Council approves WWTP design; Extends housing tax abatement by three years

Published 6:32 am Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The Austin City Council voted unanimously to approve a proposed waste water treatment plant design during its regular meeting Monday evening.

The current facility, which was built in 1939, is in need of upgrades to help modernize the plant as well as meet regulations imposed by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency on phosphorus discharge.

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City Engineer Steven Lang discussed several options during a public hearing at Monday’s meeting. In planning, Lang accounted for a projected population growth to 28,887 within the city by 2040. He also accounted for industrial growth, with a projected Hormel flow from 2.04 million gallons per day to 2.75 million gallons per day by 2040, and a 20-year permitted flow projection of 10.44 million gallons per day by 2040, up from the current 8.475 gallons per day.

Of the three design alternatives, Lang advocated a combined activated sludge treatment process, which would work for current and future water regulations.

The approximate construction cost of the design is $77.9 million. In planning for an expensive upgrade, the city raised monthly waste water user rates in 2018 by 25 percent. This was followed by a seven percent increase every year from 2019-23. The city has also actively sought bonding bills and has appealed to state leaders to help alleviate the cost.

The council approved Lang’s recommendation without any objections from the public.

The council voted in favor of extending the Austin Home Initiative housing tax abatement until Dec. 31, 2022, during the meeting. The program was scheduled to expire on Dec. 31.

Under the program, any new single or multi-family housing built in Austin would receive a five-year tax abatement, which would eliminate property taxes during those five years. According to City Administrator Craig Clark, the city has approved 40 housing tax abatements, though not all have ultimately moved forward with construction.

The council approved a contract with Flashing Thunder Fireworks for the 2020 Freedom Fest celebration. The city has a $30,000 budget for one night of fireworks, though that can be changed if the council opts to do so.

City Administrator Tom Dankert said the city needed to approve the contract with Flashing Thunder Fireworks before the end of the month or risk losing its spot.

The council also voted in favor of accepting Hormel Foundation grants awarded for the 2020 calendar year. The city was awarded $300,000 in grants for seven projects:

  • Riverside Arena roofing – $150,000
  • Library data hotspots – $45,000
  • Two drones for emergency situations – $42,792
  • Replacement of nine scoreboards at Todd Park – $40,486
  • Jay C. Hormel Nature Center education programs – $40,000
  • Curling program at Packer Arena – $20,000
  • Fire prevention and education – $5,000

In addition, some pass-thru dollars were approved:

  • Quality of Life – Leadership Austin – $1,500
  • Quality of Life – Fourth of July (will stay at city for fireworks) – $20,000
  • Quality of Life – ArtWorks Center (rent and property taxes) – $68,799

The council voted to adopt and publish an ordinance that would repeal Section 9.35, which pertains to unattended vehicles, from the City Code. Section 9.35 states that it is illegal to leave a motor vehicle unattended while the engine is running or while the key is in the ignition.

In a memorandum to the Austin City Council, Austin Police Chief David McKichan stated the APD hopes to eliminate that section, saying it is “antiquated from a time before remote starting equipment,” and that while leaving the key in the ignition is unwise, it is not criminal. He also said the APD did not cite for the offenses.

The council approved a motion to vote on a proposed addition to the ordinance concerning the prohibition of unnecessary noises during Monday evening’s work session. The proposed addition applies to engine braking and states the following:

“The slowing of any motor vehicle by any device, method, or practice known as engine braking or transmission braking (also referred to as Jake brake, Jacobs brake, dynamic brake, C-brake, or Paccar brake) whereby rapid downshifting of a vehicle’s engine or a compression release device is used in lieu of applying a vehicle’s wheel brake thereby causing loud noises to emit from the vehicle’s engine and exhaust system. Such braking by any motor vehicle on any public highway, street, parking lot or alley within the City of Austin is declared to be a public nuisance and is prohibited.”

The council will formally vote on the addition during its next regular meeting on Dec. 16.