To keep or not to keep environmental impact fee


Council approves BoJon’s liquor and beer license

RIVER FALLS – The River Falls City Council Jan. 23 debated whether or not to keep an environmental impact fee and fund related to the city’s former landfill, but ultimately chose to leave them as is.

Alderperson Jeff Bjork asked the council to consider reducing or eliminating the fee, which is 63 cents per household monthly. Since its inception in 1995, the fee has been reduced three times, from $2.41 to $1.81 in 1996, down to $1.27 in 2003, and finally to 63 cents in 2007. The 1995 ordinance states the fee is meant to finance landfill remediation costs necessary for the protection of public health, safety and welfare.

The city operated a landfill on 16 acres southwest of town off County Road FF from 1962-1976. The DNR has required landfill and groundwater testing since 1986. The city built a cap and gas venting system for $1.5 million in 1995, which was paid off in 2007. The city still incurs operating costs such as environmental testing, providing drinking water to one household, overhead cost allocations and investment service fees.

Bjork pointed out that the fund contains enough money to take care of potential remediation costs for 50-years plus, according to City Finance Director/Treasurer Josh Solinger.

“I guess I have an issue with us collecting money towards a fee that is not required,” Bjork said. “If we’re going to collect this money, what’s it really for?”

The fund currently contains $3,277,641, of which $1.5 million has been lent to other city funds: $1 million to the Business Development & Tourism Fund and $500,000 to Tax Increment District 10. No repayment schedules or interest rates have been determined, City Administrator Scot Simpson confirmed.

The two largest potential costs for the landfill are claims against the city and capital costs, such as replacing the landfill cap and ventilation system, which today would cost about $2.9 million, Simpson said.

“At the time (the fee was implemented), there was concern about the unknown ongoing maintenance of the property, per the DNR, including environmental and groundwater monitoring and any related remediation or assistance to impacted neighboring properties,” Simpson said. “Because it’s a long-term fiduciary responsibility, we have limited avenues for investment.

“I agree with you that the fee has met its expected responsibilities and that we can look at other options now going forward.”

The council has some latitude in determining what the environment fee fund is, if it can it be used for other things. The dog park sits on top of the landfill.

The fund has paid for almost $5 million in expenses since 1995.

“This has been an expensive endeavor to responsibly close and monitor a landfill that we operated for maybe 15 to 20 years,” Simpson said.

Typical annual costs now are about $40,000. However, Simpson cautioned, the DNR may require expanded testing one day for emerging contaminants such as Polyfluoroalklyl Substances (PFAs).

“I’m in no rush to change this,” Alderperson Todd Bjerstedt said. “I worry greatly about what happens in Washington DC. We could get a surprise very easily.”

Alderperson Scott Morrissette agreed, but suggested formalizing terms for the loans that had been given.

“I’m glad to have attention on this, but I have concerns about stuff popping up.”

Alderperson Diane Odeen said landfills are forever and future councils will still be liable.

“I’m not in favor of eliminating the fund, but maybe we think about adjusting the fee.”

The council agreed to leaves things be, but may consider reducing the fee at a later date.

Election inspectors

The council approved a resolution to change the number of required election inspectors per polling place from seven to five. State law recently changed, allowing municipalities to reduce the number of election officials required. Each polling place must have at least three inspectors.

According to a city memo, staff has noticed a decline in voter turnout in primary elections leading to the spring election each year. The 2021 Spring Primary saw a 3% voter turnout, while the 2022 Spring Primary yielded 4%. City staff hope the change will simplify the scheduling process for lower turnout events. During larger events, staff plan to evaluate and increase the number of election inspectors accordingly to meet voter demand.

Patricia Larue, River Falls, has been an election inspector for over a decade and seen many changes. She said the city invested in elections operations during the COVID pandemic so residents could get in, vote, and leave, quickly and safely, which has paid off.

“Election inspectors such as myself are now much better equipped to handle more voters, better and efficiently,” LaRue said. “We no longer need to page through huge poll books, hand write registration forms or perform audits late into the night.”

Bo Jon’s

The council approved a combination Class A liquor and Class A beer license for Bo Jon’s Flowers & Gifts. Morrissette called the application unusual.

Business owner Jeffrey Powers said they plan to sell gift baskets that might contain craft beers or wine for special occasions.

“It’s as simple as wine and roses,” said Powers. “You know, date night packages with a bouquet of roses and a bottle of wine.”

Vibrant Spaces grant

The council approved a resolution authorizing city staff to apply for a Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation Vibrant Spaces grant for Inlow Park, located at the northwest corner of Main and Division streets. The WEDC will award up to 30 grants of $25,000 to $50,000 to communities to develop and enhance public spaces.

The city hopes to add a new pocket park to the area that will “be a vibrant gateway to our downtown area,” a memo stated. Possible amenities include an EV charging station, food truck space, meandering path to a river overlook, nature-inspired landscaping, picnic tables, pollinator plantings and trailhead signage with walking routes throughout downtown. The existing petroleum vapor recovery building would be demolished.

Applications were due Jan. 31. Award announcements will be made Feb. 1.

Oppidan Investments

The council approved a development agreement with Oppidan Investment Company for a 94,000 square foot industrial building in Whitetail Ridge Corporate Park on a 7.5-acre lot. Oppidan is a national property development company headquartered in Excelsior, Minn. It focuses on senior housing, mixed-use and industrial development.

The company has developed more than 566 projects valued at more than $4.3 billion in 40 states and Canada. This building is valued at $7.5 million and will include leasable industrial/manufacturing space to tenants.

Other business

The council approved the following: Repealing and recreating two ordinances regarding utility and street excavations and right-of-ways.

A general development plan for a 106-unit multi-family development on Radio Road.

The city administrator annual review performance process, adding a third council representative to the committee.

A lease between the city and Dan and Annette Johnson, who farm approximately 31 acres atop the ridge in Whitetail Corporate Park.

A lease between the city and Peterson Family Dairy Inc., who crop farm a cityowned property off County Road FF.

A resolution formally recognizing the city’s park inventory.