At the January 17 meeting of the Preston City Council, annual reviews of four departments were presented.
Jim Bakken, utility general manager, reported on Preston Public Utilities (PPU). PPU operates a three-megawatt power plant serving 800 customers. It is in the process of burying major feeders and recently replaced electric cable on the south hill.
PPU also operates water and wastewater systems. The city has three wells and a wastewater treatment plant located near the fairgrounds. All three wells have been updated over the last few years. Bakken noted Automated Meter Infrastructure (AMI) is being put in place allowing daily meter readings in the office which provides leak detection and saves on staff time to manually read water and electric meters.
Bakken said there have been numerous upgrades to the electric system in the past few years. Preston joined Southern Minnestoa Municipal Power Agency (SMMPA) in 1981. It is one of 18 municipally owned utilities with SMMPA. Preston holds a seat on the board of directors. Preston purchases power from SMMPA which had a 15.8% increase in rates last year. This increase forced Preston to raise utility rates across the board 6.5%, absorbing a portion of the increase.
The water rate was not increased in 2022 or 2023. Sewer rates increased 6.5% last year. Many sewer mains have been replaced during street improvement projects.
The wastewater treatment facility has not been upgraded for nearly 40 years. Bakken suggested it will likely need upgrading or replacement in the next five years. The Utilities Commission (Robert Hanson, Heath Mensink, and Ron Schroeder and Councilman Charles Sparks) expects to do a facility plan in 2023. An engineering firm will be hired to determine what needs to be done, estimated costs, and location, if building new. Bakken noted grants are available and legislators have been informed.
Bakken maintained it is a huge asset for a small community to have their own electric utility.
City Administrator Ryan Throckmorton gave the EMS report, as ambulance director Deb Ristau was on a call. The Preston Emergency Service serves Preston, Fountain, Lanesboro, Whalan, and 12 surrounding townships. It operates with two full-time staff, 23 EMTs and 20 First Responders. There is a substation in Lanesboro.
Throckmorton said they are looking at replacing one truck and the cost for a unit has increased about $100,000 since the last purchase in 2020. The lead time to get a replacement is two to three years. The ambulance cash balance is about $185,000. In 2022 the service with Lanesboro completed 366 runs (193 on a weekday, 106 on a weekend, and 67 at night). Volunteers provide several hundred thousand dollars in value. Without volunteers the estimated cost to maintain the service would be $182 per capita.
Throckmorton reported on 2022 for Planning and Zoning. Members include Dean Schumacher, Fran Sauer, John Kinneberg, Rick Grooters, and Councilman Dean Aug. The final plat for Golfview Doherty First Addition was approved in May. A total of 34 building permits were issued, including two single-family homes and one duplex.
Park Board members include Richard Irish, Heath Mensink, Diane Hadoff, John Kinneberg, and Councilman Charles Sparks. Improvements have been made to the softball complex and ballpark parking. Many trees were lost in a December 2021 storm. There were 12 garden plots in the community garden. The swimming pool had a new manager in 2022, with 10 lifeguards. The Preston Lions Club installed a nine-hole disc golf course, and an additional nine-hole course is planned for 2023.
Other business in brief
•In 2015 the council approved an EDA grant to Preston Dairy & Farm funded by PPU. The purchase of the site for $125,000 was closed in 2021 ($25,000 down). The purchase was delayed by site clean-up costing $9,510 (added to purchase agreement). In 2019 there was an agreement between the city and Preston Historical Society for the use of the building.
•There has been discussion over the years to repay PPU $10,000 per year for 10 years. Throckmorton said this is informational, but he is looking for a direction on how to proceed. He suggested the issue could be forwarded to the EDA board to see if EDA development funds could be used. Mayor Kurt Reicks said the west side is buildable. It was decided to forward it to the EDA for their consideration. It will be then brought back to the city council.
•The city’s custodian retired, effective January 3. Throckmorton proposed combining the custodian position with a cemetery mowing/trimming position. This would create one position with a 35-hour work week with single benefits paying $27,190 plus benefits. The custodian is responsible for cleaning of city hall, the firehall, library, trailhead, city shop, and park bathrooms. Another option is to contract for both duties. A motion was approved for a 35-hour with benefits position at a grade 2 pay scale.
•A motion was approved to contract custodial services (in the interim) for city hall, the firehall, and the city shop at $300 per week.
•Preston Fire Department officers for 2023 were ratified. 2023 Fire Department officers are Chief Ramon Hernandez, Assistant Chief Leigh Larson, Secretary Marcus Ertl, Treasurer Dustin Arndt, and training officers, Chad Musel and Adam Amy.
•The city council will next meet on February 6.