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How much to turn on that faucet? (10/24/2010)
By John Edstrom

The juggernaut of Winona city expansion rolls along, with City Manager Eric Sorensen recommending that the City Council authorize a $13,000 study of how Winona bills for water services. This would be a reasonable figure to pay for such esoteric information. Recently, the city has expanded sewer and water service to the Phillips and Sweetwater developments in Wilson Township at a cost acknowledged by City Hall to be $2.1 million, not including legal wrangles, environmental studies, or possible road upgrades. Presently the city’s return on that investment is just slightly north of zilch, with negligible building activity taking place at either site.

As things stand, the city will not recover anywhere near the expense in extending services far out into rural Winona county even when it collects the $17,000 per developable acre it is owed. Yet Sorensen states that the recommended study will not address how those bills will be paid, but more a look at what it should cost the taxpayer “for the right to turn on the faucet.”

This is glib, even for Sorensen. Alas, it begs the question of how much the cost for the right to turn on the faucet must increase to pay for the long march of Winona sewer and water out into the countryside, which he has championed, and which has brought no return on investment. So far the primary cost is $2.1 million and he advocates another $10.8 million to extend services to I-90 to annex Winona Area Industrial Development Association property, among others.

Despite the reference to “industry,” this property would be zoned to accommodate retail, hotel and restaurant development, and never mind the 2005 agreement with Wilson Township to refrain from annexing any more land there for anything but industrial purposes. In the recent past, when the industrial park we paid for in the East End of town turned into a retail complex, City Hall explained to us that retail and industry are actually the same. Apparently they still stand by that definition, so it is unlikely that whatever the expense, there is any guarantee or even likelihood of well-paying manufacturing jobs to offset it.

And, apparently, the cost of the “right to turn on the faucet” will include paying for the extension of sewer and water services all over the county. By the logic of City Hall, this is owed by the present users of water and sewer in Winona proper, who should expect to subsidize the developers of rural land and their customers.




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