By Ivan Raconteur
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN Lester Prairie City Council tabled discussion of wage increases for city employees until March, but left the door open, saying that any increases approved will be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2010.
Mayor Andy Heimerl began the discussion about wages by saying that Lester Prairie city employees do not receive other benefits that employees in some other towns have, such as health, life, and disability insurance.
Instead, the city gives employees an allowance, and they need to find their own insurance.
Full-time city employees receive a $500 per month allowance toward purchasing their own insurance coverage. This amount is included in their wages and is subject to income tax and other deductions.
Council Member Ron Foust said in his industry, construction, employees have made a lot of concessions recently, have had no wage increases, and have been subjected to many cuts.
“Maybe our city employees should share in the same economic conditions,” Foust said.
Heimerl said City Clerk Marilyn Pawelk has been employed by the city “forever,” and yet, in a neighboring city, there is an employee who has been in a similar position for eight years who receives “practically the same hourly wage plus benefits.”
“We do more with less,” Heimerl said.
Council Member Art Mallak suggested that the council table the discussion until February, when the city will have a better idea what will happen with potential cuts to local government aid and the city’s financial situation.
Mallak explained that he was not saying employees don’t deserve a raise, but he does not want to have to explain to residents later that the council gave employees a raise, and then the city found itself in budget difficulties.
“Your employees’ workload does not change due to the economy,” Pawelk commented. “Our jobs are not like private industry.”
Public works employee Adam Birkholz agreed. He said when times are better, private sector employees get better bonuses and other compensation, while public employees do not.
Police Chief Bob Carlson agreed with Pawelk that city employees’ workload does not decrease during an economic downturn.
“We have had a lot of serious calls lately,” Carlson said, and added that he is proud of the way his department has handled these calls.
The council agreed to wait until March to review staff wages, with the stipulation that any increase that is approved will be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2010.
PeopleService contract discussed
The council discussed possible changes to the city’s contract with PeopleService, which operates the city’s water and sewer systems.
One item that will be reviewed is the cost of electricity and other items that are currently paid based on an estimate, and adjusted at the end of the contract.
Dan Wroge of PeopleService explained that the contract was set up this way when the city’s treatment plant was new, because the actual cost of these items was not known at the time.
However, this has resulted in the city having to write a large check at the end of the contract period.
Pawelk said the city needs to make the contract more realistic, because it has budgeted $2,500 for an expense that averages $10,000.
The council will review the contract and give any requested changes to Wroge so a new contract can be drafted prior to March.
Holiday decorations discussed
Council Member Bob Messer reviewed the condition and a brief history of holiday decorations in the city.
Of 18 fixtures purchased in 2004, 17 are still in use, Messer said.
He added that the city has not budgeted any money for purchase or repair of holiday decorations for the past five years.
Messer said he contacted a company that supplies lights to cities, and has overstock merchandise available at a discount of 56 percent off of retail prices.
Messer gave an example of 36-inch snowflakes that have a retail price of $325, which are currently available for a cost of $140 each.
“Most cities try to present a continuous effect,” Messer said, giving as examples the cities of Winsted and Dassel.
It would cost $2,080 to purchase 14 snowflakes for downtown, Messer said.
He added that the wreaths that are currently downtown could be moved to other areas.
The council requested that Messer invite a representative from the company to visit the city with samples so other council members could see the products.
Park lighting discussed
The council discussed lighting in the downtown park.
Messer explained that the gazebo and the light posts along the walkway in the new park include both 250-watt light bulbs and 30-watt security light bulbs.
The council expressed concern about the cost of electricity to light the park.
Messer explained that there are a variety of options regarding when the lights are on.
There was discussion about limiting the time the lights are on, especially the main lights.
Council Member Larry Hoof said the security lights in the gazebo and along the walkway look nice, and he does not want to see that part changed.
The council directed the park board and the downtown park committee to discuss the schedule for park lighting and present a proposal to the council in January.
Odds and ends
In other business, the council:
• received a report showing that only one building permit was issued in 2009 for a new single-family home.
• approved a contract renewal with Bolton & Menk for engineering services which reflects no increase in the hourly rates.
• approved liquor license renewals for the Dodge House and One Eyed Willy’s. The city has not received an application for liquor license renewal from Scooters Bar and Restaurant.
• heard from Pawelk that the city received a $600 donation from the Lester Prairie Lions for replacement of bases in the city parks.
• heard from Pawelk that the Central Park Committee turned in $145 that was collected in the donation box at First Community Bank for improvements to the downtown park.
• heard from Foust that he recently attended an open house at a new senior living facility in Silver Lake, and discussed with the management the possibility of opening a similar facility in Lester Prairie in the future.
• heard that the McLeod For Tomorrow group will be meeting in Lester Prairie Thursday, Dec. 17. Council Member Bob Messer will attend the meeting, as will Heimerl if he is available.
• tabled a discussion of repairs related to hail damage to city buildings during a 2007 storm. Foust said the city has received four proposals, which he will review and present a recommendation to the council in January.
• adopted an ordinance amendment limiting vision obstructions of 32 inches in height or greater on corner lots.
• approved waiving utility service charges for the property at 107 Hickory Street North, which was recently damaged by fire. The city has received a request to discontinue sewer, water, and sanitation services, and was informed that the structure will be demolished and not replaced.
• tabled discussion about contract renewal for building inspection services until January to allow Heimerl and Hoof time to interview two companies.
• approved replacement of a fire hydrant at a cost of $4,150.
• denied a proposal to adopt an ordinance regulating portable toilets on a vote of 3-2, with Hoof and Foust in favor and Heimerl, Mallak, and Messer opposed.