Council reviews proposal for sewage rate increase

By: 
David Phillips

Sewer rates in Spring Valley may be in line for a small increase as the Spring Valley City Council reviewed proposals brought forth by city administrator Deb Zimmer during its Oct. 28 meeting.

The proposal included two potential rate increases. One would raise the base rate 20 cents per month, increasing it from $18.03 to $18.23, and raising the cost based on 1,000 gallons of water used by 20 cents, going from $4.34 to $4.54 per 1,000 gallons. An average residential unit uses 5,000 gallons of water per month so that would increase the average residential bill $1.20 per month, going from $39.73 to $40.93.

This proposal would bring in an additional $12,593 of annual revenue to the city, which has 971 residential hook-ups and 120 commercial hook-ups.

The second proposal would charge more for more usage, leaving the base rate at a 20-cent increase, but raising the rate per 1,000 gallons of water used 30 cents to $4.64. The total average monthly increase would be $1.70 for residents of the city. This proposal would bring in $17,606 additional revenue per year.

“The base rate hits some of those on fixed income a little harder...as most use less water,” Zimmer said.

The last increase the city had was Feb. 1, 2017, when the average increase was around $2.

Zimmer recommended an increase beginning Jan. 1 so the sewer fund can be built up to prepare for needed maintenance on the infrastructure and wastewater treatment plant, which is operated by Aaron Hamersma.

“The sewer fund is not having really big issues, but you can see we’ve been doing some repairs, putting in replacements,” Zimmer said. “Aaron has done a really good job working with what we have to get things in order. We do have some other things coming forward that need to be done.”

The issue was only a discussion item at this meeting, but Zimmer was looking for direction to bring a specific proposal back to the council for action.

Councilor Mike Hadland suggested an option with an increase between the two proposals so the council could see how the numbers look on that.

In other action related to wastewater treatment, the council approved a bid from Hydro Klean of $54,036 for repairing several sewer pipes throughout the city. The city has worked with this company in the past, noted Zimmer, and the firm, which has an office in Mankato among other locations, had the lower bid of two received.

Hamersma said the recent high water has allowed the city to identify the pipes in which the lining is poor, allowing infiltration of water through cracks. The worst one is behind the former BP service station, he added.

Zimmer said the repairs to the lining will help keep costs down since the more extra water that comes in with the flow into the plant means the city is spending more on chemicals and equipment is running more. She also noted that it is something the city has considered for quite a while.

“It does look like a lot cost-wise, but it is much cheaper than digging up and replacing pipe and in the long run it will help save money on equipment and chemicals,” Zimmer told the council.

The council also approved a quote from EP Electric Pump of New Prague, Minnesota, for $7,047 to repair the mixer at the wastewater treatment plant. This is another vendor the city has worked with and since it has done a good job in the past, only one quote was received.

The city put a new mixer in during the summer and this one was taken out of service. However, the city wants to keep it operational in case one of the other mixers goes down, noted Hamersma.

“In the past we’ve always had a spare,” Zimmer said.

Junk ordinance violation

The council held a public hearing on a potential violation of city code 90.55, more commonly called the junk ordinance. However, no people showed up to testify at the hearing, so it ended just after it began.

Zimmer informed the council that she was told substantial progress had been made since the council decided at its last meeting to set a hearing. Prior to the last meeting, the council had given an extension to the owner of the property on South Section Avenue, but there was no progress between those two meetings, so the council proceeded with enforcement, which first requires a hearing.

Zimmer told the council now that it looks like there are just a couple appliances left to clean up and the city can work with the owner to have someone pick those up. Although the council considered another extension to allow that to work out, a motion was approved to proceed with enforcement even if it isn’t needed.

The next step would be for the city to go in and clean up the junk. However, likely that won’t be needed if the progress continues.

“If he takes care of it, there is nothing to clean up when we get there,” Zimmer said.

Other business

• Carter Czapiewski was hired as an emergency medical technician for the ambulance service. He has passed certification to join the local service. He will be on probation/orientation for three months.

• A five-year advanced life support intercept agreement with Mayo Clinic Ambulance Service was approved. When Spring Valley Area Ambulance Service needs assistance from the Mayo Clinic Ambulance Service, the agreement sets conditions and fees. The agreement has a base fee of $300 and loaded mileage rate of $8 in 2020, increasing to a base fee of $340 with a mileage rate of $9 in 2024. The agreement hadn’t changed in structure or fees for more than 20 years, according to the regulatory officer with Mayo Clinic Ambulance.

• Approval was given to raise the deductible for family insurance in the city employees’ health reimbursement account (HRA) by $400 from $2,600 to $3,000 in 2020. This was also done several years ago in order to “get our overall costs in health insurance down,” said Zimmer. “We found that increasing the deductible helped with that.”

• Approval was given to putting a lien on two properties for non-payment of public utilities.

• The council gave the OK to a quote from JJBK Construction, LLC, of Spring Valley to do trim and miscellaneous repair work on the walls at City Hall. The quote was for $12,452. Payment for the work will come out of the general fund instead of the capital maintenance fund.

• South Broadway Avenue will once again become a sledding hill during Christmas on Historic Broadway Saturday, Dec. 7, if there is snow on the ground.  The council approved the request from the Chamber of Commerce, which also got approval for blocking off parking on the west side of Broadway downtown for fire pits in which Boy Scouts will make s’mores.

• In department head reports, library director Jenny Simon said the library has become busier as the temperature drops. A recent ancestry program funded by the legacy amendment drew a “nice number” of about 20 people, she said. She also noted that the green donation bins once located in front of the library are gone as the business operating them shut down. It was a benefit to the library, but even more so to the community so residents didn’t have to travel outside Spring Valley to donate their clothing, she said. “Please do not bring items to the library to donate unless they are books and DVDs,” she said. She also warned the council that the library may have a crack in the foundation. It will be inspected in January.

• Parks and Rec director John Fenske gave a written report given by Councilor John Dols, who noted that youth basketball begins Nov. 27, the pool and south park bathrooms have been winterized and a special thanks was given to streets superintendent Chad Hindt and crew for helping with the winterizing.

• Ambulance co-director Sue Puffer said it has been a busy month with about 55 calls in October as of the meeting date. A couple people recently passed their emergency medical responder (EMR) classes and a couple more expressed interest in joining, said Puffer. She added that a couple people will be out on medical leave at the beginning of December, so the service will “be stretched very thin at times.” She had assurance from Fire Chief Brian Danielson that the department will help as much as it can.

• Danielson reported that Fire Prevention Week went well with school classes learning about fire safety and many people attending the pancake breakfast that raised funds for the department. He also reported that three members just finished EMR class.

• Sgt. Derek Fuglestad reported that the department would be checking on parking violations now that the winter rules are going into effect as snow is not far off.

• In commissioner reports, Councilor Luan Ruesink noted that the annual fire inspection and flushing by Public Utilities found two hydrants that need attention. Utilities is also doing annual tree trimming on the south side of town and when weather and time permit, it will get back to the demolition of old electrical overhead items now that lines have been buried.

• In the mayor’s report, Mayor Tony Archer reported that the VFW and Legion have donated 50 American flags to the city and he congratulated Joanie Betsinger on being named Kiwanis Citizen of the Year. He also noted that loose dogs are still a problem as the city has a leash law. He noted that Nov. 1 is the start of winter parking rules, which prohibits parking from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. without a special permit that costs $30 until Nov. 15 and $40 after that date.

• The next council meeting will be Wednesday, Nov. 13, due to Veterans Day falling on the regularly scheduled meeting date.