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Willmar to work toward taking over Eagle Lake Sewer System

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WILLMAR — The first step has been taken for the city of Willmar to take over full ownership of the Eagle Lake Sanitary Sewer System. The Willmar City Council on Monday approved a motion to allow city staff and the city attorney, along with Kandiyohi County and the Eagle Lake Sewer Commission, to begin negotiating an agreement under which the city will own, operate and maintain the sewer system, which is used by approximately 365 households around Eagle Lake.

"We need to give clear direction to the Eagle Lake board, so they know they are going to have services be provided," Willmar Mayor Marv Calvin said.

Willmar and Kandiyohi County for more than 40 years have worked in partnership to provide sewer services to Eagle Lake residents. In the original agreement, Kandiyohi County owned the system, while Willmar operated it. The two parties shared maintenance and repair responsibilities, with the city responsible for anything under $500. Nearly three years ago, the agreement expired and the two parties have been trying to hammer out a new agreement since then.

At meetings over the past several months, the county has let it be known it preferred that the city take over the system.

"The majority of the county commissioners were on board, making it happen," Calvin said.

The hope is to have an agreement approved by the middle of the year, with the city taking over for good in January 2019. Kandiyohi County said it will continue to collect user fees from Eagle Lake households through their property taxes and then send the money to the city. This means any rate hikes for the upcoming year will need to be decided before property tax bills are sent out.

"I feel it is quite imperative we have this done no later than the end of June," Calvin said.

The council will still need to approve the final agreement, and councilors wanted to make sure certain things were covered during the negotiations, including user fees and maintenance costs.

"You are also going to discuss dollars and cents, correct? What could be, should be and would be?" Councilor Ron Christianson asked.

City Administrator Ike Holland said city staff will keep the city in mind when negotiating the sewer agreement.

"Our first priority is to the citizens of Willmar," Holland said.

While the city will own the Eagle Lake system, it won't be part of the city's overall sewer system.

"This is an outside service we are providing," Holland said. "This is not an annexation."

This mean the city should not be liable to provide other services, such as water, to Eagle Lake residents.

"There is nothing that mandates it within city ordinances," Planning and Development Director Bruce Peterson said.

While there is still work to be done to complete the new agreement, those on Eagle Lake are grateful to the city.

"I want to thank you guys for the trouble and time you are putting in to try and get this ironed out. We have our annual meeting coming up and we will have a lot of happy people," said Chuck Haupert, president of the Eagle Lake Improvement Association.