The Canton City Council discussed the need to increase water and sewer rates during its meeting on Wednesday evening, November 10. The topic has been discussed at several past meetings with Clerk Brock Bergey and Utility Committee members, Josh Nordsving and Cindy Shanks, looking at options for meeting the city’s needs while still being sensitive to what the residents can afford to pay for this service.
“We’ve been crunching some numbers,” Nordsving told the council.
The first option, which was ultimately the option chosen to implement, includes a $2 increase to the residential sewer service fee, a $9.50 increase to the monthly water service charge and increases in the usage fees for both. Based on 1,000 gallons of water used, the sewer rate will increase from $2.44 per 1,000 gallons to $3 per 1,000. The water rate will increase from $4.84 to $5 per thousand.
Bergey explained, in 2021, the sewer fund is projected to end the year $181 in the positive. With the proposed changes, and anticipated expenses, the fund will finish 2022 with $5,839.
The water fund, in 2021, will finish the year with a positive balance of $21,683, which is due to cashing in a $55,362 CD. Expenses were nearly $30,000 over what was budgeted and income from water fees were down nearly $3,000. When the new rates are implemented into 2022, anticipated income will increase nearly $17,000 with an anticipated fund balance at the end of 2022 at $12,501.
The second option discussed was a tiered fee schedule with similar increases to the base service charges, but higher costs as the resident used more water.
Councilman Randy Gossman supported this option, saying it put more of the burden on residents who use more water and benefited those who try to conserve or who live in small households.
This is also a concern, noted Bergey, as those who do conserve can affect the city’s projected income as well. “It then becomes a variable,” he added. “It’s more of a risk.”
“There are definitely two schools of thought,” Bergey continued. “On one hand, it’s by volume and those who are using more should be paying more. On the other hand, it’s a shared system and everyone pays equally.”
The need to implement an increase was also reiterated as it was noted the city does not have any reserves in the water fund for emergencies or unexpected expenses. Council members agreed that the city needs to be looking towards the future and anticipating these expenses.
The council voted in favor of implementing the increases outlined in option one, with Gossman voting against.
The new rates will go into effect January 1, 2022.
Bergey ended the discussion by thanking Nordsving and Shanks for the work they put in and the research they did on the rate increases and the options provided.
Fire department report
Fire Chief Bill Richardson and Assistant Chief Kyle Ryan came before the council to request use of funds from the Fire Relief Association to round out the costs of purchasing new “bibs, boots and jackets” for the Canton firemen.
Richardson explained that the fire department has been the recipient of three grants this year with two of those grants designated to cover costs for turnout gear. The Carl and Verna Schmidt Foundation and the Arlin Falck Foundation each awarded $15,000 to the fire department to help with that expense. The third grant was from MiEnergy for $900 to help pay for new pagers.
Richard added that a community fund drive is also underway and the residents have “really stepped up again and helped us out.” He anticipates receiving another $5,000 through donations, which would also be designated towards the turnout gear.
The two firemen asked the council to allow them to utilize funds from the Fire Relief fund to meet the total costs of the gear. “We are not asking for any city funds,” Richardson said. “We are just asking to use what is in the fire fund.”
When asked, the firemen responded that the last turnout gear had been purchased in 2007 from a FEMA grant after the Rushford flood. Helmets were replaced more recently and are not outdated, they added.
The request was granted with unanimous approval.
Richardson also noted he had been receiving a lot of credit for getting these grants for the fire department, but he wanted to give proper credit to Councilmember Shanks who had completed all of the paperwork.
Looking down the road, Richardson and Ryan said they would like to form a committee to discuss plans, funding options and location for a new fire hall. The city will provide two council members and a city staff member to join three firemen on the committee.
In his monthly report to the council, Bergey updated the members on the Popplewell and Scrabeck properties that are in the tax forfeiture process. He said things are moving quickly with a tentative sale date set for March 1. If the city opts to purchase either property, it has to be used for public land and cannot be resold for development.
Bergey also noted the county has no plans to make improvements or clean up either property, offering them for sale “as is.”
In the case of the former Canton Elementary building, because it is a potential hazard, Bergey said he talked with the auditor/treasurer about the county getting a quote for demolition and appropriate asbestos disposal. The fear is someone would purchase that site and it would remain a hazardous site.
A joint meeting with the Mabel Council and the Mabel-Canton School Board will be held on Wednesday, November 17, at the school library.
Finally, Bergey asked the city to consider COVID-related pay for employees who missed work due to illness or quarantine due to exposure to the virus. There were two employees who missed work in 2021 for pandemic-related reasons. After reviewing sick leave and paid time off (PTO) for full-time employees, and learning that part-time employees do not qualify for either, the city council voted to pay up to 40 hours a week for full-time employees and up to the part-time employee’s allotted time for one week. Gossman voted against the motion, saying his view was that was what PTO and sick time is for.
Due to its inability to find an interested candidate, the council voted to eliminate the position of animal control officer, which now turns the responsibility of dealing with unwanted animals to the property owners. City staff will no longer respond to animal complaints and neither will the Fillmore County Sheriff’s office.
The council voted to go forward with the front door replacement project at the town hall. An Arlin Falck grant of $9,438.98 will cover the majority of the cost, with the city paying the remaining $875.12.
A liquor license application for ZZ Tap was approved for 2022.
The city will sponsor a winter edition of the “Adopt a Planter” contest to bring holiday decorations to Main Street. Winners will be awarded prizes from Canton businesses . Watch the city Facebook page and newsletter for more information.
The council approved using $898 from the Mitson House account to pay for historic signage on Highway 52. Leroy Haynes from the Canton Historical Society attended the meeting to request the expenditure. The historical society is prepared to pay for one of the signs requested and asked the city to pay for the other. The sign will read “Historic Site” and point towards downtown Canton where the Mitson House and the depot are located.