Last November, Le Center residents elected a new mayor and councilor to lead the city, but there’s still room for another fresh face on the City Council.
On Jan. 10, Christian Harmeyer presided over his first City Council meeting as the newly elected mayor of Le Center. His election to the mayoral seat has left his former chair on the City Council unoccupied. One of the City Council’s first tasks of the year is filling that vacant position.
City Administrator Dan Evans presented the councilors with two options. The City Council could open up an application process for the position, allowing community members to express their interest in the role and interview before the council in a public meeting.
Alternatively, the City Council could offer the position to the next highest vote-getter in November’s council race. Following this process, Le Sueur County Public Health Nurse Vanessa Holicky would be offered the seat. Holicky came in third last election with over a quarter of ballots cast.
In either scenario, the appointed candidate would serve on the remaining two years of Harmeyer’s city council term through the end of 2024.
Harmeyer supported an open application process to fill the position for several key reasons. He pointed out that there may be interested candidates who may have been dissuaded from running in the last election because there were already four people in the race.
Harmeyer further indicated that the third-highest vote-getter isn’t necessarily the community’s third choice, since residents could only pick their top two candidates last election rather than their top three.
“The citizens of the town are only able to vote for two people. That third person, whoever is there, they didn’t get to vote for a third person,” said Harmeyer.
Councilor Jennifer Weiers added that the City Council would have to restart the process if the runner-up declined their offer.
“That was the same conclusion I came up with in a previous community, and that’s why I’m more familiar with the [application] option,” Evans added to Weiers’ point. “Putting it out there and starting the process over rather than carry over from an election that’s ended — yes, it’s an appointment — but we’re starting the process over with candidates that are interested.”
The City Council unanimously voted in favor of initiating the open application process. Evans suggested the city spread the word of the council vacancy and develop an application process based on how much interest there is.
Water and sewer fees
Since the Great Recession, the Le Center City Council has chosen to waive charges for builders connecting new homes and businesses to the city’s water and sewer lines, but now that long-standing policy has come to an end.
Throughout his tenure on the City Council, Harmeyer said the body has waived the $2500 water and sewer access charge as a means of incentivizing construction in town. The mayor said he believed the waiver has been successful in encouraging new residents to build in the community.
However, City Building Inspector Corey Block made no secret of his opposition to the waiver policy on the grounds that it benefits construction companies, rather than local residents.
Block said the policy was enacted as other communities, most notably Montgomery, were waiving their own WAC and SAC fees to entice construction in the midst of the recession. Initially, the policy was implemented as a rebate, rather than a waiver, said Block. Instead of relieving construction companies of the $2,500 charge, the revenues from the fee would be delivered to the homeowner.
“That lasted about a year and got changed,” said Block. “The concept was to reward the buyer, not necessarily the builder. We wanted to make sure at the time that the buyer of the house got that rebate and had the $2,500 that they would hopefully spend at Radermacher’s, hardware Hank, the local restaurants wherever it would be.”
Block further suggested there aren’t enough homebuyers who know about the waiver for the city’s policy to work as an incentive.
“If they’re paying attention to the January [council] meeting every year for the last however many years, maybe they know about it, maybe they’ve heard rumors about it,” said Block. “In general, I would say they don’t know [about it].”
Harmeyer countered that whether new residents know about the charge or not, construction companies will pass the costs of the WAC and SAC fees to them.
“If I’m the contractor, I’m going to charge you that $2,500 because I got charged for it,” said Harmeyer. “In a sense, in the previous councils, you are saving that money from those builders that are building in the community. The construction companies aren’t going to eat $2,500.”
Block and Evans noted that continuing the waiver comes at a cost to Le Center’s water and sewer funds at a time when they are in need of additional revenue. A recent audit of the city’s finances found the city’s current utility rates are not contributing enough funding to keep the water and sewer funds sustainable.
In addition, Montgomery and other communities have since restored their WAC and SAC fees.
“Considering Montgomery is currently at $7,000, $2,500 is not that much,” said Weiers. “You would really have to look at an itemized bill from the contractor going through that.”
“To me, that’s not an outrageous amount if I’m building a house,” Councilor Dan Steffen added.
The City Council ultimately voted unanimously in favor of reinstating the charges.