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BREAKING NEWS

W’bago changes water rate policy

By Staff | Mar 14, 2011

Austin Bleess

Winnebago residents have spoken and the City Council has listened.

On Tuesday, council members approved new water rates in response to numerous complaints to the city’s tier-billing system.

Last month, some residents told the council they weren’t against paying higher rates but did not like being billed for water not used.

“I heard, ‘They’ll never do anything about it,’ but we have,” says Councilman Scott Robertson.

Under the new system, the city will no longer charge for every 1,000 gallons and round up to next thousand. Instead, residents will be billed for every 100 gallons.

“You’ll pay for what you use,” says Councilman Rick Johnson.

The city’s Utility Committee studied more than 15 different pricing options before making a decision.

City Administrator Austin Bleess says most residents will see a small decrease in their monthly bill.

“Some will see a slight increase. The 17 water users in the highest tier will see the largest impact,” says Bleess.

Resident Jerry Johanson criticized the council and Bleess before the old tier system was changed.

Johanson says he met with Bleess and became a little frustrated.

“The residents should have been notified before the rates were changed. You have Winnebago in an uproar. This didn’t have to happen,” he says.

According to Johanson, Bleess sent him a letter and pointed out there are 30 towns in Minnesota that charge per 1,000 gallons.

Johanson says he contacted officials in some of the communities and they denied billing per 1,000 gallons.

Council members also were questioned why they approved it.

“The information you are getting isn’t always good. You council members need to start checking on stuff,” Johanson says.

In the past, Bleess has said the state is requiring all cities implement a tier billing system by 2013.

Bleess says the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recommends water be sold in units of 1,000 gallons and the billing system have an increase of at least 25 percent between steps and 50 percent for the last level.

Johnson took issue with Johanson, saying a lot of research and time was spent on the tier-billing system.

“It’s not a rubber-stamp and I don’t like that opinion coming out,” says Johnson.

Robertson told Johanson and any other critics he wasn’t going to allow anyone to take “pot shots” at the city administrator while he’s on the council.

“We fixed it. What is done, is done. You have to move forward,” says Robertson. “You are going to pay for what you use.”

In other business, the council approved a resolution to repair two blocks of sewer mains on Main Street between First Avenue South and First Avenue North.

The estimated cost of the project is nearly $400,000.

City engineer Wes Brown of Bolton & Menk gave a presentation on the condition of three segments on Main Street.

He says the pipes installed in the 1930s have exceeded their life expectancy of 50 to 60 years.

The engineering firm recommends cured-in-place pipe for the two-block area and televising the other two areas to determine the condition of the mains.

Brown says the strength of the repaired pipes will be equal to new PVC and have a life expectancy of 50 years or more.

Only properties hooked up to the Main Street sewer system will be assessed, which is estimated at $3,800.

“It’s a pretty good deal for property owners,” says Brown. “A pretty cheap way to fix it and not have to worry about it for a long time.”