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W’bago citizens upset about bills

February 9, 2011
Jodelle Greiner — Staff Writer

WINNEBAGO - Some Winnebago residents are upset about the city's new billing system for water.

Shorty Sickler of Shorty's Plumbing & Sewer Repair said that if a resident uses 4,200 gallons of water, he or she is billed for 5,000, with the usage rounded up to the next thousand.

"At the end of the year, it's like paying another water bill; 13 in a year," Sickler said. "I don't think it's fair to charge for 800 gallons of water that's not used."

"No one's complaining about the rate increase," said resident Sheryl Gunzenhauser. "Give us a rate increase, but don't charge us for what we're not using."

City Administrator Austin Bleess noted that by 2013, the city will have to implement a tier system for water usage, so it is ahead of the curve by doing it now. The money is going to the water department, which has been running deficits since 2000, according to Rick Mauris, head of the water department.

Sickler said he checked with surrounding towns, most of which charge for the amount of water used. Some systems are set up so if a resident uses say, 4,200 gallons, he or she is charged for 4,000 gallons on that month's bill, with the 200 added to the next month's bill.

"If we're at 6,200 why not charge us for 6,000, and if we get closer to 7,000, charge us for that?" asked Pam Sickler.

"Does the tier have to be set every thousand?" Councilman Chris Ziegler asked Bleess, who said no.

"Is it an option to go to 500?" asked Councilman Scott Robertson.

"We should look into that at a later date and take it into consideration," said Councilman Rick Johnson.

Clint Eastman, head of Winnebago's street department asked if the amount of water actually used could be put on the bill so citizens will know how much water they would have to save to get down to the next tier.

"We can look into the (computer) software and see if it can be done," Johnson said.

Turning to other business, the council discussed the sewer system on Main Street, from First Avenue Southwest to First Avenue Northeast. Council members agreed that fixing the sewer system is overdue by about 20 years, but they debated whether they should mandate property owners participation, and how much it will cost them.

They also discussed televising, which checks the condition of the sewer system.

"That will tell us if we have to just line (the pipes) or dig up the street," said Bleess.

In the end, council members voted to make participation in the repairs mandatory, with property owners to be charged a flat fee of 25 percent of the project costs.

A public hearing on the matter is set for the next council meeting, March 8.

In other action:

o Bleess asked the council to hire an employee whose time will be divided among the wastewater treatment plant, the water department and the streets/parks department. Hiring this employee would help fulfill the terms of an agreement the city signed in December with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. The council voted to go ahead with the process of hiring.

o The council voted to purchase a new street sweeper, and to sell the one the city owns.

o The council voted to give 3 percent raises to library employees Kathy Johnson, Rachel Peterson and Joyce Roe.

o The council voted to accept the resignation of Roe, effective April 23, and the retirement of library director Judy Tupper, effective April 2. The council also gave Bleess permission to fill the positions.

o The council voted to hire Brandon Hassing and Matthew King as firefighters.

o The council voted to hire Kari Schwecke, Ellen Roiger, Maggie Hassing, Jennie Anderson and Thomas More in the ambulance department.

o Bleess said the Legislature voted to reduce LGA payments. Winnebago's cut would be $61,226. He expects that $28,542 can be reimbursed by the Market Value Tax Credit, and as for the rest, "I'm confident we can deal with those cuts with minimal disruptions," Bleess said.



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