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March 5, 2021

1/15/2021 9:51:00 AM
Water and Light awaits new member, talks about activating late fees

The North Branch water and light utility commission met shorthanded last week with one commissioner term having expired as of January.  North Branch City Council is responsible to fill terms by appointment and the council had an agenda item for this week’s council meeting,  to consider sole applicant James Baxter.

The four remaining utility commissioners’ work session covered a request from a developer to have water and sewer and park fees for a proposed plat reduced. The 48 units are slated for south of the high school, Grand Point.  Jason Bibeau requests the city to forgo park dedication fees entirely, and the city to reduce wastewater fees.

The Water and Light Commission would have to review the water-system related fee reduction.  

Water Trunk is $1,500 per unit and Water Access Charge is $1,700.  

The utility commissioners reviewed— but rejected— the fee reductions for water trunk and access (hookup) as requested.  Commission Chair Terry Smith said the fees are reasonable and  have been based on revenue needs of the systems.  Commissioner Thomas Hals said the reduction would be unfair when other projects have not sought special considerations.

The developer had advised in his written request that he was unable to secure financing and his loan provider suggested lowering the project’s expenses.  Other than this, Commissioner Nathan Keech pointed out, there was no supporting information provided justifying lowering the fees.

The City Council needs to act on accepting or rejecting requested action on reducing municipal wastewater and eliminating park dedication fees.

Billing in this unique time
As the covid-19 situation continues, General Manager Hautala suggested it is time to review procedure on past-due bills.  

The utilities in the state are basically not assessing late payment penalty charges, Hautala explained, due to the Governor’s order in effect. Utilities are starting to do disconnects, however.  

The law requires delinquent customers to make a payment plan and remit even a small amount to keep their accounts active.  

The utility is allowed to disconnect when bills are a late for a certain amount of months and no effort has been made by a customer towards a payment agreement.

For 2020 in the 90 days late category, Hautala said there’s $134,000 outstanding.  This is in excess of what there’d be in an ordinary year.

The commissioners came to a consensus that a letter should go out reminding late paying customers of the need to communicate and create a plan and that they can still see their service disconnected if they fail to contact the Water and Light offices.

Discussion on re-implementing late fees will be on a future agenda.  

Hautala mentioned that at a recent electric co-op conference, on the Internet, most co-op member utilities report they are not charging a penalty for delinquent bills during this Governor-ordered public emergency.

Employee Bob Egan presented the schedule of repair and maintenance needs for the five engines the North Branch utility uses to generate power at certain times. As a co-op member Water and Light is obligated to be prepared to contribute to the grid in times of peak demand or system malfunctions.  

Egan said each unit is two mega-watt and “quick start” capability so there are key operational aspects to be addressed. Coolant and oil need to be replaced just like any engine, he said, only these hold 55 gallons of anti-freeze and gallons of oil.

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