By Clay Schuldt
The Caledonia City Council, at its Dec. 9 meeting, voted to set the final tax levy increase for 2014 at 5 percent, which is unchanged from the preliminary levy set earlier in the year.
This brings the total funds to be levied at $751,753. The levy places Caledonia at a higher payment per capita, of $262.12, than Brownsville, but significantly lower than Spring Grove.
After approving the levy, the council discussed details in the 2014 budget paying particular attention to the Police Department budget. Council member Tom Murphy said he was unsure if it is necessary to hire an additional officer, arguing that Caledonia has adequate coverage.
Mayor Robert Burns said he felt Caledonia would be better served by a permanent part-time officer as opposed to temporary part-time.
“I think we need people that are from the community that are here for the permanent part-time. If they are working 70 hours a pay period, people see them, they know them and they know the people, and they have a feel for the community.”
In addition, the council entered into closed session to discuss labor negotiations. The council agreed to continue discussing budget issues at a future meeting before the end of the year.
The council held a public hearing to certify utility bills to property owners. Residents with unpaid utility bills will have the delinquent charges added to property taxes.
The council was looking to apply $11,753 of delinquent utility bills to property taxes, and notices were submitted to all residents with unpaid bills prior to the hearing.
Jeff and Shelly Sheehan were the only residents who attended the hearing. Jeff Sheehan argued that while the water and sewer bills could be added to their property tax, by state statute, the electric utility costs could not be assessed unless a contract had previously been signed. Since the Sheehans had refused to sign a contract allowing unpaid electrical costs to be assessed to property taxes, the city of Caledonia could not assess them the $1,390 in unpaid electrical utilities.
The Sheehans explained that the electrical utility in question had not been in their name, but rather in the name of a renter. The Sheehans stated that the renter had since left the apartment without informing them and could not be found. The Sheehans admitted that they were responsible for paying the overdue sewer and water, but placed the high electrical bill on the city of Caledonia.
The Sheehans argued that Caledonia had some fault in the incident, as well, because the power had not been shut off on the customer despite a continued lack of payment. In Minnesota, the city cannot shut the power off in the winter; however, the renter had failed to pay the electrical utilities in the spring or the summer as well.
The council agreed that based on state statute the Sheehans could not be assessed the electrical bill and made a motion to take the Sheehan property off the list and only certify the remaining unpaid utility bills.
The remaining $1,390 in delinquent charges will be turned over to a collection agency who will attempt to collect the funds from the original renter.
The Sheehans suggested the city look into adopting a landlord revert clause ordinance. If renters are delinquent in payments, the landlords are alerted and they are allowed to take over the payments. This system would restrict the losses to the city and landlord.
The council had further questions on why the renter in this situation was able to go months without paying a utility bill. Burns agreed that the city should look into the revert clause and also suggested the city raise the deposit requested of rental properties that have not signed the agreement allowing for the assessment of electric utilities to further lessen the city’s loss. Burns said that Caledonia needed to be more responsible and not allow unpaid utilities to bills to grow beyond the original deposited amount.
The council authorized an emergency repair to a sewer line on Lincoln Street.
Last week, a resident on Lincoln Street reported a sewer backflow problem. An inspection of the resident’s sewer line revealed it had not been connected following the installation of the manhole in July.
The city has been in contact with Davy Engineering and Griffith Construction, and an emergency location dig has been scheduled. City Administrator Ted Schoonover said the city had no choice but to dig up a section of Lincoln Street. “We’re just going to have to dig down and figure out who is at fault,” Schoonover said.
New Verizon antenna
Verizon requested to put up a cell tower in Woodside Lane. Verizon prefers not to use the road but place the tower in the woods. The tower would be freestanding, without any guide wires, and would not affect the walking path through the woods, according to reports submitted by the company.
This placement would ensure the tower would be out of alignment with the airport and would improve Verizon cell service in Caledonia.
Burns questioned whether the donation of the park prohibited the construction of a cell tower. The council agreed to seek a legal opinion on the matter.
In other news
• The council approved the payment of extra expenses incurred by the Fire Department. Recently it was necessary for the department to take the new fire truck to Winona for updates. The updates were covered under the truck’s warranty, but the department still had the travel expenses.
• The council approved the hourly wage increase to liquor store employee Trisha Schmitz following completion of her probationary period.
• The council voted to allow the school to use the auditorium for the fifth-grade youth Frontier Program.
• The Caledonia ice skating rink, located near the ballpark, was recently flooded in preparation for the skating season.
• The council approved all city liquor and tobacco licenses in Caledonia for 2014.