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Rushford looks at water problem

Fri, May 2nd, 2008
Posted in Government

RUSHFORD - There was a lengthy discussion about water at last Monday's, April 28, 2008, regular city council meeting in Rushford, but surprisingly, the topic was not flood water.

The need for a water treatment plant was evident and funds were being pursued even before the August flood. "Nuisance" levels of iron and manganese, plus unacceptable levels of radium were the culprits.

But, as in so many cases, the flood did complicate things. The need to dig another well (Well #5) is now part of the plan. Clearly, water rates in town, which have been comparatively low until now, will have to go up. The question is how much? And how fast?

John Stewart of BDM Consulting Engineers and Surveyors, a familiar face at Rushford council meetings, was present along with Rae Lynn Herbster, Senior Loan officer for the Public Facilities Authority (PFA) from whom the city hopes to secure a loan for the project.

Water rate increases are needed specifically to cover water operation and maintenance expenditures, capital outlay improvements, provide for a replacement fund, and provide for debt service costs associated with the operation of the water system and the new water treatment plant.

The council previously approved the increase, but Stewart had done some additional fiddling with the numbers so that rates wouldn't rise too fast, a concern expressed by council members.

Under the plan presented and approved last Monday, water rates are set to nearly double by the year 2014, rising from their current monthly average of $26.82 to $51.29. By the year 2028, the average monthly rate would be around $72.

But there are a number of variables involved, such as water usage, a potential increase in hook-up fees, and the hope that more people will move to town, that are likely to impact the rates in positive ways.

Herbster announced that the PFA would find Stewart's recent numbers acceptable and would offer the loan. The council voted to lock in the loan rate, under 2%, that very night. The loan is set to be paid off at the end of 2028.

Rushford Days

A little ol' 500 year flood in 2007 is not going to stop Rushford Days from happening in 2008. But things will be a little different.

Co-chairs Mary Gudmundson and Karen Eich appeared before the council to provide an update. The first issue is location. The celebration has been held at Creekside Park in recent years, but the park was devastated by flood waters and whether it will be "ready" in time for Rushford Days the third week in July remains uncertain. Eich said the committee has decided upon Rushford's "Pickle Alley" near downtown as a good alterative location, and is in the process of arranging to hold the celebration there. The area lies between highways 16 and 30, near the historic depot.

Eich said the parade will remain on Saturday evening, given the many positive responses regarding that new time last year.

The committee chairs asked for help from the city in securing less expensive security for the weekend and the mayor indicated the city would be very willing to "work with you."

Gratitude Made Official

The council showed its gratitude to Lutheran Disaster Response team-leaders Rolf and Pat Wangberg with an official resolution of commendation. The Wangberg's have volunteered their services to the flood-damaged community since last August, but will have their last day in town May 9.

Mayor Ladewig thanked the Wangberg's for performing "over and above" and concluded that "we will forever be indebted" to you.

For his part, Rolf Wangberg said that his work in Rushford taught him that, while it may "take a village to raise a child, it takes a whole nation to respond to a disaster and get a city back on its feet."

Wangberg expressed appreciation for the work of councilwoman Laura Deering in the days following the flood, as well as for the mayor, to whom he introduced many of the volunteers. "The graciousness with which he greeted these volunteers," left a positive impression, said Wangberg of the mayor.

The Labyrinth of Flood Loans

Every council meeting lately seems to include some communication from a state official regarding flood relief money that seeks to clarify, but almost always ends up leaving more confusion in its wake. That communication for this meeting came in the form of a letter from DEED commissioner Dan McElroy to city manager Windy Block basically asking for a hard number by May 2 of how much money the city won't be allocating for business loans.

McElroy's letter states that the funds can then be "transferred by interagency agreement" for other state needs that are currently being identified. Considering the fact that the flood loan spreadsheet presented to the council that night showed allocations currently being $273, 742 over the total of $17.5 million, the answer seems like a no-brainer: Rushford won't have any leftover funds. But when the state is asking for "hard numbers", people feel the need to pay attention.

Councilwoman Deering pointed out that loans recently questioned by legislators in very public forums, primarily the Hypersonic loan, were still on the spreadsheet. "So the one (loan) we thought was off the table is back on?" Deering asked.

"Now wait a minute," interjected the major. "None of us ever said it was completely off the table."

Block indicated that Hypersonic was in the process of revamping its loan application as a way of establishing the loan as appropriate for flood relief dollars.

Deering noted that this was the first she's heard that Hypersonic was planning to reapply.

Block said it's not exactly "reapplying" since technically the loan has been approved at the local level so now it's completely in the hands of DEED.

Block also reassured the group that in a personal phone call from McElroy he was told "don't panic" about the letter asking whether Rushford has leftover funds. It's part of a process, Block said, and while Rushford appears to easily have enough flood damage to use all of their money, that's not true of all the other flood-damaged counties.

In the end, the council gave Block what he asked for, which was permission to respond to DEED by saying that Rushford appears able to allocate all its flood money, thank you very much.

Not surprisingly, Deering voted against the motion, citing her concern that there are still too many questions about the appropriateness of some loans to be able to give "hard numbers." Flood relief loans were later approved for the following businesses:

--Rushford Dental LLC/ Marcoux Real Estate.

--Kiddie Korral Daycare (Nancy Corcoran)

--RiverSide Electronics

--B & S Rentals (Dale Baker)

--transfer of a previously approved loan to Witt Real Estate (Dollar Store) to Marlene Bellock to establish her Variety Plus store in the same location.

The New "Muni"

The construction business of Voss and Sons of La Crescent submitted the lowest bid for rebuilding the municipal liquor store and was awarded the contract.

According to a representative from 5th Avenue Design, architects for the project, the goal is to finish the new building in 100 days so that it might be possible to "drink a beer" in the new muni on the first anniversary of the flood that destroyed it.

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