By Clay Schuldt
Flooding and its effect on city residents was the topic of choice at the June 24 meeting of the Caledonia City Council.
Houston County has filed an emergency declaration, and Emergency Management Director Kurt Kuhlers said he was confident the county would qualify for state aid.
To receive the maximum funds available, Caledonia is documenting all damage caused by the rain.
Mayor Robert Burns asked if disaster relief covers damage to basements caused by flooding.
City Administrator Ted Schoonover said private homeowners may qualify for private assistance, but authorities need to be alerted to any flood damage. The more claims that are reported the better the county’s chances are of receiving emergency funds.
Schoonover said, at that time, no Caledonia residents had contacted the city or filed an insurance claim. Applications forms are available at City Hall.
The council also discussed the possibility that some residents were hooking sump-pumps to sanitary sewer lines, which was creating problems with the sewer lines. One option to identify these hookups would be to perform a “smoke test” to identify illegal hookups or breaks in the line.
Later in the meeting, George Frisch addressed the council in regard to a drainage problem in a field near his property. Due to the placement of the curb and gutter, an excessive amount of water drainage passes through Jackson Street. Frisch estimated that six city blocks of rain water pass through the street. Attempts to create green spaces have been unsuccessful since water continues to wash away the grass seed. The council agreed to look at methods to minimize the water runoff.
Additional damage caused by water runoff occurred on North Kingston Street near the highway. Road crews have already begun repairing the trenches along the roadside.
Following a public hearing, the City Council voted 3-2 to amend Caledonia’s burning ordinance. Prior to this amendment, a recreational fire was considered an ordinance violation, though the city rarely enforced it.
The new ordinance allows for recreational fires provided the fire has a total fuel area of two feet in diameter and two feet in height. Fuel is limited to clear wood with no chemical additives or charcoal. Recreational fires cannot be conducted within 10 feet of a structure or combustible material, unless contained in an enclosed barbecue grill or a commercially manufactured patio burner, which has legs elevating the unit off the ground and has the burning area completely enclosed with a screen. The fires must be extinguished by midnight and shall not burn between the hours of 12 a.m. and 8 a.m.
No visitors in favor or against the ordinance came forward at the meeting.
The motion to approve the amendment was made by Councilmember Randi Vick and seconded by Councilmember Robert Lemke.
Councilmember Tom Murphy was against allowing recreational fires, considering them to be a nuisance for those with allergies. Burns said he was in agreement with Murphy, believing fires could be a health hazard.
Ambulance Director Mike Tornstrom requested compensation for his call time similar to the rest of the ambulance crew.
Tornstrom argued that he fulfills more than his required 12 hours per week, and every time he picks up an extra shift, he is dedicating his time for free to the city. The extra time would be an increase of $2 an hour. “My job has changed over the course of six and half years,” Tornstrom said.
Tornstrom prepared further documentation of the salaries for ambulance directors in other cities. In Plainview the director makes $5,200 per month; Chatfield: $54,600, with benefits, per year; Wabasha: $43,000 per year; and Preston: $53,000 per year. By comparison, Tornstrom makes close to $12,000 in a year. Tornstrom also pointed out that he did not have any step tiers in his department to increase his wage after a set number of years.
Burns made the motion to approve the $2 rate, which was seconded by Vick and approved 4-1, with Lemke voting against.
In addition, Tornstrom requested compensation for the use of his cellphone. Tornstrom estimated that 50 percent of his smartphone use was for city-related business, monitoring email and creating schedules.
Caledonia currently does not have comprehensive cellphone policy; Schoonover described it as sporadic, with certain employees having city-sponsored phones.
The city weighed the option of setting up a monthly cellphone stipend for employees. One of the issues was whether or not the stipend should be for all employees or limited to department heads.
“If one guy should get it, everyone should get it,” said Councilmember DeWayne Schroeder.
Schoonover suggested looking into cellphone policies for other cities and the county.
During previous Caledonia City Council meetings, Bob Mierau was offered the position of wastewater operator. Later, Schoonover informed the council that Mierau declined the position. Schoonover said the council could once again perform a search to fill the open position, but the last search had yielded few applicants. “We advertised all over Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. Short of going nationwide, I don’t know where to network it,” Schoonover said. The council continues to exhaust all options to fill the position.