Watertown to aid Cologne with wastewater plant operations

In a significant move that will help solidify operations after the departure of some high level staff, the Cologne City Council took action to resolve the transitional situation at the wastewater treatment plant during its meeting on Monday, Dec. 3.

After hearing proposals from contractors PeopleService and Water/Wastewater Operations & Technical Assistance at a previous meeting, the council instead took a third route and approved an arrangement with the City of Watertown to share Watertown’s wastewater treatment plant operator.

Mayor Bernie Shambour Jr. handed out cost comparison forms to other council members during the meeting, and explained that the Watertown route was essentially the most cost-effective option.

He said there were a number of issues with using a contractor, including the fact that the city would lose control of some of its costs and that it would not have enough funds left to hire a different full-time public works employee in addition to the contractor. At present, the city’s public works staff consists of just one individual, a situation Shambour said was not sustainable.

The council also mentioned that the PeopleService proposal, which was a five-year commitment, was a major obstacle.

“The five years was very concerning, not to mention the price,” said councilor Jill Skaaland, referring to the annual cost of $142,000 proposed by PeopleService.

Instead, Cologne will operate its plant with help from the licensed Watertown employee, who will be on site for a minimum of four hours per week to meet requirements. The cost of the arrangement to Cologne is $50 per hour, in addition to a $30 trip charge for travel expenses.

The arrangement is in effect for one year, and either city could cancel it in the next 45 days if it is deemed unsatisfactory. Shambour said the shorter term of the agreement and greater autonomy for the city regarding maintenance costs were attractive outcomes of the agreement.

“The numbers themselves really tell the story,” he said.

Watertown also made its licensed treatment plant operator available to Norwood Young America earlier this year after the retirement of NYA’s operator, and Shambour said there could be some unexplored cost savings by having the three cities cooperate on utility projects such as televising sewer lines — similar to what some area cities do by combining street maintenance work.

In other business:
• The council approved hourly wage market adjustments for two city employees. Those adjustments resulted in an eight percent raise, giving a public works employee a salary of $22.68 per hour (up from $21 per hour) and the city clerk a pay rate of $19.76 per hour (up from $18.30).

• Agreed to hold off on approving any additional building permit applications until a city administrator is in place to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

• Held a public hearing and approved a number of special assessments regarding unpaid utility accounts, for collection on next year’s taxes.

• Shambour reported that the city’s Truth in Taxation meeting with a public hearing will be held on Monday, Dec. 17. Water and sewer rates could also be set that meeting, but could also be set early in January.

• Shambour said that the city is interviewing a public works candidate this week, and will hold a workshop next Monday to review city administrator candidates. The objective is to make an offer to a city administrator candidate in the last week of December.