At the December 7 meeting, the Fountain Council welcomed several in attendance, including incoming council members Cory Spratte, Jordan Kerns, and mayor-elect Tami Danielson.
Also in attendance were Rick Whitney and Michael Morris, MMS Environmental, who joined via phone. Whitney and Morris provided plant management contract proposals to the city. Before discussing the proposal, Morris highlighted current plant status and needed repairs.
While the plant is meeting limits and operating well at the moment, the sand filter is not functioning, having been turned offline some time ago due to malfunction. The city worked with an engineer to determine the problem. A contractor inspected it, but repairs came to an abrupt halt.
“It never went anywhere because they never got back to us. We had no recommendations or quotes to fix it,” said Morris. Public Works Director John Hanson and Morris bypassed the filter to make the system work within compliance. “We make the plant work the most effective way we can without it, but hopefully, we’re able to resolve and treat it more efficiently in the future.”
“We’re doing everything we possibly can to help the city meet the limits for the MPCA [Minnesota Pollution Control Agency] limits,” he continued. “Without the filter, we’ve made small changes and seen results, but it wouldn’t be consistent. So, we made more changes, reformulated the amount of chemicals and nutrients to treat the nitrogen to meet the BOD [biological oxygen demand] limits.”
The city had one nitrogen violation a little over a year ago after reducing the chemical load significantly to save costs. “We found our set point,” said Morris, acknowledging the lowest point the chemicals can go. “It’s a fixed cost no matter what. That won’t go away because of the nitrogen.” Morris also expressed concern about the amount of biosolids, which will still be an issue after the sand filter is back online.
An independent contractor is on board to determine specifics of the sand filter repairs, but a cost estimate isn’t available yet. The backwash pump, air header, and sand, which includes two types for filtering, will all need replacement. Once replaced, the sand should last 15 years.
As for the management proposal, Morris had high praise for John Hanson. “You have a full-time operator there and don’t need a full-time contractor. He’s two years away from getting a license,” he said. “This is the most efficient way it’s worked in the last eight years. I think you need to know you’ve got a really good guy there.” The contract is needed because the city doesn’t have licensed personnel to do the required reporting.
MMS Environmental proposed a basic or full-service contract. Both include Morris’ presence on site twice a week, completing all reporting, and covering daily maintenance for Hanson when needed. The basic would keep the city responsible for sampling, chemical costs, and other needs at a price of $2,000 per month. In the full service option, MMS Environmental pays for those costs. Chemical products, treatment, and sampling are currently $59,000-$61,000 a year or roughly $5,000 per month.
“It’s an opportunity for fixed cost and no indirect costs,” added Morris. “The sampling cost saw a 10% increase in 2022 and the first of the year going up another 10%.”
Following Morris’ updates, Whitney spoke regarding his proposal. He’s offering a contract for the same cost, but was honest in the status of the situation. “I applaud you for getting the sand filter going, it’s a critical part. You already have a guy in place. Don’t jump ship and change the process over now.”
Whitney noted that when the sand filter was taken offline it was tested and found nutrient bound. “As long as you can keep your process at the beginning of the plant well, it’ll work. For the price, if you’re happy with your contractor, I would recommend not coming with me.” The council unanimously approved the full-service contract agreement with MMS Environmental.
Councilor Terry Hanson questioned the council on if the city would be willing to sell the parking lot behind city hall. It was put in years ago and was used as parking for Mayo employees and pick up for the Mayo shuttle. The shuttle discontinued in 2020.
Clerk Mary Tjepkes addressed the request to sell city property immediately with the League of Minnesota Cities. They suggested the city work with its attorney, set a zoning meeting right away, and have the property surveyed and assessed before making any decisions.
Kari Bacon and Jason Wright addressed the council regarding water and sewer bills for two properties bought/sold this past summer.
Each property receives a base charge for sewer and water, plus additional usage, at a per gallon charge, and administration fees. When a property is purchased, the same fees apply regardless of how long the resident/owner has been there. The billing time frame doesn’t necessarily equate to the same service days. The city does not prorate the base charge and fees for service less than the billing timeframe.
“Everyone got base rate and whatever gallons were used,” said Tjepkes.
“We discussed this at a previous meeting and I was really in favor of looking at prorating, but the more I looked at it, we’re also a really small town. The fees barely cover our budget,” noted Councilor Colleen Foehrenbacher. “When you look at our overall budget, we’re not making any money on it.”
The council opted to waive the late fees for the bills if paid immediately.
The next council meeting is Wednesday, January 4, at 7 p.m. at city hall. The public is encouraged to attend.
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