At the November 2 meeting, the Fountain council heard from representatives of the Fillmore Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES) and Southeast Minnesota Amateur Radio Club. Jim Miller and Brian Stockman touted efforts to aid emergency services through weather spotting and other communication. Miller serves as Fillmore County ARES Coordinator while Stockman as the Fillmore Skywarn Coordinator.
While weather spotter groups in the county date back to the ‘90s, the group began in Fillmore County in 2016. Amateur radio, known as ham radio, brings together hobbyists and those wanting to volunteer their services. According to Miller, it is not necessary to be an ARES member to participate in Skywarn, but training is required to participate in Skywarn activations. Trained members primarily operate hams but include people interested in storm watching without ham experience. In those instances, the digital Zello app functions as a push-to-talk walkie-talkie.
“We would like to get more people interested,” said Miller. “We don’t take the place of local law enforcement, but work with them and fill in the voids. We’re all part of the same team here.”
The group currently utilizes site hosting from Finseth Farms in Wykoff. It allows coverage primarily in the western portion of the county and part of Mower County. Fillmore ARES hopes to increase it in the whole county, particularly in hard-to-reach signal areas, by moving their repeater unit east and mounting it on the Fountain water tower.
“This would help with coverage. Your location works really well,” added Stockman. He noted the height above average terrain and takeoff angle calculations for their antenna system are huge technical advantages. “Fillmore County is a tough county to cover.”
According to Stockman, the area required for equipment is small, can be mounted horizontally or vertically, and is powered by a single 110-volt outlet. The impact is the equivalent of a 25-watt light bulb. The frequencies do not interfere with any cell phone or internet. “We won’t bother anybody. In Wykoff, there’s a tremendous amount of interference,” said Stockman. “We put out 147 megahertz. We don’t cause it, but we sure receive it.”
The two praised Finseth Farms for hosting the site for several years. “They’ve been really encouraging and supportive of our group,” said Miller. “It’s storm watching and public service watch. We’re all volunteers. Public service is what we’re all about.” The council opted to look into details further before taking any action.
In other news, the council also received word from the Preston Police Department, with whom they contract for policing services, regarding a significant increase for 2023 services. However, the budget and maximum levy were passed earlier this year. “The department gave us a 15.2% increase after coming back from talking to the League of Minnesota Cities and insurance providers,” said Mayor Jim Schott. “I understand increasing costs. But after we approve the budget, we can’t go up. So, we’re stuck here with a gap. We have to have a police force. That’s a must.” According to Schott, the budgeted cost of 2023 services was $28,858. The new total is $33,233.
There was a suggestion of cutting policing hours or switching service from the Preston Police Department to the Fillmore County Sheriff’s Department. However, remaining with the department was the most feasible.
“We’re going to have to take from something else or pull from reserves or something else,” said City Clerk Mary Tjepkes. “Hopefully, from now on, they can get me their budgets before we have to finalize ours.” The city will use its contracted service with Smith Schafer auditing to determine the best place to pull funds.
During public comment, Mitchell and Sheila Walbridge requested a prorated base charge for water services for the property at 605 First Street. The duration the property was in ownership by the family was September 15 to September 20. After, it transferred to a new owner. According to Mitchell Walbridge, the city also billed the new owner.
Tejepkes noted that all property owners, regardless of duration or type, are charged a base rate for water and sewer. The city did offer to waive the $7.46 late fee.
Walbridge understood the policy but noted best practice through the League of Minnesota Cities states property owners are billed equitably for services rendered.
“We’ve had other issues come up before and kept it the same. You’re stuck with the base rate, no matter how many days you’re there. That way everyone is treated equally,” said Schott. “The thing is, it’s always been done this way and we don’t want to deviate from that. You’re going to get a problem down the road.”
“I understand you don’t want to open the door, but would ask you to consider if situations come like this that anyone could apply for a prorated fee,” responded Walbridge.
“I think this is a good discussion,” noted Councilor Colleen Foehrenbacher, joining the meeting via phone. “Just because something’s been done one way for a long time doesn’t mean it can’t be changed. With the league suggestion, we may want to start looking into changing this. It seems very reasonable.”
“There’s nothing we can do right now. We’re going to have to look into changing the policy, but we can’t change it without reviewing that,” said Councilor Ron Reisner.
The next regularly scheduled council meeting is Wednesday, December 7, at 7 p.m. at city hall. The public is encouraged to attend.
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