Dorman says lake district may be best

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 31, 2002

To end the uncertainty in funding sources for improvements to Albert Lea Lake and Fountain lakes, Rep. Dan Dorman, R-Albert Lea, has come up with a new proposal &045; establishing a Lake Improvement District (LID).

The LID is an autonomous local governmental unit that would take over the lake management function of the county and city. It can levy taxes on properties in the district, issue general-obligation bonds, assess costs to benefited properties, impose service charges and apply for grants.

Despite federal and state grants, the county anticipates it will need at least several million dollars to match them for Albert Lea Lake projects alone. The county had counted on a half-percent local option sales tax, proposed last year, as a funding source, but the proposal was denied by the state legislature. State bonding applications to replace dams on both lakes were also rejected in the last session.

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&uot;Lake improvement projects have been never been closer to moving forward. I don’t want to lose the momentum,&uot; said Dorman. &uot;We should have more than one funding option available in front of us.&uot;

Dorman would continue to pursue the city-wide sales tax, but said it might take some years to pass the floor. He thinks that it would require an effort to make a general change in the state statute to eliminate the need for state approval on local optional sales taxes, rather than repeating the same proposal.

But even if the legislature passed the proposal, the tax would be subject to a public referendum. Dorman is also aware of opposition to the sales tax based on the impact on local business and low-income people. Those factors make the sales tax extremely unreliable to count on, he said.

&uot;Let’s not limit ourselves,&uot; Dorman said. &uot;I don’t want to be two or three more years down the road and we are still fighting for the sales tax. If we win that fight, it is great. But what if it won in St. Paul, but failed in the ballot, say in November 2003, for the referendum? Then we will have to decide what we are going to do in the middle of 2004 again. I don’t want to wait until 2004.&uot;

The LID can be established by the resolution of the county board or petition filed by more than 26 percent of residents in the district. The boundary can be as large as the watershed, but is usually limited to the area closer to the lake.

Dorman thinks the LID is a more equitable method than funding through the county’s general fund.

&uot;I have no problem if the county chooses to handle the lake management by itself by issuing bonds or whatever methods. I am not opposing that,&uot; said Dorman. &uot;But such financing is going to be a countywide deal. I think you will see a heck of a lot more opposition. You are going to see a guy, for example, to the south, in Glenville or Myrtle, who will not be happy.&uot;

According to Russ Schultz of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, there were 14 LIDs in Minnesota in 2000. Unlike the state-appointed watershed district that has been discussed in the past for Freeborn County, any actions by the LID are subject to the approval of the county board. Most districts consist of first-tier properties near the lake &045; direct beneficiaries of improvement projects.

Dorman pictures a little wider area to be in the district so that it can generate sufficient funds with less financial burden on the residents. The taxation, if there will be any, would have steps in accordance with the distance from the lake, he said.

County Board Chairman Dave Mullenbach, however, regards the LID as another layer of government, which might create unnecessary redundancy.

&uot;It may be that it’s going to be a duplication of what the county government already has,&uot; said Mullenbach. &uot;We sill have to take care of other lakes in the county. The county has experienced staff and resources to do it.&uot;

Mullenbach thinks setting a boundary for the LID will be almost impossible. He said he prefers the sales tax, calling it the fairest and most feasible way to come up with matching funds for Albert Lea Lake management projects. He also suggested the county may consider the installation of user fees to supplement the fund, while keep pursuing any available grants.