5/29/2020 11:45:00 AM Utility employee takes over as GM, temporarily
The interim General Manager for North Branch Water & Light recommended last week that the utility commission needs to name a successor to the interim GM. There are no finalists selected yet to bring in as permanent General Manager, and interim GM Bob Cockriel of WSB Engineering has been under a contract that has gone beyond the original plan of 12 weeks, and he needs to move on.
The utility commissioners last week gave Water & Light electric systems supervisor Rick Breitkreutz the nod as the utility’s second interim GM in the last five months and approved a pay hike of 15 percent for his added duties. Also, a staffing gap in administration has been filled since last month with a new hire.
The “financial secretary” who was hired after the longtime Water & Light office manager was forced out last December, along with the General Manager, was then voted a pay reduction. Utility Commissioner Kelly Neider said Barb Jepsen has been earning $75 an hour and the contract was cut to $40 an hour on motion by Water & Light Commissioner Neider-- with a yes vote by Chair Peter Schaps. (Commission member Chris Bibeau had called just before the May 19 regular meeting saying his car broke down.)
Neider explained the pay reduction for this outside contractor is the result of the financial secretary position not panning-out at the “high level” of accounting skill first envisioned when Jepsen was hired by Neider and Schaps in mid-December 2019. As someone who is currently doing “day-to-day” tasks Jepsen’s wages should be adjusted to reflect that, Neider added. Neider and Schaps also acted on accepting a professional services proposal on a study of the capital needs facing the water system. Lee Gustafson, who is the North Branch City Engineer employed by WSB, told the commissioners two things were “critical” to get done. There appears to be enough flexibility in the utility budget for updating a 2003 version of the comprehensive water system plan.
Gustafson said the firm proposes a not-to-exceed sum of $25,300 for the study which needs to happen before costly anticipated water tower repairs proceed. It’s possible the study will show it might be more cost effective to build a new tower in another spot, to be better positioned for coming development. Gustafson stated, “Some way, some how, you need to do this (study)”
The work will take four months and the utility will get regular updates from Gustafson.
As long as the meeting theme seemed to be all about water-- Chair Schaps asked if he could suggest that the water side of Water & Light operations and projects be shifted to North Branch Public Works for the foreseeable future?
Schaps said Breitkreutz is an electric professional and “...he’ll have plenty on his plate” covering the GM role in the coming weeks until a regular GM is hired. “I always see water and sewer (which is already a city function) going together,” remarked the Chair.
The North Branch City Council will be asked to review this at an upcoming meeting. Neider pointed out that Elk River, with a municipal controlled sewer operation, absorbed the independent water utility for a time and then the water division went back to being independent and that she is “not opposed” to North Branch discussing this. Citizens rejected a referendum held recently asking voters if they support dissolving the utility.