
Commissioner Matthew Meyer suggested SPUC give the portion of the charge that normally goes to the city to the splash pad. Crooks said, according to their policy, the landowner should be responsible for the water capacity charge. In this case, the landowner is Shakopee.
“The resolution that establishes the water capacity charge is very clear that the charge goes to the owner of the property,” Crooks said. “I’m not sure if that discussion has ever taken place.”
The next night at the Shakopee City Council meeting, Reynolds said if the city has to bear the $211,000 price tag, “that kills the park.” Reynolds also said Shakopee has spoken with the health department about the possibility of recycling the splash pad water, and the department said it wouldn’t be safe.
”That option is absolutely, positively not allowed,” Reynolds said at the council meeting.
In the end, SPUC unanimously decided to table the issue in order to investigate possible solutions.
“This needs to get done soon,” Trosen said at the SPUC meeting. “It’s going to slip away from us if we don’t have decision in two, three weeks. It’s probably going to end up going to Delano based on the flow of this conversation.”
SPUC responds to Reynolds
Reynolds sent a letter to Crooks and SPUC commissioners on June 7 outlining his frustration with SPUC’s “stunning” water capacity charges, which have also slowed movements with prospective small business owners looking to plant their locations in Shakopee, including Willy McCoy’s restaurant.
In the letter, Reynolds demanded answers to questions surrounding SPUC’s water connection charges.
He brought up an issue in 2003 when SPUC seemed to ignore the advice of its consultant, and raised its rates higher than its consultant recommended.
Reynolds also asked about the 2003 approval of a $2,035 per unit charge to fund additional water towers and water treatment plants.
“Where are these plants in your capital improvement plan?” Reynolds asked SPUC. “Fees have been collected since 2003 with no apparent planning.”
Reynold’s letter was met with some frustration at the Monday SPUC meeting. Crooks said an original letter was received in March, and he believes SPUC has already answered Reynolds’ questions.
All commissioners, save newly elected Kathi Mocol, a former city councilor, voted to accept and file the letter without any further action. Meyer expressed his frustration over the letter.
“I’m glad the city has the time to perform an audit — apparently they have a lot of time at city staff. I don’t know if they’re overstaffed there, or what, but they are looking for something to do,” Meyer said. “We have devoted a lot of time on this issue in joint session with city council and I think devoting the resources of our permanent staff to politics… I believe that’s unnecessary.”
But Mocol and City Councilor Matt Lehman, the SPUC liason for the council, said a response to Reynolds’ questions would help the public understand what water capacity and water trunk charges are, and why they can be high at times.
“It’s the transparency that needs to happen, and it’s not,” Mocol said. “And so I am concerned about a few things in (the letter) and I need to understand for myself what kind of cost analysis is done to get these rate increases every year.”
Meyer also brought up Shakopee Mayor Bill Mars’ involvement with SPUC. He used to be on the commission and Meyer said he knows the answers to Reynolds’ questions.
“So why is the city administrator looking to us when he could just walk down the hall and talk to Mayor Mars? I don’t think this is really an attempt for information,” he said. “I think this is primarily a document intended for public consumption.”
“And I disagree with that,” Mocol said. “I think the business community would like to understand how things are calculated. And that’s where it goes back to the transparency of this organization. And I don’t think the transparency is as there as you’d like to think.”
The commission ultimately voted to file the letter without a response. Mocol was the only commissioner to vote against the motion.
At the city council meeting, Councilor Jay Whiting made a motion to ask staff to bring back information about what it would look like to move SPUC back under the jurisdiction of the city. The motion carried unanimously, with Lehman abstaining from voting.