By Kristen Miller
DASSEL, MN In a 3-2 split vote, the Dassel City Council passed a resolution last Monday that would move up the scheduled water and sewer rate increases from January 2012 to July of this year, saving the city about $26,000.
The way the schedule was set up three years ago, the next sewer and water rate increase would go into effect in January 2012. The goal is to eventually make the sewer and water funds self-sufficient.
To alleviate the impact of the higher rates to its residents, the city has been compensating for the gradual rate increases up to this point by using funds from its cash reserves.
Council Member Jason Benzing asked where the city would get the $26,000 needed to meet the increased costs until January, since the city doesn’t have an excess.
Mayor Mike Scanlon explained that the city would have to go into its debt reserves or cut from another department. He also noted that his reluctance to moving the increases up six months is because it goes against the original schedule.
Benzing said that when the council made the schedule, it didn’t anticipate not having the money to do so.
“I think it’s time to pay the piper,” he said.
Council Member Wayne Medcraft agreed, explaining that the city hadn’t anticipated the increase in fuel costs and the amount of fuel used this past winter for snow removal.
With a split vote, the motion was passed to move the scheduled rate increases up from January 1, 2012, to July 1, 2011. Voting for the motion were council members Alesia Warner, Benzing, and Medcraft. Council Member Bob Lalone and Mayor Scanlon voted against the motion.
Water rate increases will add an additional $2.55 to the base rate, and .60 cents per 1,000 gallons. The sewer rates will add $1 to the base rate, and .45 cents to the rate per 1,000 gallons.
Meeker Public Transit ridership update
The city council was given a report on resident ridership by Donna Anderson, director of Meeker Public Transit.
Since 2006, the city has participated in the transit system with Meeker County subsidizing half the cost. Currently, the city spends $550 a month, for a total of $6,600 a year, to provide this service to the residents of Dassel. Riders also pay a fare.
Through 2009, Meeker Transit saw a consistent increase each year in ridership, from 572 riders in 2006, to 1,068 riders in 2009.
In 2010, ridership dropped by roughly 200. This was likely due to a fare increase that went into effect in 2009, after gas prices increased.
A special was offered to riders in the summer of 2010, which has remained in effect, and Anderson has been seeing an increase in ridership.
“We want to keep it affordable for people,” Anderson said, adding that she didn’t think the city would have to pay more, even with the increase in gas prices.
She also noted that Meeker Transit will go beyond the county and take Dassel residents to Cokato and Hutchinson.
Meeker Transit runs Tuesdays and Fridays from 6:45 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Council Member Benzing said that the city was subsidizing the cost of every fare, which is helping the residents who use it, but taking away from those who don’t.
The report was purely informational and the council took no action.
Dassel History Center report
Dassel History Center Director Carolyn Holje gave a report on upcoming events and opportunities that the Dassel Area Historical Society (DAHS) is working on.
Holje reported that the DAHS submitted a grant application to 3M that would provide $4,000 toward the Smithsonian Institute’s traveling exhibit that will be coming to the center in September.
The DAHS is also applying for a grant through the Southwest Minnesota Arts and Humanities Council that would provide funds to complete 10 more 8-foot-by-8-foot murals along the fence.
The center is also looking for students of the late Louise Guhl, a renowned piano teacher in Dassel, to provide memorabilia and photos for a Red Rooster Days exhibit.
Holje also informed the council that the society has been working with the Minnesota Department of Transportation to install a sign along Highway 12 near the Mushroom Building, directing people to the history center.
The society is also looking at a new sign for in front of the center. She noted the current sign is parallel to the road, making it hard to see in advance. This sign would be perpendicular to the road.
Holje invited the community and the council to the Memorial Day social following a ceremony in the park Monday, May 30.
Odds and ends
In other business, the council:
• approved the claims minus the $1,475 manhole cover lift that was purchased without council approval. It was noted that anything more than $500 needs to be presented and approved by the council prior to purchase.
There was discussion about eliminating postage for utility bills when it was noted that it costs the city $167 a month to mail utility bills.
Medcraft suggested statements be sent via e-mail to save on postage.
City Administrator Myles McGrath noted that not everyone uses e-mail, but that it was something the city could look into offering to reduce the cost of postage.
• approved a temporary 3.2 malt liquor license to the Cokato Lions for DC Saints home games.
• was informed that all council members need to take the online National Incident Management training, a standardized emergency management process which lays out chains of command and processes for any emergency situation.
This training is required for all city elected officials, public works, law enforcement, and firefighters, and not following through on training could jeopardize any federal funding the city could get if there was an emergency or catastrophe.
• suggested staff determine how many hours are put into mowing city property each season and adjust for fuel costs to determine if the city could save money by contracting for turf maintenance.
• was informed that the Dassel Area Food Shelf is still looking for donations and that it had not received money from FEMA yet this year to help with the cost.
• approved the branding policy for the new red rooster logo, with the city council to acting as the committee to approve usage of it.
• was informed that the sidewalks that have been deemed essential will be surveyed for any trip hazards and marked with paint. Property owners will be informed if any corrective action is needed.