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Council OKs hire for rental housing ordinance revision, new sewer service charges

The Worthington City Council on Monday approved a contract services agreement pertaining to revision of the city’s rental housing ordinance.

Council members agreed to hire Ken Bickner of Heron Lake on a contracted fee of $40 per hour to assist in developing a rental housing ordinance, or adapting the existing ordinance, so that it is effective in maintaining the safety and general quality of housing in the community. It’s hoped that Bickner will work toward developing a recordkeeping system and reporting methods, as well as a realistic and workable plan for regularly scheduled and complaint-based inspection of all rental housing in Worthington.

Worthington City Administrator Steve Robinson explained that the city’s rental housing registration and inspection program has struggled to fulfill its intended purpose since its creation in 2006. The program has lacked sufficient enforcement mechanisms to gain entry to rental units, which could take months and required significant legal costs. Failure to provide sufficient penalties for negligent property owners has been another key issue, and one that Mayor Mike Kuhle said Monday hoped would be remedied as a result of Bickner’s work.

The 2022 sewer service charges for the city of Worthington were also approved during Monday night’s meeting.

Worthington Public Utilities General Manager Scott Hain explained that the “average” residential user -- 4,000 gallons per month -- will see about a $1.99 per month, or 5.8%, increase.

Hain stated that the monthly sewer charge consists of two components, a usage charge and a connection charge. The usage charge is to recover the cost of conveying and treating wastewater, and this charge per 1,000 gallons is proposed to increase by just 0.1% for non-industrial users. The "connection charge," or minimum monthly charge, is to recover costs such as those for billing, collection system improvements, treating inflow and infiltration and debt service on reserve capacity. The monthly connection charge is proposed to increase $1.97, or 10.8%.

The total revenue of $2,578,757 to be generated by the 2022 rates is $151,500 (6.2%) more than the $2,427,257 budgeted to be generated from the 2021 rates.

Also Monday, the council:

* Approved a professional services agreement regarding operation and management of the city’s industrial wastewater treatment facility, which treats discharges from the JBS plant.

The city has contracted services for operation and management of the treatment facility since the mid-1990s. The agreement with the current operator, Veolia North America, concludes at the end of this year. The city solicited proposals from three organizations that are experienced in operating industrial facilities. Submissions were received from two respondents, with Veolia deciding not to pursue the opportunity.

City staff recommended – and JBS concurred – that the city enter into a three-year agreement with the firm of Woodard and Curran. The costs are passed along to JBS. Jerry Vogt, who has come out of retirement to operate the plant, already has a good relationship with Woodard and Curran, Robinson said.

* Approved the appointment of an interim designated building official to coincide with the impending retirement of longtime building official Armand Eshleman. Gene Abbott’s appointment is effective Nov. 30. Abbott has already been an employee of the city as a plan reviewer for two years.

* Approved the third and final reading of the city’s amended storm water utility ordinance. There will be a 2.43% in the storm water utility rate following no rate change for 2021. This means a 14-cent monthly increase for residential lots, or $1.68 per year, as well as a monthly increase of $1.17 (or $14.07 annually) for commercial and institutional use, a 97-cent monthly ($11.69 for the year) increase for industrial use and an 86-cent monthly ($10.36 for the year) increase for multi-family use.

* Approved the donation from an anonymous individual of $100 to the Worthington Police Department to be distributed to members of the public through its Secret Santa Program. Worthington patrol officers will give out cash tucked inside Christmas cards during traffic stops before Christmas

* Approved a new city administrator employment agreement for Steve Robinson. Under the agreement, Robinson is slated to be paid gross annualized salaries of $145,538.60 for 2022, $153,645.09 for 2023 and $162,203.11 for 2024. Salary increases are determined by the city council, in its sole discretion, based on each performance review that must be given annually.

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