Experience comes with cost for city

By Clay Schuldt

Caledonia Argus


During the March 25 Caledonia City Council meeting, Mayor Robert Burns announced four candidates had been interviewed for the position of water/wastewater operator.

For the past several months, water department employee Ryan Skillings has taken on extra responsibilities while the city searched to fill the wastewater operator position.

Burns said that one of the candidates was qualified for the position and had past experience; however, Burns was hesitant to hire the individual based on the wage request, which was considerably more than the union’s contract starting wage.

“If you offer him more than $17.21 an hour, it has to go before the union for their approval,” City Administrator Ted Schoonover said.

Dan Schwirtz was present at the meeting along with Skillings. Schwirtz believed that the council would be unable to find a qualified employee without offering a higher salary.

“My only concern is if we go this route with the wage, … we’re going to open the door when new negotiations … come, and it will be expensive,” Burns said.

Schwirtz responded that, as a taxpayer, he believed Caledonia was already paying the higher prices by not hiring a new employee. “We need a sewer plant operator. I am here as a citizen. … There really is a need for this.” Schwirtz went on to say the Caledonia water plant needed an experienced operator. Schwirtz commented that he understood the council’s reluctance to hire an employee at higher pay scale, but felt there were no other viable options.

Councilman Tom Murphy was also against hiring an employee at a higher pay scale. Murphy cited his experience at the last negotiation meeting and said he strongly believed that hiring an employee at a higher pay scale would hurt the city in negotiations with the union.

Schwirtz suggested taking the issue to the union to seek a recommendation. The council agreed to table the issue until the union could be contacted.

Burns closed by saying that even if hired, the new wastewater operator would not be able to start immediately.

Skillings understood, but stated, “At least you see the light at the end of the tunnel.”


Administrative coordinator topics

The council approved the 2013 electrical distribution project contract with Karian Peterson. The contract includes upgrades to the East Feeder, Sunset Feeder, South Feeder and underground work on County Road 5.

However, in addition to the contract, the council needed to approve a contractor’s bond to coincide with the contract. Burns said he could not remember ever needing to approve a bond along with a contract. Murphy also voiced concern about this new procedure.

“It’s their bond at us that if they don’t perform, their bond company pays for whatever the difference is,” Burns said. “We’re approving this bond, but in reality, we have nothing to with it – they provide it to us.”

The council was still uncertain why the bond required their approval.

The original motion to accept the resolution failed, but an amended motion was approved by the council. The amended motion to accept the bond and clarified that Caledonia would be accepting the bond from Karian Peterson through Developers Surety and Indemnity Company.

A payment request was approved for Visu-Sewer work on the 2012 sanitary sewer rehabilitation. Following the approval, Administrative Coordinator Mike Gerardy brought to the council’s attention a section of the sewer project that could not be completed by Visu-Sewer due to limited access.

North Sprague Street has a dead end sewer line that cannot be accessed due to lack of a manhole. Installing a manhole would cost an additional $4,000. Gerardy recommended putting the manhole in because access could be necessary in the future and it would be easier to do now. In addition, Gerardy pointed out the project was under budget. The council chose to wait to approve the manhole installation until the change order was submitted.

Gerardy also informed the council of a need for a new fire hydrant near Lincoln and Winnebago streets. The $4,942 for a hydrant would be added to Caledonia’s MIDI loan.

A storm inlet replacement was also suggested for North Pine and East Lincoln at a cost of $3,130, also to be part of the MIDI loan.

By consensus the council agreed to have these items added but would not official approve them until after the change orders were received.


Sign change

Caledonia Care and Rehab is planning to change its sign. The size of the sign will not be altered, but only the face of the sign to reflect the new owners.

Murphy asked if changing the name violated the original agreement. Murphy believed the Buckley Estate might have included a clause preventing the name from being changed.

The council agreed to research the original terms of the Buckley agreement but approved the sign changes with a stipulation recognizing naming rights might be restricted.



The council approved a recommendation allowing the chief of police and sergeant to attend an annual police chiefs meeting.

The council had some concerns about both police administrators being out of town at the same time; however, both would remain in contact by phone or radio with Caledonia if their presence was needed. Police Chief Kurt Zehnder was not present at the council meeting but had commented to Burns that the information and training at this meeting was beneficial to the community and would not affect public safety. In addition, the Houston County Sheriff can provide coverage as well. The motion passed 4-1 with Murphy voting against.

The council also approved the purchase of bullet-proof ballistic vests for the department. Federal and state reimbursements should cover the entire cost of the purchase, but Caledonia will need to cover the upfront purchase.


Marshal Street closed

Schwirtz made a request to close off a section of Marshal Street from Main Street to Grove for a benefit being held at the American Legion for Mike Lenser.

The request was made because of a lack of space in the Legion parking lot. The council was willing to allow it on the condition that both the police department and fire department also approve it. Other than the post office, the council did not expect many businesses to be interrupted by blocking the street.

Schwirtz agreed to coordinate with the post office to allow the mail truck access through the event. The benefit will be held Saturday, April 13. Serving will begin at noon.


Other business

The council conducted the probationary period review for Schoonover. Schoonover requested the meeting remain open to the public. The committee review was satisfactory. Schoonover’s probationary period expired on April 1.

A lease agreement amendment was presented to the council from Verizon. The council did not approve the agreement at this meeting, choosing to wait until the lease was reviewed by the city attorney.

Two gambling permits were issued to the Rod and Gun Club for two separate benefits, the first on April 13 the second on June 29.