City enlists accounting assistance

A promising new plan to treat nitrate pollution in Scandia’s Bliss septic system has the potential to drastically reduce or mitigate future costs of replacing the 34-year-old system.

Scandia Public Works Director Adam Hawkinson reported last week that by installing equipment that will spread the effluent more evenly among the system’s 10 distribution trenches and adding treatment bacteria to help reduce the nitrates, the city is hopeful about bringing the system into MPCA compliance. Hawkinson has worked with representatives of the Minnesota Rural Water Association on the plan.

“If this works, compared to the costs we’ve been talking about, it’s going to be a lot less expensive,” Hawkinson told the council.

The Scandia City Council hired Smilies Sewer Service for $6,006 to do the work. Costs of the bacteria treatment is about $1,000 per year.

Changes to the Minnesota Pollution Control Act in 2006 mandated that the system lower its nitrate levels by 2025.

Costs of replacing the system have been estimated between $500,000 and $950,000.

The city has been gradually increasing usage rates over the past couple of years—including a 5 percent increase in 2020—in anticipation of the capital expenditure. 

Hawkinson said the city might hope to see positive results as early as October.

Accounting assistance

The city is hiring some accounting help.

The council last week approved a plan to enlist the firm of Abdo Eick & Meyers to provide training and assistance to the city with its monthly financial reconciliations.

The initial contract is for $3,000 for 20 hours of training and assistance, with the firm kept on retainer through 2021 at a rate of $150 per hour for about two hours per month. The funding will come out of the city’s budget for employee training and travel expenses, which have been under-utilized this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

City Treasurer Colleen Firkus told the council that the city’s monthly accounting tasks have grown in complexity beyond her ability to manage by herself. Firkus has been employed by the city for more than 20 years. 

City Administrator Ken Cammilleri recommended the contract, noting that he had worked with Abdo Eick & Meyers in the past.

Meisters fined

Meister’s Bar & Grill will be closed for one to-be-determined day, after the business failed an alcohol compliance check last December. The bar was also given a $500 fine, the minimum penalties required by city ordinance.

The business’s owner, Scot Taylor, was apologetic at the city’s public hearing last week. Taylor has owned the business for more than 15 years and this was a first-ever violation.

The council agreed to allow Taylor to choose the date of the one-day suspension. 

Other business:

• The council approved a conditional use permit to the Big Marine Lake Store to expand its building and parking lot area. The plan would expand the rural convenience store/gas station, on Manning Trail west of Big Marine Lake, by 1,736 square feet and add more than a dozen parking spaces. The business was granted permits to expand in 2017 and 2018, including a plan for a 90-seat bar and restaurant, but neither of those plans were put into action.

• The council approved wage increases for firefighters Nick Vannelli and Steven Greenhow, who both recently completed their probationary training periods. Vannelli will receive $11.33 per hour; Greenhow will receive $12.33 per hour, having also recently earned his EMT certification.

The next Scandia City Council meeting will be held Aug. 5 at 6:30 p.m.

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