Thief River Falls

by April Scheinoha

    More increases are on the way for Thief River Falls municipal customers. The Thief River Falls City Council approved a 5.5 percent rate increase for water and a 10 percent rate increase for wastewater at its meeting Tuesday, Dec. 6. The increases will take effect with the January billing.
    The increases are expected to generate about $190,000 for water operations and $113,000 for wastewater operations.
    Water Systems Superintendent Wayne Johnson noted the increased revenue will help fund:
    • The city’s lime sludge management project
    • Sewer project upgrades mandated by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
    • Pump replacement
    • A phosphorous management plan
    • The relining of sewer mains
    • Bond payments
    The average homeowner will pay an additional $1 per month in service charges and an additional 25 cents per 1,000 gallons per month in usage fees for water.
    The average homeowner will pay an additional 70 cents per month in service charges for wastewater and an additional 12 cents per 1,000 gallons per month in usage fees for wastewater.
    The water rate increase is in line with a 2008 study by consulting firm Springsted Incorporated. At that time, the firm recommended a 5.5 percent rate increase each year for 10 years for both water and wastewater. Johnson noted that the Utilities Committee recommended a 10 percent increase for wastewater rates since 5.5 percent doesn’t generate enough additional revenue since wastewater rates were initially low.
    As part of its consent agenda, the council approved paying off the remainder of a special assessment related to city-owned property near the intersection of Highway 59 and Eastwood Drive. The council approved paying $38,330.99, which is the remainder of the special assessment for city-owned property located near Thief River Care Center. The special assessment was initially about $46,000, according to Finance Director Angie Philipp. By paying in advance, the city will save 5 percent interest on the remaining years of the assessment that was part of the 2014 Streets and Utilities Improvement Project.
    The city purchased the property years ago as a possible future site of Falls Liquor since it was one of the last tracts of land available in the city limits, Liquor Store Manager Steve Olson said in an interview Thursday. The special assessment is coming out of the liquor store’s reserves.
    Olson said the liquor store is running out of storage and parking space at it current downtown site. He added that the current location is great, and he is unsure whether the council would want to construct an addition at that site or build a new store at the other location.
    In three separate motions, the council approved hiring a full-time off-sale clerk and two part-time off-sale clerks at Falls Liquor. Hired for the respective positions were Casey Engelstad, Kathy Dalquist and Karan Lincoln.
    Engelstad will be employed in the full-time position formerly held by Lenny Johnson, who was earlier hired as the off-sale supervisor/clerk.
    Engelstad formerly worked in the part-time position that Dalquist will now fill. Dalquist and Lincoln both formerly worked at the liquor store as temporary employees.
    Engelstad will be paid $23.05 per hour. She has worked at the liquor store since July 2010. Dalquist will be paid $16.07 per hour, and Lincoln will be paid $14.92 per hour. Dalquist has been there for the past year, and Lincoln has been there for the past two months.
    The council approved updating the position of forester/park maintenance employee and filling the position. The position will be opened to Teamsters 320 employees. If the position isn’t filled by an employee in that union, it will then be opened to the public.
    The position has been vacant for several years since the retirement of Myles Olson. Forestry duties have since been handled by the Streets/Sanitation Department.
    The position will work in the Parks and Recreation Department. The employee will work in parks/arenas maintenance when not handling forestry responsibilities. There is currently a vacant parks arenas/maintenance position in the department.
    The council approved the six-month performance appraisal of City Administrator Rod Otterness. As a result of the positive performance review, Otterness’ salary will increase to $105,987 per his employment contract. The increase is retroactive to Nov. 1. Otterness was hired with a starting salary of $100,687.
    The council met in closed session Nov. 15 to conduct the performance review. A summary of the results was provided at the Dec. 6 council meeting. At that time, it was noted that Otterness has performed exceptionally “in the areas of Council/Staff Liaison Communication, Administrative Duties, Development/Implementation of Policies, Leadership, Community Relations, Intergovernmental Relations, City Council Relations and Overall Performance.”
    The council accepted the low bid for an electronic sign outside of the Huck Olson Memorial Civic Center and Ralph Engelstad Arena. Indigo Signworks of Grand Forks, N.D., provided the only bid of $65,932. The city will deduct $2,590 if it installs the contractor-designed footing for the sign, which will be located along Third Street. The sign will promote the activities of any civic or charitable cause associated with HOMCC and REA.
    Otterness said the city has about $20,000 in its 2016 budget for the sign. The city is also seeking pledges and donations for the sign. Otterness said the city has already received a positive response from nonprofit organizations interested in utilizing the sign when they hold events at the facilities.
    In separate motions, City Council approved tax abatements for five properties. The following city taxes were abated:
    • Alexander Schmidt, property in Pine Wood Estates, – $368.74
    • Marvin Smoot, property in Southtown Addition – $576.14
    • Sharon Piche, property in Southtown Addition – $774.32
    • Steven and Beth Wilson, property in South Eastwood Addition – $798
    • Amanda Sjaaheim, property in Porter’s Addition – $604.20
    As part of the program, the city and Pennington County abate taxes for three years for new single-family homes in the city. The home construction cost, excluding the value of the lot, can’t exceed $160,000 for homes built before June 2015 and $200,000 for homes built after that time. The tax abatement only applies to the first owner occupying the home.
    The next council meeting will be held Tuesday, Dec. 20 at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.