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MPCA throws Winsted’s wastewater project for a loop
July 21, 2014

By Starrla Cray
Staff Writer

WINSTED, MN – Just over a month ago, the City of Winsted was well into the planning phase of wastewater treatment facility improvements. The project had been designed, and seven construction bids had been received.

However, a few days after bids came in, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) informed the city that phosphorus limits would be changing this fall, and the project would not meet the new requirements.

“It caught everyone by surprise; no one likes surprises like this,” Bolton & Menk engineer Seth Peterson said at Tuesday’s city council work session, adding that he is disappointed in the MPCA’s lack of communication.

Improvements had been designed to meet phosphorus limits of 1 milligram per liter; the new limit (which will likely be .3 milligrams per liter) will require additional treatment processes and improvements.

These additional processes are expected to raise the cost of the project by about $2.5 million to $2.87 million. Half of this will likely be paid through a grant, so the city’s extra cost would be about $1.2 million to $1.4 million.

“What does that do to the average family?” Council Member Max Fasching asked, referring to the amount that utility bills would need to increase to pay for this.

City Administrator Clay Wilfahrt said he plans to calculate the annual rate increase the city would need to service the debt, and show the amount the average Winsted resident and business owner would need to pay.

The second option the city discussed was to accept the low bid and proceed with a smaller-scale improvement project. This would be less expensive short term, but the city would still need to address phosphorus limits in a future project.

By that time, it’s possible that Winsted wouldn’t have a grant to cover half of the cost, according to Peterson.

At Tuesday’s regular meeting, the council decided to reject all bids that were received in June. The next step will be to decide how to proceed with the project.

“It’s going to be an expensive project, and everyone’s going to be hearing a lot about it in the near future,” Fasching said.

Sick pay and holidays
Also at Tuesday’s work session, the council discussed revisions to the city’s personnel policy, which had not been formally revised since 2007.

City staff worked with the city attorney to update the policy to make it consistent with new federal and state laws, and also added a few other changes.

Currently, no notice is required for employees who wish to quit their job. The revision states that employees will need to give either a two- or four-week notice, depending on their position. They also need to be employed with the city for more than two years to receive vacation and sick leave payouts.

For sick leave accrual, Winsted currently allows 30 days to be paid out upon termination of employment. Since the average Minnesota community with similar population size pays out up to 44 days, staff recommended that Winsted increase its payout maximum to 37.5 days.

Staff also recommended paying sick leave in cash, rather than to COBRA (a continued health care coverage option through the federal government).

If an employee is required to work on a holiday (such as police protection or snow removal), the city currently pays 2.5 times normal pay on Christmas and Thanksgiving; and 1.5 times normal pay on nine other holidays throughout the year. For consistency, the city attorney recommended changing this to two times the normal rate for all holidays.

Meal reimbursements for staff who attend conferences and trainings was also revised to reflect the federal government’s rate. For the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, this amount is $12 for breakfast, $18 for lunch, and $36 for dinner.

Building update
“The last few times I’ve reported, building permits were down, but we’re starting to see a little up-tick now,” Metro West building inspector Rob Beckfeld told council members at Tuesday’s regular meeting.

While some of the increase has been residential, most has been commercial.

• Dollar General will be wrapping up construction in the next few weeks, and the projected opening date is Monday, Aug. 18.

• Drill Pipe Construction added 10,000 square feet to its facility and a cold storage shed.

• RAM Buildings recently completed a large alteration that changed warehouse space into office space.

• The former NAPA building is being renovated by Millerbernd Manufacturing in order to make space for Dunwoody welding classes.

• Holy Trinity Church recently began excavation for a new addition that will include an elevator, restrooms, and a meeting area.

• Residential activity has included projects such as decks, basements, sheds, re-roofs, and re-siding.

Odds and ends
In other business, the council:

• heard that 46 people applied for the police officer position in Winsted. Interviews will take place soon.

• heard that the city is not expected to face added liability if it decides to allow rental license transfers. A public hearing notice has been sent out for Tuesday, Aug. 19, and the city attorney is working on drafting language to allow for the transfer process.

• heard a recap of activities from Winsted Ambassador Felicia Votava. Each year, ambassadors attend as many as 75 events, some in Winsted and some throughout the state.

• authorized Clerk/Treasurer Deb Boelter to bank 40 hours of vacation time.

• approved a one-year license for Dollar General (200 6th St. S.) to sell tobacco products.

• accepted the resignation of Michael Thonvold and Tim Kosek from the Winsted Volunteer Fire Department.

• approved several events for the Winsted Summer Festival as follows:

- children’s parade Saturday, Aug. 9;

- regular parade Sunday, Aug. 10;

- a temporary on-sale liquor license for the Winsted Area Chamber of Commerce for Bratbusters;

- a permit to operate ATVs on city streets;

- outdoor music on city streets and property;

- outdoor food stands;

- Billy Goat Bingo with animals;

- a fireworks application from RES Specialty Pyrotechnics Inc. to provide the fireworks display;

- a 3.2 liquor licence for the Winsted American Legion; and

- a fun run, with a route approved by the Winsted Police Department.

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