Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Aug. 21, 2000

Former Niro-Sterner building still a hot topic

By Jane Otto

When an agenda item is tabled, it invariably means it will be discussed at a later meeting.

This, apparently, was not the case at last Monday's Winsted City Council meeting. One item ­ possible purchase cost of the former Niro-Sterner building ­ was marked "tabled." That notation on the council's agenda didn't deter residents present at the meeting from discussing the matter.

It was at the Aug. 1 meeting that the council decided to have City Attorney Fran Eggert put together a purchase agreement for the building now owned by Millerbernd Manufacturing. However, that decision was not reached until after a few residents' objections to the city hall being moved from the downtown area and to spending more money out of an already tight budget.

The building in question sits on McLeod County Road 1 directly north of the fire hall.

Resident and former mayor Don Guggemos who attended last Monday's meeting, later told the Journal that the only reason he was present was to be assured that there would be a public hearing so citizens can have the opportunity to discuss the possible purchase of the building.

"I have no objections to the building. I don't see why it needs to be done now," Guggemos said.

Bonnie Quast, resident and former council member, agreed.

"Why the rush? The building is sitting empty. There doesn't seem to be anyone vying for it," Quast later told the Journal.

Quast said that she asked Mayor Floyd Sneer several times why the council must act now when there are 18 months left on the city's lease for office space. The city presently rents space in the building on the southeast corner of Second Street and Main Avenue.

Quast said that the only reply she got to her question was, "Because it's there."

City Clerk Betty Zachmann later said that Sneer tried to explain that the building is available now and the council needs to make a decision.

At an earlier meeting, Sneer explained that Millerbernd's was giving the city an opportunity to buy the building before it is placed on the market. Sneer said the city could save 6 to 7 percent of the purchase cost if the building was bought now.

"We will have a public hearing and will act according to public opinion," Sneer later told the Journal.

Like Guggemos, Quast said that she attended the meeting to request that the council have a hearing on the purchase.

"I think people need to know what the council is doing with their money," she said.

South Lake ditch cleanup

Aside from possibly buying a building, the city will also be spending about $40,000 to clean up a private ditch along South Lake.

The city's wastewater treatment plant has emptied into South Lake since it was built in 1967. South Lake drains via a private ditch across the Chuck Gutzmann farm and into Crane Creek below the Winsted Lake dam.

Prior to the late '80s, the ditch emptied into Winsted Lake. The city built a bypass on the ditch to prevent aging nutrients, found in the wastewater runoff, from entering Winsted Lake.

The ditch has since become so clogged with cattails that water doesn't flow. This has caused the water level in South Lake to rise and Gutzmann to lose approximately 15 acres of farm land to lakeshore wetlands.

SEH engineer Cynthia Moeller-Krass said that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) would support ditch maintenance and also a control plug to lower water levels. The DNR, however, would want construction to be done in the winter so as not to damage the wetlands.

Project cost is approximately $20,000, plus about another $20,000 to haul away the muck and black dirt.

Zachmann said that it was suggested to do nothing since DairiConcepts, formerly Dairy Farmers of America, has only cold storage and doesn't impact the wastewater treatment plant as in the past. The level of the lake could go down of its own accord.

Since there is always a possibility of someone occupying the DFA building and needing city facilities, the ditch should be cleaned, said Zachmann.

Most of the water flowing into the Gutzmann ditch comes from the treatment plant, so the city will pick up the tab to clean out the ditch, Zachmann said.

The city will need to procure an easement to do the work since the ditch is on private property. Zachmann said that Gutzmann and SEH engineers will discuss easement issues.

Other business

In other business, the council:

- will have the primary and general elections in the city maintenance shop and not at the fire hall as previously hoped.

McLeod County Auditor Cindy Schultz that the city did notify the county in the proper amount of time to change its polling place.

The city has to give notice of a polling change 90 days prior to the election. Schultz said that the state does not allow primaries to be in one location and the general election to be in another. Thus the city needed to give the county notice 90 days prior to the Sept. 12 primaries and not the Nov. 7 general elections in order to change its polling place.

- will offer the city administrator position, at $40,000 a year, to a candidate who was recently chosen by an ad hoc committee of Zachmann, Jeff Albers, Tom Wiemiller, Dave Sherman, and Joe Kollasch.

The name of the candidate will be released upon acceptance of the offer.

- received a decrease in its monthly payment of $12,558 to $12,033 for PeopleService to maintaining the city's wastewater treatment plant.

The city asked PeopleService to review its contract since DFA no longer utilizes treatment as heavily as in the past, thus causing flows to drop dramatically. Zachmann said that Curt Reetz of PeopleService explained that, presently, they are alternating the clarifiers and oxidation ditches at the plant, but due to the extreme cold weather in winter will need to run both to maintain a proper performance level.

Zachmann said that Reetz was reluctant to reduce the city's bill any more than was given since the company pays the electric bill and NSP can adjust rates at any time.

- appointed Arleen Kieser, Bernadette Libor, Imelda Marshall, Margaret Quast, Karen Schoen, Rosemary Stifter, Irene Weinbeck, Delores Hirsch, Marcella Weibel, Betty Diers, and Zachmann as election judges.

- received payment from DairiConcepts, the DFA spin-off company, for May and June sewer rental. Zachmann said the company has yet to pay its March and April bills and also an adjustment of undercharges for previous months sewer use.

- will pay Lenny Juncewski $4,800 in expenses he had to incur due to a misunderstanding in elevations for the sewer pipe installed at the apartment buildings he constructed on Baker Avenue.

- awarded the treatment plant roof repair project to Muenchow Repairs.

- appointed Dr. Dennis Jacobson of the Winsted Medical Clinical as health officer.

- will next meet Tuesday, Sept. 5 at 6 p.m. to discuss the preliminary budget with the regular meeting to follow.

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