|2/12/2021 2:23:00 PM|
Water & Light finalizes
disconnect notices; mural
project gets early okay
North Branch Water and Light Commission Chair Terry Smith brought his black velvet bag of magic tricks to last week’s meeting, literally. He had placed marbles in the bag and whoever pulled out the white marble would be on the utility’s two member personnel subcommittee. James Baxter, newest commission appointee, pulled the white one and joins Chair Smith on the subcommittee.
Baxter expressed his hands-off approach to the new duty, saying he heard when he was interviewed for the commission appointment, that utility commissioners need to mindful to not insert themselves into utility operations and management —based on the fiasco that transpired under the last commissioners.
Water and Light employees were abruptly dismissed, costly lawsuits/settlements were negotiated, a specialist in employment legal issues had to be brought on board, and a union is now newly protecting staff and their due process. Chair Smith said this new personnel committee is just going to be there for management to bounce ideas off of and to run things past before going to the full five-person utility commission.
Next up, the utility General Manager Scott Hautala showed the commissioners draft text of a letter going out to customers with delinquent bills. Late fees are not being re-activated, (under the pandemic emergency Governor’s order, public utility surcharges have been halted) but the disconnect of services will proceed in a timely manner minus any effort at payment. Past due payments must be addressed by customers. Contact the utility and write up a plan for incremental payments, or shut off notifications could be mailed April 15.
Chair Smith remarked, “We do have to keep operations running,” when the vote to proceed with the notices passed unanimously.
There was also an item on the agenda to act on a recommendation contracting for engineering services for rehabilitation of the west water tower and an altitude valve replacement. The two projects were proposed to go out for bid as one after engineers are approved for creating specs.
The five commissioners, however, wanted to be a little more deliberate on advancing this potentially $630,000 effort.
Commissioner Tom Hals asked about separating the valve and tower rehab, bidding as two distinct projects, explaining this is based on his experience in construction. The valve and tower rehab are not compatible projects, crews need to stay out of each other’s way and follow their own schedule. He said there’s a tiny staging area at the tower and little room for equipment and manpower for both projects.
Commissioner Mic Dahlberg added that moving forward now on specifications means a late spring bid, not exactly the ideal time for the best deal. Water tower specialists are booked out well ahead, adding it could be acceptable to let WSB (North Branch city engineering firm) handle the valve now. The proposal presented last week seemed “rushed” in Dahlberg’s opinion and he suggested a work session for in depth discussion.
Hautala said the tower rehab is not an “emergency”.
Commissioner Baxter added that he sees value in having further analysis of the tower project and wouldn’t mind follow-up information from the company, KLM, that did the original tower inspection too.
Hautala offered to bring more information and see if other companies have an interest in two separated projects and the utility commission can review this at the next regular meeting.
A mural for downtown?
The commissioners seemed to support a request from a community arts group, but directed the arts group fine tune the details.
The plan is to have a Minnesota-based muralist do a “coloring book” type outline of a custom artwork evocative of North Branch, on a water and light building. The suggested site is the blank south wall of the garage, across the street from St Gregory’s Church.
Laurie Warner, representing arts boosters in North Branch, says the muralist applies the background paint color, paints the image lines to be followed by public volunteers and supervises the activity. Her installations have become real community happenings in other towns. “Anybody can pick up a brush,” Warner said.
The project and supplies, would be funded through the East Central Regional Arts Council grants program. The utility would need to fix any wall irregularities, cracks, holes etc. which the GM said needs to be done anyway.
Warner heard a consensus to bring back an actual mural design and more project details on schedule and there could be a vote for approving the utility’s participation at a future commission meeting.