City looks to PeopleService, Inc. for operations of treatment plant

By Charlie Warner
Argus Editor

After reviewing the various options, it appears as if the city of Caledonia will be entering into a five-year contract with PeopleService, Inc. to oversee the operations of the municipal water and wastewater treatment facilities. The council decided to have City Attorney Tim Murphy review the PeopleService contract and make a recommendation at the May 14 meeting.

At last week’s council meeting, considerable time was spent discussing which way the city should go with replacing veteran operator Tony Klug, who retired at the end of March. The city advertised for the position, received a number of applications, which they reviewed.

The major stumbling block with hiring a full time operator was the requirement that the plant’s operation be overseen by a class A operator without a lapse in supervision. None of the applications interviewed could begin duties that soon.

The city of Chatfield offered to let their operator work in Caledonia six hours a week at a cost of $500 a week, plus expenses. The state requirement included that the supervisor be at the plant at least two days a week. So the operator from Chatfield would have been required to work two three-hour days.

The city currently has a class D operator, Ryan Skillings, who is in the final stages of obtaining his class C license. It will take five more years for Skillings to earn his class A license.

Mayor Bob Burns opined that since the contract with PeopleService was for five years and that is the time frame Skillings is looking at to earn his class A license, the city should move forward with that option. He also pointed out that the city could get out of the contract after two years, if they were not satisfied with the arrangement or if some other scenario presented itself.

In other council action:

Feely’s performance review

Stating that none of the council members had any negative things to say and that her work performance has been “proficient, efficient and very professional,” Burns said he felt the council should move forward with City Clerk/Administrator Jennifer Feely’s performance review and discuss a salary increase.

The council was provided with a spreadsheet that included the populations of area cities and the salaries of their respective administrators. Those figures ranged from a low with Spring Grove- population  1,330 and salary $50,565 to a high of Chatfield- population 2,779 and salary $85,000.

Other area cities included: La Crescent- population 4,830 and salary $79,722, St. Charles- population 3,735 and salary $77,586, Rushford- population 1,731 and salary $71,182, Preston- population 1,325 and salary $74,942 and Houston- population 979 and salary $64,000.

Feely was salaried at $67,500.

Feely said that with negotiations going on with the city’s union employees, she would feel comfortable with a two percent raise.

“We’re not comparing apples with apples when we talk about Jennifer’s salary and other city employees,” Councilman Tom Murphy said. “They get paid overtime when they work more than 40 hours a week. Jennifer doesn’t. With the amount of overtime she puts in, I would be comfortable with a four percent increase.”

Councilman Paul Fisch calculated that the average salary for a city administrator in the area was about $70,000. A 3.8 percent increase would put Feely’s salary at $70,000.

“She said she was comfortable with two percent and we do have a lot going on here with negotiations,” Councilwoman Randi Vick pointed out.

Burns said he felt Feely wears a lot of extra hats and felt the $70,000 figure was workable. He then made a motion to increase Feely’s salary by 3.7 percent. That motion was seconded by Murphy. Burns, Murphy and Fisch voted in favor of the motion, while Vick and Councilman Bob Lemke voted against it. The motion passed 3-2.

Legal firm hired

Following a closed session to discuss labor negotiations and how they might handle them, the council unanimously approved a contract with the Abrams and Schmidt law firm of Arden Hills, Minn. The Twin Cities-based firm will assist with the labor negotiations process as well as any labor relations matters.

Animal ordinance changes

The council approved a number of changes in the current animal ordinance. The major change was that all leashed animals on private property shall be required to maintain a separation of five feet from any public thoroughfare or sidewalk. When pets are in public areas, they must be leashed at all times.

Insurance dividend

Feely reported that the city received a dividend check in the amount of $7,304 from the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust. Due to the fact that the city had seen a drastic decrease in workers’ compensation claims recently, the city was awarded with the dividend check.

Digger truck issues

City Electrician Matt Blocker informed the council that the electric department’s digger truck has been experiencing issues with the hydraulic system. A company from Watertown, S.D. will send a rep to Caledonia to inspect the truck.

The rep will determine if repairs can be made on site, or if the truck must be shipped to South Dakota.

No action was taken.

You can contact Charlie Warner at [email protected]