Abby holds off on sewer rate hike
For a few minutes on Monday night, it looked like Abbotsford residents were going to see a 2 percent increase in their monthly sewer bills.
But, then, a discrepancy in the 2019 sewer utility revenues caused the city’s elected officials to reverse course and hold off any hike until the city’s auditors can provide more accurate numbers.
City administrator Dan Grady presented the council with year-end financials showing a roughly $48,000 deficit in the sewer utility for 2019, but deputy clerk-treasurer Louella Luedtke later pointed out that the revenue line was way below what it had been in 2018.
“There’s something not right here,” she told the council.
According to the budget comparison, sewer utility revenues dropped from $1.8 million in 2018 down to $656,000 last year, without a clear explanation.
Last May, the council voted to increase sewer rates by 7 percent — $3 more per monthly for the average household — with the aim of raising an additional $41,000 in annual revenue to help close a deficit in the utility.
At that time, city officials said they would revisit the issue to see how much more rates would need to increase to ensure the utility has enough money to operate. Grady said the sewer deficit at the end of 2018 was $72,000, so the city has made some gains with the higher rates.
Going forward, Grady said the sewer utility should have lower labor expenses, a growth in the customer base, and more revenue from the raised rates.
Mayor Lori Voss suggested that the council wait to raise rates again until the 7 percent increase has been in effect for a full year.
Ald. Frankie Soto, however, said he thinks the council should add another 1 or 2 percent increase now instead of waiting and possibly having to enact a bigger hike in the future. Soto said he understands that any rate increase will affect residents, but he’d like to do them more gradually over time.
Ald. Jim Weix made a motion to increase rates by 2 percent, effective with the March billing cycle. Soto seconded the motion, and it passed 4-1, with Ald. Roger Weideman voting no. (Alds. Mason Rachu and Brent Faber were absent).
After Luedtke pointed out the lowerthan- normal number in the revenue line, the council voted to rescind the motion and keep rates the same until the city’s auditors can verify the correct numbers.
Handbook changes proposed
In an attempt to resolve lingering issues with the newly revised employee handbook, council members held a lengthy discussion Monday with city employees.
City attorney Alyson Dieckman also sat in on the conversation to ensure that the handbook language complies with the Fair Labor Standards Act and other labor laws.
Dieckman said she had already written some suggested wording changes based on a copy of the handbook provided to her, but she wanted to hear from the council and employees directly so she can help enact any further changes.
The issues on the table included socalled “comp time” for salaried managers, who don’t qualify for overtime under the law but want to be able to vary their hours per week based on workload.
The council also discussed how much sick time and/or paid-time off employees should be allowed to “bank” over time, and whether the overtime pay rate should apply if employees work more than 32 hours in a week with eight hours of holiday pay.
At the end of the conversation, Dieckman said she would draft several options for council members to consider when voting on any further handbook changes.
_ Grady said the city is putting together a list of residents who feel like their new 95-gallon recycling and garbage carts are too large. Those residents will be able to downsize to 50-gallon carts from Advanced Disposal.
_ The council met in closed session with Dieckman to discuss an ongoing lawsuit the city filed last year against the owner of the East Town Mall, who has been accused of defaulting on a $100,000 loan agreement from 2010. No action was taken in open session.
_ Grady said Ald. Rachu has suggested a compromise on the issue of UDC inspections, which would allow the city to order an inspection if it suspected a building project was violating code.
“If there’s nothing wrong with what you did, then the city is liable for paying the inspector,” he said. On the other hand, if the property owner was found to be violating a building code, that person would have to pay the cost of inspection.
DPW Craig Stuttgen said he would like the city to send a letter to property owners ahead of time, giving them a chance to hire their own inspector or address the code concern on their own before the city sends its own inspector.
Stuttgen said the city’s ordinance book also needs to be amended to make it clear that commercial buildings are subject to state code and state inspections, rather than just city ordinances.
Dieckman said another attorney at her law firm has extensive experience with building codes, so he can work on writing revisions to the city ordinance for the council to vote on in the future.
_ The council approved a new twoyear lawmowing contract with Town & Country Lawn & Landscape of Unity, at a cost of $2,400 per month for mowing (April through October) and $50 per hour for bush hogging.
_ The council approved a conveyance of land rights and a temporary construction easement for work to be done on city-owned property as part of this year’s Safe Routes to School project. The council also met in closed session to discuss easement purchases from property owners along the route.
_ The council accepted a $1,874 quote from Crane Engineering to remove and inspect a pump at one of the city’s well houses. If any repairs are needed, a separate quote will need to be approved.
_ The council approved street-use permits for this year’s Abby Festival, May 29 to 31, which will be using portions of First Street and Birch Street for carnival rides and food vendors.
_ The council renewed the city’s contract for Fourth of July fireworks and scheduled Sunday, July 5, as the rain date.
_ The council approved an alcohol operator’s license for Sandra Seiler and denied one for James Lauersdorf, based on the recommendation of police chief Jason Bauer. The council also approved a temporary beer license for a benefit event being held for Jeremy Totzke on Feb. 29 at the Abbotsford fire hall.