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Truman still battling utility issues

TRUMAN — Truman City Council earlier this week heard from Scott Reimer of Federated Rural Electric, which has an interest in providing service to the city.

Reimer came before the council several months ago with a proposition to take over the city’s electrical service from current distributor Heartland Consumers Power District. The city made a motion in October to allow Federated to reach out to Heartland to discuss the idea, but Heartland has yet to respond to Federated’s request to talk.

Merlyn Kruger from CFS and Arnie Bentz from Heartland Senior Living were present at the council meeting for the discussion. Kruger said CFS likes being in Truman and does not have plans to leave but would like to know what is going on with the electrical costs.

Reimer showed the council a snapshot of Federated’s 2016-2019 work plan that allows it to manage projects on a four-year basis. He said it is planning a 2020 mini plan to deal with issues stemming from storms in April, but then will develop a 2021 work plan that will last four years.

“We’d love to make Truman a part of that,” said Reimer, explaining that Federated would tackle major problem areas first.

Reimer said he recently talked to Heartland Senior Living and CFS because they were interested in what rates would look like. However, he acknowledged that those rates are still up in the air.

“We need to know, once we balance out our water and sewer, where do we end up with the electrical?” asked council member Brandon Mosloski.

He said the city is trying to figure out where numbers are to make each fund run independently.

Mayor Lynn Brownlee said that about a week ago Truman was without power for an hour and 20 minutes.

“That’s pretty significant for a lot of reasons,” she said. “For people who have businesses, for homeowners who have sumps. It took an hour and 20 minutes because one person was waiting on the second person’s arrival in order to safely manual reset, and I feel like that wouldn’t be an issue.”

Reimer said there would still be mobilization time but Federated’s closet linemen are in Welcome, so it should only take them 20 minutes to get to Truman and diagnose the problem.

“I would like to see the city of Truman pursue joining Federated. Of course it’s up to the council, but I would like to see that,” Brownlee said.

Mosloski said they need to look at the numbers to see if they will be saving anything.

Reimer reiterated that Federated is more than willing to sit down and talk things through to figure out what is best for everyone.

“The reason we’re even talking about this is because some of the rates in Truman are uneconomical at this point,” he said.

Reimer said the existing contract is between Heartland and the city, so he suggested the city ask Heartland if it can discuss the contact.

“I see no harm in having a conversation,” Brownlee said.

Moving to other matters, city administrator Bethanie Ekstrom told the council that if it plans to continue with the responsibilities of Public Utilities, it needs a utility manager who knows what is going on and can answer questions.

Through a public referendum in August, the city voted to abolish its Public Utilities Commission, and thereby gave all responsibilities to the City Council. Since then, members of the council and city staff, including Ekstrom, have been responsible for overseeing Public Utilities, which includes planning maintenance work, budgeting and more.

“We better start looking at where else we’re going to cut then. If we have to take on another salary like that we’re in big trouble,” said council member Jake Ebert.

“I can tell you a utility manager isn’t going to work for what I work for,” Ekstrom said.

Kathy Hendricksen asked if they were to raise Ekstrom’s wage would they be able to lower it if they decide to get a utility manager later.

“Why would we? $26 an hour for a city administrator is not out of line. We need to value our employees,” Mosloski said.

Brownlee pointed out that Ekstrom would be overseeing the utility manager, which would be an additional task in itself.

Mosloski said they need to have a meeting in the future with the current utility workers to come up with a good, long-term plan that involves considering Federated’s offer to take over electrical.

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