CRV discusses engineering firms, snow plowing issues

By : 
Scott Bestul
Tri-County Record

Rushford Village City Council has pondered a switch in its preferred engineering firm for at least two months, and that issue was once again front and center when the council convened for its March 5 meeting. The council also dealt with some of the practical and financial concerns related to the extreme weather experienced in the last several weeks.

Engineering discussion

While the council planned to discuss engineering issues later in the meeting, the matter was moved up on the agenda when Derek Olinger, who has worked with the village on several projects through his firm Bolton & Menk, appeared to speak during the Citizen Input portion of the meeting.

Olinger, who had read newspaper reports noting the village was considering the use of another firm due to possible conflict of interest issues, told the council he was “here to have an open conversation, to see what your wishes are, going forward. I think we’ve done a good job for you. As far as the conflict of interest between the village and the city, we don’t want to get in between that, as it’s very uncomfortable for us. I’m not here to argue or tell you you’re wrong. What I am here to tell you is that you are important to us. I’d like to continue working for you, because I’ve enjoyed it.”

Mayor Johnson noted that much of the tension regarding the possible switch was due to the drilling and boring project Bolton & Menk completed for the City of Rushford as it explored the possibility of expanding westward. “We don’t like to view that [project] as contentious, but it’s in our backyard,” Johnson said. “We’ve been pleased with you. It’s not like you haven’t done what we’ve asked you do. “

City Attorney Manion noted that the “political structure” that exists between the city and village is unique, and asked Olinger if there were ethical guidelines that existed for engineers in such a situation.

Olinger replied, “This situation is rare, and not one that we run into often. Most of what we do for you guys is a separate issue, and the [potential development] was strictly an engineering report, and the boring report might have suggested that the project was moving along faster than it actually was. There are ethical standards and codes; for example, we couldn’t work for you and work for a developer planning a subdivision in your area, that would be a conflict. But I don’t see that here.” After some further discussion, Olinger thanked the council for their time and left.

Later in the meeting, the council discussed the engineering issue again. While some councilors expressed concern over potential conflict of interest issues, Councilor Ebner asked, “Are we really that unhappy with Bolton & Menk? I have to commend Derek for coming down here and talking with us. To me that says a lot.” Councilor Rasmussen agreed and said, “I think they’re going to do what’s right for both entities. Plus we’re not under contract with them or anything, correct? If we’re not, we can change at any time if we’re not happy with something. I don’t see any reason to change right now.”

After further discussion, the council agreed to remain with Bolton & Menk for the time being, and would contact Olinger to inform him of this decision and thank him for attending the meeting.

Plowing issues

The severe weather and abundant snow has caused problems for road maintenance across the region, and the village is no exception. Treasurer Graham reported that the village has spent at least $10,000 in unbudgeted money due to expenses and pay associated with plowing.

With no income expected until June, Graham suggested she could cash in two CD’s, for approximately $52,000, that would allow the village to meet expenses going forward. Councilor Overland made a motion to approve this action, and the council agreed.

The council discussed this matter further during the Roads/Water/Sewer portion of the meeting, first moving to purchase more rock for road maintenance when it became available.

Councilors also discussed the issue of paying overtime hours for employees running plows and other road maintenance equipment. Councilor Ebner noted, “This has not been a normal winter. You can’t go two days without having to open or re-open a road, and that means nights, weekends, whatever. I think we have to be willing to do whatever it takes to make sure our operators are fairly compensated.“

Plowing discussions then switched to equipment, and Mayor Johnson noted that the village graders were simply not adequate for handling the snow depths and continued drifting of the last several weeks. Johnson recommended the purchase of a blower from Hammell Equipment that would be able to open up rural roads. The purchase price of the blower is $2,493.78, with tractor chains for $191.81. The council approved the purchase.

In its final official matter of the meeting, the council agreed to adopt of a letter of support for House File/Senate File 1825, the SE MN Diversification Loan Fund.

Schedule

The next meeting of the Rushford Village City Council is scheduled for Tuesday, March 19, at 7 p.m. All members of the public are en