Council approves electric rate increase, effective June 1

By Charlie Warner
Argus Editor

Electric usage rates for Caledonia residents will be going up by an estimated annual increase of 4.6 percent, as of June 1. The Caledonia City Council approved a rate increase that was recommended by Tom Nigon of STAR Energy Services.

Wholesale prices for electricity were increased and the city was forced to pass those increases on to its customers.

The city council listened to Nigon’s presentation during the May 29 council meeting and then approved a motion to increase the rates.

Something new for Caledonia customers will be a “summer rate” and a “non-summer rate.”

Nigon explained because the wholesale price of electricity increases during the three summer months (June, July and August) because of increase demands due to air conditioners, he proposed a higher user rate during those three months.

For the average residential consumer, the summer rate would go from $85 per month to $100 per month. The non-summer rate would only be an increase of about $1 per month for the average residential user.

By enacting a summer rate, the hope is persons will not set their AC systems as low and conserve more electricity, which would lessen the strain on the entire system.

“While I agree with this line of thinking and I realize we have to increase our rates, I do have concerns about persons living on fixed incomes,” mayor Bob Burns said. “Over the summer, that means an extra $45 in electric bills.”

Nigon said that Caledonia has the second-lowest electric rates as far as area municipalities. He added that the good mix of residential, commercial and industrial users helps keep rates lower.

Nigon went on to note that his company has recommended the two-rate system for the cities of Rushford, Spring Grove, Mabel and Harmony.

Nigon also recommended that the city institute the new rates as of June 1, as the city is already paying the higher wholesale electric rates.

A motion by Burns and seconded by Councilman Bob Lemke to approve the new rates as of June 1 was unanimously approved.

In other council action:

Bids reviewed for new fire truck

Three members of the Caledonia Area Rural Fire District were on hand as the council reviewed seven bids for a new fire truck, which will be jointly purchased by the two entities.

The low bid was provided by Alexis Fire Equipment of Alexis, Ill. in the amount of $346,527. The new pumper includes a six-man cab and will be powered by a 525 horsepower Caterpillar engine. Once the order is placed, it will take 11 months to build.

While the cost of the new unit was manageable, a required payment of $165,000 by October to pay for the chassis was a sticking point.

According to Kermit McRae of the Rural Association, they would be able to come up with a $50,000 down payment. Fire Chief Chuck Gavin said his department received a bid from the Spring Grove Fire Department to purchase the out-going pumper for $40,000, which would leave $75,000.

The council instructed City Accountant Stephanie Mann to come up with several options for the city’s portion of the down payment. No action was taken on this issue.

CJC issues

Houston County Commissioner Steve Schuldt was on hand to field any questions and take notes on the County Justice Center and issues that Bob and Jan Klug had.

The Klugs had attended several earlier council meetings and expressed concerns about noise and light issues, as well as questioning if the lack of adequate green space per the city’s zoning ordinance had been handled properly.

The noise issue, which Bob Klug described as a low moaning sound, went away once the building’s heating system was shut down for the summer. Schuldt said the county will look into ways of muffling the exhaust system.

While some of the lighting issues have been addressed, the Klugs felt a privacy fence would more adequately shade their back yard and home than the shrubs that were planted on the east side of the CJC parking lot. When vehicles pull into the parking lot, headlights shine into the Klug house.

It was also felt that a privacy fence, if run all the way to the south wall of the CJC, would alleviate a problem of persons cutting across the Klug’s yard.

As far as the green space issue, Burns explained that it had been discussed before the final construction plans were approved. A storm water catch system was built, which engineers felt was adequate for capturing water run-off from the three buildings in the county’s campus and all the sidewalks and parking lots. So far there haven’t been any run-off issues.

“But does the green space part of the ordinance just pertain to storm water run-off?” Klug asked.

Burns replied that it did not. But the underground containment area was discussed, engineered and put in place.

“Was the green space issue actually discussed prior to the approval of the CJC? No.” Burns said.

“Should the county have asked for a variance?” Klug pressed.

“That’s a question for our city attorney to answer,” Burns said.

Klug said he did some measuring and learned that the county only has 20 percent green space in the campus. According to city ordinance it should be 45 percent.

“In order for the county to meet the 45 percent, they would have to tear down the old jail, our home and garage,” Klug noted.

Schuldt said he would take the issues back to the county board.

No council action was taken.