By Brenda Erdahl, Correspondent: The Annandale-Maple Lake- Howard Lake Wastewater Commission agreed on the old adage “why fix what isn’t broken” last week when considering hiring out services that the City of Annandale has been doing for years. On Thursday, June 28, the commission voted unanimously to turn down an offer by People Services for professional services for operation, maintenance, and management of the wastewater facility and will instead allow Annandale to hire the additional staff needed to continue to do the job. Annandale city staff has operated the wastewater plant since the facility opened in 2009. According Plant Operator Joe Haller, man hours have increased steadily over the years and with new state mandates they are likely to increase further, making it harder for Annandale staff to perform both city and wastewater duties with the way staffing is structured now. People Services was the only response the commission received from their Request for Proposals (RFP). They offered to do the work at a cost of $203,040. Annandale’s estimated budget came in lower at $197,489. The new budget from Annandale includes increasing staff from 1.71 FTE (Full Time Equivalent) to 2.5 FTE. That means, instead of one person dedicated to being on site as it is now, there will be two. “There will be a lead operator and a second operator who will be out here all of the time,” Haller said. Other Annandale city staff will still be available to help out, especially on weekends. “Our employees are paid by reimbursement so if they spend an hour out here, they submit it and we reimburse them,” Commission Secretary and Annandale City Administrator Kelly Hinnenkamp said. According to Commissioner Dewey Gunnarson, who is also the mayor of Annandale, the addition of large industrial users like Forsman Farms and issues like the sewer release into Ramsey Lake last winter really taxed the Annandale city staff; the additional staff will help to relieve that burden. “I think we have a good operator and it’s reasonably priced. Why not stay where we are at,” Commission Chairman Roger Millner said.
The commission spent over an hour discussing the merits of hiring out over keeping the operations in house. Greg Stang of People Services noted that hiring his company would make running the plant more cut and dry for the commission. People Services would take care of hiring all the staff, all the safety training, and upgrading all the licenses as part of operating and managing the facility. Hinnenkamp attested to People Services being a well-run business with a solid reputation (it operates 50 wastewater facilities in Minnesota). The biggest difference, she said, between the commission running the plant and a private company is “you lose a little bit of that control.” “When the owner operates it, you operate it to save you money, when the contractor operates it it’s to save the contractor money,” Gunnarson said. The fee for People Services does not include general maintenance costs such as mowing the grass or snow removal which Annandale city staff does now, and the commission would still have to pay Annandale staff to do office work such as paying the bills. “We’re willing to continue to do it,” Hinnenkamp said. “It would be a lot easier to not run the plant for us, but at the same time in the in the long term, the plant is going to be in a better position in 10, 15, 20 years.” According to Haller the cost estimate from Annandale is on the high side, but every year that they have been running the plant it has been under budget and he is expecting that to happen again. In other news the commission: • Gave Bolten and Menk permission to go forward with a proposal presented to them at a special meeting in May to complete a facility plan at a cost of $73,000 to determine how the commission will achieve new phosphorus limits put in place by the state, and what kind of facility improvements will be necessary.
By talking with representatives from each of the three communities, Bolten and Menk staff will lay out a 20-year growth projection that will help to assign cost to the plant improvement project that will eventually be necessary. A facility plan must be submitted to become eligible for PFA funding and grant opportunities, Bolten and Menk engineer Jared Voge said. It is also a requirement of the MPCA and needs to be initiated by October 1. “The sooner we get this rolling and get in line for (funding) the better,” Maple Lake Commissioner Lynn Kissock said. • Was informed by Haller that the generator at the Maple Lake lift station suffered a mechanical failure and has been replaced temporarily by a rental unit. The estimated cost to fix it is $22,000. Haller has submitted a claim to the commission’s insurance for equipment breakdown coverage, which if approved, would cut the cost to a $250 deductible. According to Haller, the generator is run once a week to make sure it is working properly, but otherwise is only used in emergencies; because of that it has only a little over 400 hours on it despite being eight or nine years old. Such generators should be able to run 10,000 hours before a mechanical failure, Haller said. Since it is so old there is no longer a warranty.