The first meeting of the year for the Fountain council was largely comprised of continued discussion on proposed increases to the sewer/water utility rates. A community meeting to discuss the matter and take public input is slated for Wednesday, January 9, at 7 p.m., at the community center.
In discussing the options, it appears there are more questions than answers for the city. Tim Hagemeier, representative MN Rural Water, presented scenarios to the council in November, but using current calculations, the council was unable to determine possible rate variations.
Currently, properties are charged a base rate of $30 per 3,000 gallons for sewer service and an additional $20 base rate for water. Total annual city expenses for 2016 were $182,384. Water usage for the year was 8,550,584 gallons, with water usage per connection of 48,308 gallons or an average of 132 gallons per day. “At a cost per thousand gallons, that’s $21.33 and you’re charging just $30 for 3,000 gallons. I think you can see where we’re headed,” said Tim Hagemeier in November. According to the analysis, the utility has a deficit of roughly $118,664, which was also noted at the last city audit.
Options originally proposed included lowering the minimum usage from 3,000 to 1,000 gallons per month. Additionally, Hagemeier indicated three possibilities for the rate: continuing the annual $30 base rate or increasing the base rate to $50 or $75, nearly or more than doubling the current rate. These still leave the city noticeably in the red and the last option was noted as the break-even point; the point at which the city isn’t losing money operating the utility. According to Hagemeier, an annual base rate of $86 per connection, while reducing the minimum gallons to 1,000, would see the see gaining just $280 per year in utility revenue.
City Clerk Rhonda Flattum was directed at the December meeting to review the engineering costs related to sewer and water, to see if the rate at which the city is in the black could be lowered due to reduced engineering costs. The costs have been unusually high as the city worked to maintain compliance at the wastewater treatment plant. While the combined sewer and water rates are being reviewed, it’s the sewer rates where the deficit is running.
Using Councilor Chad Wangen’s last bill, the council looked to see where the proposed rates might put the average user, but stopped short of finding an answer when they were unable to come up with a solid answer due to confusion with the figures. Flattum was directed to seek further clarification from Hagemeier, who will be meeting with the council prior to next Wednesday’s meeting. “We should know before. We can’t do this an hour before the meeting and be scrambling,” said Wangen. “We’ve got to do it right.”
“They are going to want to know what they whole bill is [sic] gonna be every month,” added Councilor Jim Schott. “They need to see it.” Schott suggested a worksheet specifying the proposed options for rates, alongside a chart indicating usages ranging from 1,000 to 10,000 gallons per month. “That’s what they’re going to look at and that way everybody knows.”
The council also received an update on the wastewater treatment plant from PeopleService representative Rick Whitney. While there was no written report yet, verbal lab results were back and the city was in compliance for November and December. The cold weather period has been noted as the most critical time for the plant, as freezing temperatures can cause adverse effects.
Whitney also indicated that he’d completed a trial of bio-augmentation solution from Fremont Industries. Initially, he’d suspected that using the product might call for increases from the current dosing, due to a lower concentration than that of the Hawkins, Inc. bio-augmentation product the plant had been using. Even with the lower concentration, Whitney said trials showed the product worked just as efficiently and presents a potential $6,500 in annual savings to the city.
Another option to further reduce cost would be to replace the usage of 270 gallon, 15-day supply totes containing the product with bulk delivery into a 3,000-4,500 gallon tank. Whitney will contact the company to determine bulk volume and pricing and gather cost estimates on a tank of similar volume. Should the city opt for a tank, it was also suggested a mixer be purchased and installed. “Even with the cost of the tank and mixer, it would offset the cost the first year,” said Whitney.
Whitney will also be present at the community meeting to explain how the plant works and how funds are being spent. “It’s good to give them some insight into it,” he concluded.
Being the first meeting of the year, the council also set various annual designations. Official bank (First State Bank), newspaper (Fillmore County Journal), insurance agent (Krage Insurance), engineer (WSB & Associates), and auditor (Smith Schafer & Associates) all remain the same for 2018. The only item pulled for consideration was designation of the city attorney.
Currently, the city utilizes Luhmann Law, of Preston. “I’m not very satisfied with him. Are you?” asked Councilor Schott. The city will look into options of other area attorneys and bring back recommendations at the February meeting.
The next regularly scheduled meeting is Wednesday, February 7, at 7:30 p.m., at city hall. The public is encouraged to attend.