Metro phone balloting was a six-year effort

Ballots for Maple Lake’s vote on entering the metro phone exchange are in the mail and as far as John Slimmer is concerned, it’s about time.

It was Slimmer who started the drive to get Maple Lake into the metro exchange in 1996 and keeping in touch with family was the reason.

When Slimmer was a Maple Grove resident, many family members lived in the Shakopee/Cologne area, which was long distance and the phone bills mounted up. “Then they got metro and we moved out here to Maple Lake,” Slimmer laughed.

Slimmer moved to his home on Lake Sullivan in 1994 and discovered just how close the metro calling area was.

“We were one mile from the Buffalo line,” he said. “So I said, ‘Hey, let’s get Maple Lake into the metro exchange.’”

Slimmer’s first step was to call the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), where he was told he had to get 15 percent of residents in the Maple Lake exchange to sign a petition requesting entrance to the metro calling area.

“We needed 387 names,” Slimmer said. “When we got the petitions back, we had 624 names. That showed there was definite interest in this.”

There were also other volunteers willing to help the cause. Coming forward to distribute the petitions to local businesses were Neil Webber, Debbie Banke, Teresa Halloran, Laurie Risbrudt, Ken Jude, Nancy Blowers, Glenna Zitzloff and Debbie Wombeck.

And there was plenty of support shown in other ways. Mike Muller of Muller Family Theaters provided the use of his copy machines and paper to get the petition drive going, along with many local businesses that provided visible counter space for the petitions. “That’s how we got back so many signatures,” Slimmer said.

The petition was filed in June of 1996 and Slimmer kept in contact with the PUC during the many years of slow progress through the various steps required in the Extended Area Service (EAS) process.

“After about three years, I was discouraged and I thought it was done,” Slimmer said. “In fact, one of the people I was working with wanted to drop it. And I said, ‘No, if we can keep going, let’s keep going.’”

But the time to put the issue of entering the metro calling area to a vote has finally come and Slimmer has become something of an EAS expert.

“I was very surprised at some of the things I found out,” he said. “In the town of Silver Creek, it’s long distance to call across the street because part of Silver Creek is in the Monticello exchange and Monticello is in the metro calling area.”

Advantages Slimmer sees for taking Maple Lake into the metro exchange are reduced rates for internet access and unlimited calling throughout one of the biggest metro calling areas in the country.

Entrance into the metro calling area would mean no toll (long distance) charges for calls within that area. However, the costs of providing that extended service to Maple Lake would result in higher monthly phone bills. The additive charge in Maple Lake would be $15.63 for residents and businesses, in addition to the Lakedale Telephone base rate of $10.50 per month. Residents could also select a lower-cost option, which would include a base rate of about $10 per month and a charge of eight cents per minute to call the metro area.

Slimmer said that folks who don’t do much calling into the metro area should keep in mind that relatives, children and friends in the Twin Cities or surrounding area will also benefit if Maple Lake enters the metro exchange. “For the extra $2.92 per month (for the measured service option), your sons, daughters and relatives in the Twin Cities can call you for nothing,” Slimmer said.

Slimmer added that using a pay phone to call home would drop from a charge of $1.75 to .50 and businesses would see the reduced costs of contacting metro area customers.

Although there were some who thought bringing Maple Lake into the metro calling area was impossible and it took six long years to bring the question to a ballot, Slimmer said his experience has shown him that individuals can make a difference.  “But you don’t know until you try,” he said.