Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Sept. 27, 1999

Winsted to keep its police department

By Luis Puga

The first motion made at Tuesday's Winsted City Council was to keep the city's police department.

The motion by Mayor Floyd Sneer was made before any discussion on the idea of contracting police services with McLeod County had begun, and was unanimously passed. Sneer then opened the meeting to concerned citizens who had filled the seats at the city hall.

The council was handed a petition by Tom Ollig with 90 signatures in support of keeping the police department. Ollig noted that 100 percent of the people who were approached to sign the petition did so.

He added while he was not a spokesman for those gathered at the meeting, the council had touched a nerve with the proposal to discuss eliminating the police department to save the city money.

Ollig also said there was an impression that the council was "not up front" about the proposal, which Sneer objected to and said that the proposal was made at a public budget meeting.

The council also received a petition from Fire Chief Jerry Koch signed by area businesses in support of the police department.

Sneer then declared the matter finished, and a majority of the people left the meeting.

Waste water plant

Cynthia Moeller-Krass, a project manager from the engineering firm SEH-RCM, reported the city's waste water treatment plant would experience a $198,000 shortfall due to Dairy Farmers of America's (DFA) change in production.

DFA changed its production from cheese to a cheese powder product in early summer. The shortfall, while expected, was double the actual amount.

The plant is currently only running one dryer for its production. Another dryer is expected to be added within three years, but not in the near future. Running another dryer would increase the plant's waste water output.

Estimations of how much the shortfall would be due to the production change was based on a plant with two dryers.

Moeller-Krass presented three options to the board. The first was that DFA picks up the entire cost of the shortfall.

Currently, the plant pays about $9,000 for its quarterly bill. About $6,000 is a capital improvement cost for building the plant to accommodate DFA.

The cost to DFA to pay the shortfall would be about $23,500.

The second option would be to spread the cost to all commercial and domestic users by increasing their rates 10 percent.

The last option would be to charge all users equally based on the amount of waste they produce. This would mean a 216 percent increase to domestic users.

Moeller-Krass noted that the decision needed to be made that evening as the October billing period was approaching.

City Administrator Aaron Reeves said that the city could not afford to lose $20,000 a month.

Council Member Gary Lenz observed that there were citizens who could not afford a 216 percent increase. The average bill is approximately $40 which would translate to $86 under the third option.

The council inquired whether shutting down parts of the plant could cut back costs. Moeller-Krass said that much of what could be shut down was for a period for maintenance, and had little impact. This is because the plant is a mechanical plant requiring the same amount of staff no matter how much it is used.

Reeves was the first to note that the plant would not be as large as it was if not for DFA. However, Sneer felt that turning the entire shortfall over to DFA would cause it to consider moving.

In previous meetings with Reeves, DFA had indicated that it was worried the council would choose to pass the shortfall onto them.

Council Member Jeff Albers added that the industry in general is experiencing turmoil, and the city is lucky to have the building filled at all.

One audience member joked that everyone should start eating more Cheetos.

In the end, the council opted to approve passing the shortfall onto DFA with Albers abstaining.

Council members said they would revisit the issue soon if the city or plant grows significantly.

It was also recommend to find possible tax credits to make up for the shortfall.

Employee pay

In an issue discussed over three previous meetings, the council made a decision as to how to compensate the city's employees and issue raises.

Reeves, who designed the pay scale and raise system, said it is aimed to help the city retain employees and formalize the manner by which it assigns raises.

However, Albers stated previous concerns that allotting up to a 5 percent raise based on supervisor's evaluation would become automatic.

Reeves noted that an employee would have to receive an "exceeds expectations" in his/her evaluation in a number of areas for them to receive a raise. Each "exceeds expectation" would result in a one percent increase and he was confident that would translate into at most, a 2 percent raise.

Concern was also expressed over the raises that would go to two long-term employees: Police Chief Mike Henrich and Maintenance Supervisor Pat Radtke. Their salaries would have to be raised to meet the pay scale due to their tenure with the city.

The pay scale is based on the number of years an employee has worked, and split into steps. Both men's years with the city would put them above step five, where an employee's raises are based only on performance, not on longevity.

Reeves noted that raising the two salaries would be a couple of hundred dollars short of what the council budgeted for the coming year.

Council Member Tom Wiemiller said that he would like to see something done for the long-term employees of the city and motioned to approve the system as is. His motion did not receive a second from the council.

After considering an option to table the matter, it was decided to set the Henrich and Radtke one step above their current position in the pay scale after a cost of living increase.

In a related issue, Henrich approached the council to increase his comparable worth points over the maintenance supervisor. He said he had discussed the matter with Radtke and felt that his additional duties merited the increase. The council tabled the matter for further consideration.

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