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September 25, 2021

8/27/2021 1:59:00 PM
Water and Light GM's on site services end Aug. 31; but on payroll through December

The North Branch Water and Light Commissioners voted unanimously August 18 to sunset the utility General Manager’s “active and fulltime on site services” as of the end of this month.

The GM will, however, continue to be paid through the end of December.  His wage is $115,000 annually set in September when he came on board.

Scott Hautala’s amended contract requires him to be “available” for ongoing needs of the utility,  and take business related calls and e mails and provide response within 24 hours after receipt.

North Branch Water and Light is “transitioning’ from its stand alone structure, to be included under the city umbrella.  The water division is now overseen by North Branch Public Works Director Shawn Williams,  as of August 1. Two water operators have become city public works employees— but are still on the utility payroll.  

Meanwhile, the utility’s electric division staff may or may not become employees of East Central Electric, the utility commission chairman reported.  

The commission approved an agreement with ECE allowing the two electric workers to be assisted by ECE personnel in regular operational needs and during emergency incidents.  The ECE staff will submit a bill to North Branch Water & Light for time and materials.  

ECE and North Branch Water and Light continue to discuss the future of the two electric skilled workers, according to Chair Nathan Keech.  He mentioned to his commissioners he had a breakfast meeting with an executive from the power agency SMMPA—which NBWL currently is a member of.  He added that all concerned parties are talking productively about the future structure of the electric division of Water and Light.

Other utility office and billing staff have been absorbed into North Branch city operations, and also are continuing to be paid by the utility.  There is a clause in the latest city services agreement that extra hours needed by either supervisory city staff,  or hours dedicated to creating commission meeting packets and agendas will be billed to Water and Light at either $75 or $125 per hour, depending on which municipal employee does the task.

In a 2016 analysis comparing the independent utility wages to North Branch staff compensation, wages were surprisingly comparable.   The Springsted (now part of Baker Tilly) analysis was done as part of an informational effort around a public vote on abolishing the utility.  The study  can be found on-line.  It looked at several job categories in 68 municipal utilities in the MMUA, both overall and those of specific similar population  to North Branch.

It concluded that neither ratio of utility staff per customer, technicians per mile of power line, or based on water use nor the compensation rates were out of line. (See chart.)

Also— the North Branch City Council met last week in special session and approved an agreement to clear the way for a mural on a garage wall. The city owns the building on Forest Boulevard, but leases it to Water and Light.

The utility commissioners then voted 5-0,  Aug. 18,  to set the artwork in motion, with a start date scheduled for last Saturday Aug 21.

Artist Alison Price has 30 days to complete the mural project, which is a cooperative effort with the public.  

She provides an outline of the design aspects of the mural and citizens are welcome to help paint and contribute their own sentiments into the design.  The on-site painting schedule will vary and depends on weather, so check Facebook.

Make a payment plan
Customers are reminded the utility will initiate late fees for past due accounts, that had been on hold during the covid emergency.  As of Sept. 23 the 10 percent late fee starts.  Disconnects and late fees can be avoided by contacting Water and Light offices to set up a payment plan if you have past due payments.

~ On the report from the water side, Public Works Director Shawn Williams said hundreds of automatic read water meters seem to be  not transmitting and staff is evaluating costs to replace metering.

He also said the odd-even watering restrictions have reduced consumption by 200,000 gallons daily in the past few weeks. The restrictions will continue to be monitored and may need to be expanded if drought conditions persist.

Rumor debunked
There were citizens at the commission meeting to learn more about rumors that their private water wells were going to be metered and they’d be billed for using water from their well.

There is not being considered for the Water and Light commission or the city to do this.  It is just not true.

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