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WPU hopeful for state bonding … again

WORTHINGTON -- The Minnesota Legislature will convene its 2017 session in little more than two weeks and Worthington Public Utilities Manager Scott Hain is already expecting to spend a lot of time at the capitol lobbying for bonding to fund the f...

WORTHINGTON - The Minnesota Legislature will convene its 2017 session in little more than two weeks and Worthington Public Utilities Manager Scott Hain is already expecting to spend a lot of time at the capitol lobbying for bonding to fund the final phase of the Lewis & Clark Regional Water Project to Worthington.

In his report before the local Water & Light Commission Monday, Hain said Gov. Mark Dayton singled out the project as one of the casualties in a failed attempt to convene a special legislative session this month.

Hain said the governor’s staff has worked hard for the past six or seven months to get legislators to tackle some of the unfinished business of the 2016 session, at the expense of preparing for the 2017 session.

In the latest developments, House Speaker Kurt Daudt has said the legislature may not have time to consider a bonding bill in the upcoming session because they have to work on the state’s budget.

“They were supposed to have a bonding bill in 2016 and didn’t,” Hain said. “Do you just ignore it in 2017? I don’t know. There were a lot of transportation projects … that didn’t happen.

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“Things are pretty sour up there, in case you didn’t notice that reading the paper,” he added. “They may have struggles passing a budget.”

Dayton is expected to release a bonding proposal the first week of January, and Hain said he has no doubt the funding for Lewis & Clark is at the top of the list. At this point, people just have to wait and see what happens.

“Bonding has become such a political football that I can’t imagine them agreeing on a bonding bill until the end of the session - that’s everybody’s leverage,” Hain said.

Meanwhile, work continues on the Lewis & Clark expansion project in southwest Minnesota. The $19 million federal appropriation for the project is helping to fund construction from Magnolia to Adrian, with easement acquisition under way from Adrian to Worthington.

As a result of favorable bids, Hain said there is a “significant surplus” from the $19 million. Although that funding cannot be used toward construction of the water line from Adrian to Worthington, Hain said work is being done to try and get a stand-alone bill passed to use the remaining dollars on the final phase of construction.

“If we can get that done, Lewis & Clark is going to be prepared for letting construction bids in late-February, to award in mid-March,” he added.

At this point, Hain anticipates Worthington could be hooked into the Lewis & Clark system by November 2018 - but it all hinges on the Minnesota Legislature.

In other business, the commission:

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  • Received an update on well levels in the Lake Bella well field, which supplies the city of Worthington with water. Hain reported that the water level in Well 26 is currently 8 feet, 6 inches above average, and 7 feet above where it was last year at the same time.

“Three weeks ago, our current well level was 18 feet, 11 inches higher than a year ago,” he said, noting that well levels are still in “good shape.”
The presentation of the well level data led into a discussion about the 8.5 percent rate increase charged to Worthington Public Utilities beginning in January for purchased water from Lincoln-Pipestone Rural Water. WPU purchases approximately 1 million gallons of water per day from the agency.

Since water levels are up in the local well field, Hain said a decision needs to be made about future purchases.

“Our wells are in very good shape; it’s fairly pricey water and it does impact the customer through the purchase water adjustment charge,” Hain said. “I agree 100 percent that LPRW was there when we needed them. I’m not proposing we shut them off.”

“In today’s world, it’s awfully nice to have a secure source of water,” said commission chairman Gary Hoffman.

“I would be in favor of shutting the valve down a bit, but not jeopardizing our relationship with them in any way, shape or form,” added commissioner Lyle TenHaken.

Hain said WPU can back off purchases for a while, and if they need to ramp purchases back up, they can do so.

“For too long we saw the water levels way down,” noted commissioner Jim Elsing. “For a long time we said we’re not stopping Lincoln-Pipestone (Rural Water) until we get Lewis & Clark. I’d be real cautious.”

  • Accepted the lowest qualified bid of $97,410 from Lametti and Sons, Hugo, to complete the Okabena Creek sanitary sewer cast in place lining project. Hain reported that the engineer’s estimate for the work was $163,000. All seven bidders on the project submitted bids under the engineer’s estimate.

  • Reappointed commission member Jim Elsing to the Lewis & Clark Joint Powers Board, with Aaron Hagen to remain the alternate. When Elsing’s term on the Public Utilities Commission expires at the end of March, the roles will be reevaluated.

  • Discussed the number of disconnect notices mailed out by Worthington Public Utilities and the corresponding number of actual disconnections. TenHaken pointed out that 616 notices were sent out in November, with zero disconnects. The number of disconnect notices represents more than 10 percent of WPU customers.

Hain said customers are charged a late fee and his staff encourages customers to sign up for autopay. Nearly one-quarter of customers have set up autopay for their account.
“It just looks to me like we’re spending a lot of effort on disconnect notices,” TenHaken said.

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Hain commended his customer service staff for their efforts to get people to pay so the utilities aren’t disconnected.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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