Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Oct. 11, 1999

Winsted council backing off on DFA sewer charges

By Luis Puga

Winsted City Council decided not to impose the cost of the wastewater plant's shortfall on Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) at Tuesday's meeting.

In a previous meeting, the council had wanted DFA to pay the full shortfall that was costing the city $20,000 a month. It was argued that the plant was built as large as it was for DFA, and that the excess operating costs should be passed on to the company.

However, criticism about this decision came from all sides. Reeves said he had received some citizen complaints for the decision.

DFA had also disputed the decision, as to whether it was legal, and questioned why the decision was made without its input.

In a letter to the city, DFA explained that it was told in a previous meeting with the engineer, administrator, and clerk that no decision would be made at the Sept. 21 meeting, and that's why DFA did not attend the meeting.

Reeves began by defending the legality of the decision, saying it was not an adjustment in rates, but an additional fee, a right the city has to make.

He also said that no promises were made to DFA regarding the Sept. 21 meeting and that the item got on the agenda quickly because of the amount of money being lost by the city. The meeting was also the last meeting before the October billing period began.

Steve Otto, who is on the board of directors for DFA, reminded the city that the plant is part of a farmer owned co-op, and the fee would affect its income significantly.

"If we are not using it, we shouldn't have to pay for it," he said. He added that DFA did pay for the plant to be built.

Reeves said those were up front capital costs, and did not help with the operation of the plant.

Council Member Bob Kegler argued the plant should have an obligation to pay for a plant that DFA convinced the city to build.

He noted that the city had a pond system for 5,000 people before it built up to a mechanical plant.

"We're sitting with an ugly duckling. There's got to be responsibility from all people here."

Reeves said that while the city raised the fee, it would also be exploring every option to decrease it, including changing the plant back to a pond plant from a mechanical plant.

He said the council would also look into negotiating costs with PeopleService, which manages the plant, since utility rates have decreased.

However, Council Member Jeff Albers questioned the decision as well.

"I wonder if we handled this properly," he said, referring to DFA's lack of input and thought the council might want to rescind the fee to show DFA that it was willing to admit it had made a mistake.

But he wondered where the additional monies, $40,000 total for the next two months, would come from.

Reeves said the city might have to borrow from its sewer fund. Meanwhile, it could search through options to decreasing DFA's fee over that time period.

He added that another option would be to leave planned cuts in the budget to cover the costs.

Reeves said, "Hopefully, it will help to show that we do care about DFA. We are not trying to run them out of town and we're definitely not trying to hurt area farmers. The council's intent was ­ we're not a big city and we can't afford to lose that money."

Reeves also said the initial discussions of the shortfall were based on numbers, both from DFA and PeopleService, that led the council to believe that the shortfall was going to even itself out.

The council opted to suspend the DFA payment, due Nov. 10, while it decides what could be done to make up the shortfall.

Salary scale

The council rescinded its previous salary scale.

The decision was based on complaints from employees about the fact that long term employees, such as the police chief, were getting adjusted to match the experience of a employee who had only been with the city two or three years.

Albers suggested that the whole scale be redone with all the numbers lowered and a maximum amount of raises set.

He added that for this year, the council should just give a four percent raise to all employees.

Kegler suggested returning to the old system of evaluation where employee raises are decided by two council members.

Comp worth points

The council discussed the proposal to raise Police Chief Mike Henrich's comp worth points.

Henrich argued that his role as the civil defense coordinator in times of disaster merited additional points.

He said that he was not looking to get additional money, but merely wanted to safeguard against his salary being lowered if that position were to be taken from him.

Reeves said he would prefer that points be added than have to re-evaluate all of Henrich's duties as it would be an administrative hassle.

He noted that role was set in Henrich's job description, but never had any points assigned to it.

The council voted to raise Henrich's total by one point. He added that the amount of work the position requires is minimal.

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