MEMBERS OF THE LOCAL GIRL SCOUTS OF AMERICA, TROOP 157 attended Wednesday’s Big Lake City Council meeting to earn a merit badge. Front row, left to right: Brynn Mossak, Maddie Lommel, Grace Gardner, Elaina Cox, Monica Zimmerman, Kayleigh Schwebke, Reba Sartwell and Troop Leader Shelly Lommel. Back row, left to right: Seth Hansen, Dick Backlund, Mayor Raeanne Danielowski, Mike Wallen and Nick Christenson. (Photo by Bill Morgan)

River Ridership at lower levels

Staff Writer
Bill Morgan


Administrator Todd Bodem gave the Big Lake City Council Wednesday a recap of their previous workshop meeting that centered around the current River Rider transportation schedule, review of the city’s utility rates and discussions on wages.
Chad Gessel had reviewed the current River Rider transportation schedule and informed council no one from the Big Lake area has scheduled a ride in the last month. Council discussed the limited ride options available and why riders have a four hour wait from the time they are dropped off to when they are picked up. 
Gessel discussed the possibility of implementing a five-hour circle route that would provide 250 service hours per year. Gessel also noted the local share would be 15% of the costs and explained that ridership revenue should cover the 15% local share. 
Gessel said if ridership falls short, the city would be responsible to cover the shortfall. 
Gessel also discussed the contract that would need
to be approved by the city and the River Rider Joint Powers Board. Mayor Raeanne Danielowski said she has had talks with members of the Big Lake Lion's Club Organization regarding their potential interest in assisting with the costs for this additional service.
Danielowski and Gessel will attend a Lion's Club meeting at a later date to discuss what their level of support would be.
Finance Director Jessica Green reviewed comments posted on a social media site in relation to the city's utility rates. Staff provided a water, sewer and storm sewer analysis produced by the former finance director that was used in determining the current utility rates.
Green said she reviewed the analysis and agreed with the findings. 
Staff questioned if council wants to hire an outside consultant to conduct another utility rate analysis. Council Member Mike Wallen discussed his concern with spending approximately $10,000 on a rate study to address concerns of a very small group of residents. Council suggested creating in-house educational materials explaining the city’s rate structure. 
Council also discussed the need to start shutting off water service on delinquent accounts. 
Public Works Director Mike Goebel said the plan is to start with shutoffs again next spring. Council also discussed the need to give public works the staff resources they need to be successful with the collections. 
Council also reviewed the conservation tiered system that is currently being used and noted that the tiered system was enacted due to pending legislation. Staff recommended the tier system stay in effect, but the city could look at the tier rate amounts. Council also discussed the late fee structure and noted the 10% late fee was put in place as a deterrent to high delinquencies. 
Council discussed the need to bring on a collections/shut-off type of position and they would be responsible for blight control.
Bodem discussed the possibility of the city conducting an employee compensation study, noting the last study was conducted in 2005, at which time the city
completed a full compensation study for each city position that included updated job descriptions, assigned evaluation points to retain pay equity and comparable worth, while establishing a salary step compensation schedule. 
In recent years, city staff has had to find ways to make assumptions on changing positions which might not reflect an accurate portrayal of points and pay.
Staff obtained three quotes for services to conduct this type of survey and suggested they consider Springsted, Inc. at an approximate cost of $9,950. Bodem also said based on outcomes of this study, the city may need to reclassify positions and possibly implement adjustments in salary grade which would result in a wage adjustment for certain positions.
Council agreed this type of study should be updated every five years.
Lions Club Donation
The Big Lake police and fire departments accepted cash donations totaling $16,000 from the Elk River Lion’s Club to be used for specified items.
The police department is receiving $7,000 to fund upgrades to their patrol rifles and to provide squad cars with rapid response bags that house extra ammunition, tourniquets, etc.
The fire department received $9,000 to be used for unbudgeted capital items such as thermal imagers and a snowmobile.
Thank you letters have been sent to the Elk River Lions Club for their exceptional generosity.
Parks Donation
The Big Lake Parks Dept. accepted a labor services donation from resident George Quinn for his re-painting of the Big Lake hockey rink.
Quinn — along with Bonnie Miesen, Andrew Schwatka and Steve South — volunteered over 72 hours this past summer to complete the project. The city received a grant from Valspar to purchase the paint.
Goebel noted the city also received an $8,000 grant to be used towards the continued implementation of Music in the Park.
Other News
•Police Chief Joel Scharf accepted a maintenance donation from Trucks Unlimited for work recently done on a police vehicle;
•The railroad crossing improvements at Co. Rd. 43 will not be completed until next spring;
•The MPCA awarded Big Lake with a $3 million matching grant to treat phosphorus in area waters;
•Twenty-one single-family building permits have been issued thus far as compared to just eight in 2012;
•The liquor store will have an extra security camera installed in the parking lot as well as newer higher-visibility lighting.
Seven young ladies from troop 157 of the local Girl Scouts of America attended Wednesday’s Big Lake City Council meeting to earn a government merit badge. 
Troop leader Shelly Lommel had the girls tour city hall earlier in the day, then sit in on discussions during the city’s second of two monthly meetings for October.
The troop members were Reba Sartwell, Kayleigh Schwebke, Monica Zimmerman, Elaina Cox, Grace Gardner, Maddie Lommel and Brynn Mossak.
The next Big Lake City Council meeting is Nov. 13 at 6 p.m.


(From left) Lexi Freund (Big Lake), Betsey Cornelius and Ben Cornelius (Nowthen), Gunner Dorweiler and Colton Dorweiler (Princeton), Ben Manning (Zimmerman), Bailey Dorweiller (Princeton) and Salene Krueger (Big Lake.) The county fair runs from July 16-19. (Photo by Ken Francis.)

Dr. Lola Sutherland is retiring from clinical practice after 33 years in the Big Lake community. (Photo by Jennifer Edwards.)

SMITTY’S AMATEUR FIDDLERS CONTEST drew 22 musicians to compete in Big Lake this year. They were accompanied by Gilmore Lee.

LEE GERHARDSON, 47, from New London, was found dead in Big Lake near the swimming beach in 10 feet of water Monday. Cause of death is unknown at this time but foul play is not suspected.

Adopt-a-Road participants volunteer for Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) and work to clean roadsides that border and bisect refuge land. This spring, from April to June, approximately six individuals, three families, and seven groups, such as boy and girl scouts and 4-H groups, volunteered to clean countless miles of roads. (Submitted photo.)