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Sunday, February 05, 2006

New Brighton Council Heavy Handedness

The New Brighton City Council recently approved a project to reduce the infiltration of storm water into the sanitary sewer system in response to a mandate by the Metropolitan Council Environmental Services (MCES). The project includes an inspection of every building in the city to find and correct illegally connected sump pumps and the replacement of about 330 manhole covers throughout the city. New Brighton is compelled to comply with the MCES mandate by the threat of a $27,300 surcharge that will be added to the fees the city is charged for sanity sewer service if the mandated action is not taken.

Scheduled to take place over the next five years at an estimated cost to the taxpayers of $323,000, the project is backed by an ordinance that mandates New Brighton residents to let a city employee into their home on demand and involves the threat of fines to force compliance. In addition to the enforcement ordinance, the city also approved a program that offers an incentive of up to $500 to correct illegal sump pump hookups.

The ordinance was passed by the council over the concerns of Council Member Sharon Doffing who questioned whether the mandatory inspection portion of the program was in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution. She pointed out that the ordinance gives city public works employees greater powers that the Department of Public Safety to enter private residences in a non-emergency situation on demand without a legal warrant or probable cause.

The council's action is indicative of its propensity to use the force of government as the primary way to get citizens to comply with their edicts. In spite of Doffing's concerns, the council did not even consider the more cost effective option of educating the public to the situation and asking for cooperation in order to avoid an increase in the cost of sewer service. It also appears that they did not consider more cost effective alternatives to replacing the manhole covers.

Since the city sends out utility bills anyway, it would be a minimal cost to add an insert that explained that situation and the incentive program. Residents with a pump system that required correction or are not sure if they are in compliance could be instructed to call the city to schedule a visit from a public works employee to advise them on how to bring their property into compliance if necessary by taking advantage of the incentive program.

The replacement of the 330 manhole covers at an estimated cost of $38,000 ($25,000 for the covers, $12,000 for labor, and $1000 for a magnet to lift the covers) also does not appear to have been fully thought out. Existing manhole covers have a hole in them to ease removal with a pick-ax or crowbar, but it is alleged that the holes also allow a large amount of storm water to enter the sanitary sewer system. Wouldn't it make more sense to try plugging the holes with a rubber or steel plug as a low cost, trial solution to the problem? In this way the city could quickly seal covers and evaluate whether or not the holes actually cause the suspected problems. Since the city continually reconditions virtually all of its streets on a rotating basis a more permanent fix (e.g. welding the holes shut) could be implemented during scheduled street maintenance when city workers are on site anyway.

The situation addressed by the MCES mandate (how and why does an unelected body such as the MCES have the authority to effectively blackmail a city into compliance with their directives in the first place?) does not constitute an immediate threat to public health or safety. They are, after all, allowing five years for compliance. I'm guessing that most residents, when properly informed about why the city needs their cooperation, would probably want to be in compliance with the law and would voluntarily take the necessary action. The mandatory inspection program and associated fines for non-compliance have the potential of creating a serious public relations problem for the city, if not legal action if a resident alleges a violation of their Fourth Amendment rights.

Even if it turned out that a small number of residents refused to comply it may not even cause a problem. The city would still have the option of implementing a more aggressive policy if the voluntary program did not get the desired result. The upside if the voluntary program turned out to be effective is that it would cost the city a lot less money and would go a long way toward restoring some confidence in city government that has been lost through past heavy-handed actions (e.g. property takings through abuse of eminent domain) and excessive tax increases by the council.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

New Brighton -- a facist state in our midst. I submit it is part of a vast conspiracy to find out if the public is listening or watching their own city council. At 35W and County I we have another facist state...a townhouse association ordering owners to do anything the association oldsters please. No one in the townhouse assoc even attends meetings including me. We all have interesting things to so...until it's too late to stop this intrusiveness to/on private property. One resident, not at our location, came home and was locked out of his townhouse forever...all articles inside were confiscated. Due to losing employment this guy had no recourse legally...even though he did address the issue with an atty who helped the helpless...but didn't help.
The time is now to stop New Brighton. I hope the residents are listening and 'squeaking' loudly.
What a shameful approach to freedom and public "SERVICES" -- I suppose the whole lot of public officials in New Brighton is up to some old tricks not unknown under facism and socialism and hark hark....communissm. It' been rumored that Fidel not only fiddled through a few hurricanes, but is on a list to receive sewer covers with holes in them from New Brighton. Yikes......

2/08/2006 1:22 PM  

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