Daren Sikkink and Kevin Graves from the engineering firm of WHKS presented the preliminary results of the engineering study to the Canton City Council during its regular meeting on March 9.
The study took a close look at the water and wastewater systems through the city. In the WHKS report, few surprises were unveiled as the city has an aging system with an increasing risk for major utility failure.
Graves explained that the water system is very old, created in 1910. During the televising of the system, it was discovered that some of the services continue to have lead joints, which causes environmental concerns as well. Many of the service lines are also undersized.
Well One was dug in 1918 and includes fluoride treatment and had a pump replaced in 2021.
Well Two was built in 1983 and also includes the fluoride treatment.
The water tower, built in 1914, has had exterior painting as well as interior cleaning, most recently in 2017. However, Graves believes there may be some lead-based paint there as well.
There is a definite need for a water project, due to the aging pipes and the history of breaks in the system.
“The wells are beyond their useful life,” Graves said. “Well One’s casing is in poor condition and the well house is an aging structure.The risk of major failure is significant.”
In an overview of the wastewater system, Sikkink explained it dates back to the 1950s, with the treatment plant constructed in 1960 and updated in 2003.
As they outlined the need for a wastewater project, Sikkink pointed out that during televising the lines, it was discovered 18 of 45 pipes need attention. They have a high potential for inflow and infiltration and can cause sewer backups during large rain events. Seven of the 45 pipes will need attention in the next five to 10 years and another seven pipes will require immediate attention as the expectation is that the pipe has already failed or will fail in the next five years.
Recommended improvements include the replacement of all aging water mains with lead joints; increase the sizing to improve flows and pressures; replace sanitary sewer in areas the concerns are the highest as well as where the water main is proposed to be replaced.
WHKS also recommends drilling a new well to replace Well One, to be located near Well Two. Construction of a new treatment building for Well Two and Well Three is recommended where the city can add fluoride, chlorine and polyphosphate.
As for the water tower, it is recommended to perform a structural inspection and repaint the tower.
Aging equipment at the wastewater treatment plant would also be replaced.
The engineers presented several alternatives to their main recommendation that could save the city some initial costs. However, Graves explained, when considering costs over 20 years, he could not recommend the city pursue anything but the first recommendation.
Because Canton could likely meet the criteria to be classified in the “poverty” category, many of the improvements could be funded through a combination loan and grant through USDA Rural Development.
The water and wastewater improvements would likely exceed $10 million, but 75% of that could be funded through a grant of $7.8 million, with Canton borrowing $2.6 million through a Rural Development loan, which would be paid back over 40 years at 1.5% interest.
The engineers noted other funding sources would be needed for $904,000 in other costs, not eligible for funding through the USDA.
The council approved the preliminary report and agreed to continue the process to apply for funding and plans for the final project.
Classification and wage study
Mark Goldberg from David Drawn Associates Human Resources was another visitor to last Wednesday’s meeting. The council hired the firm to conduct a review of the city’s wages, employee handbook, job descriptions and human resources. The goal of the study was to make sure the city of Canton employees were being paid fairly compared to peers in similarly-sized communities.
The firm found that three of the city employees were being paid under market comparisons and one employee was being paid above.
Goldberg recommended raising wages for the three employees and freezing the wages of the one. This would impact the city with an additional cost of $9,000 this year should the council approve the recommendation, retroactive to January 1, 2022.
“I feel everyone should be present for making this decision,” said Councilman Carl Ernst, in reference to Councilwoman Cindy Shanks being absent. He added that many in the community may also have negative feelings about such an action.
City Clerk Brock Bergey reminded the council that it started the process about doing this study. “The employees didn’t come to the council and ask for a pay raise,” he said. “That was never the intent.”
Councilman Randy Gossman interjected that he first brought it up so the council would have a better understanding of where the city was in comparison to other communities. “We have that now,” he added. “But I don’t think we need to do anything tonight.”
Preliminary job descriptions were also included in the packet for the council meeting. Each of the four positions had developed an outline with a position summary, essential duties and responsibilities, minimum qualifications, physical demands and working conditions and the equipment utilized.
The council did not take any action regarding the job descriptions as Bergey felt the city needed to have a pay scale in place prior to any other step in developing an employee handbook.
Chris Hahn was the final visitor to the Canton City Council meeting, representing the Fillmore County Economic Development Authority.
He was invited to the meeting to discuss options for bringing new businesses or small manufacturers to Canton.
In turn, Hahn said he would like to learn more about the initiatives Canton is working on and what the council members’ goals may be. He also suggested developing some housing incentives, asking what land might be available to help establish those incentives.
Canton has recently developed a new logo and brand, promoting Canton as the first Minnesota stop on Highway 52 North.
Mayor Nick Prestby said he would like to see a Kwik Trip or Caseys or small box store come to Canton and noted that there is land available, but it is not city-owned property at this time.
Hahn also highlighted some programs available through the county as well as the Southern Minnesota Initiative Fund.
“Canton wants to be considered a player,” Bergey said. “We have to start somewhere. I think we wanted to tap into you and your resources and get an idea what we can do.”
Hahn suggested doing a comprehensive plan, or setting some goals to detail the direction Canton wants to do. Bergey said Canton had done a comprehensive plan in 1975, but would like to do something in the near future.
“You don’t want to invite manufacturers into town with a TIF plan without the other issues taken into consideration,” Hahn said. “Where are they (employees and owners) going to live, where are they going to access daycare?”
Hahn added that a big plus for Canton is having a plan to update its utilities as outlined in the WHKS presentation held earlier in the meeting.
Former clerk sentenced
It was noted during the mayoral and clerk reports that former City Clerk Lolly Melander had been sentenced to 120 days in jail and ordered to repay the city of Canton $70,000 in restitution. Payments will be required every 90 days, in a minimum amount of $2,000. Judge Matt Opat also required Melander to write a public apology as part of the sentence and must complete 50 hours of community work service.
In a plea agreement, reached earlier this year, Melander pled guilty to one count of theft by swindle, and the other 25 felony charges against her were dismissed. Melander was accused of misappropriating funds totaling $134,639 between the years of 2011 and 2019. Misuse of the funds was discovered by the city’s auditors and further investigations by the Minnesota state auditor led to the charges filed against her in October of 2019.
She had worked for the city since 2004, but Bergey explained any misappropriation of funds that may have taken place prior to 2011 were irrelevant due to the statute of limitations on such a crime.
Mayor Prestby acknowledged the work by the current city staff on cleaning up the “mess” Melander left for the city to clean up and how they are working to put safeguards in place to make sure this cannot happen in Canton again. “We want to focus on the future,” he said. “We are lucky to have four city employees who are doing a good job and have Canton’s best interest at heart.”