Rushford City Council marks historic meeting


The Rushford City Council made history on Monday, Jan. 13. by swearing in its first-ever female mayor. Pictured above are Mayor Terri Benson(center) with re-elected councilor Jim O'Donnell(left) and newly-elected councilor Leigh Volkman(right).
By: 
Scott Bestul

There weren’t many heavy-hitting items on the agenda, but the January 13, 2020 meeting of the Rushford City Council was an historic one. For the first time in the city’s history a female mayor, Terri Benson, banged the gavel to open the proceedings. Benson, who’d just completed her first term as a councilor, was elected to the mayor’s seat during the November election.

Benson was sworn in by City Clerk Kathy Zacher prior to the meeting’s 6:30 p.m. start. Joining Benson in taking the oath of office were newly-elected councilor Leigh Volkman and re-elected councilor Jim O’Donnell.

Fire department update

Rushford Fire Department Chief Chad Rasmussen had provided the council with a list of items prior to the meeting. Included was the list of elected Fire Dept. Officers for 2020, which resulted in no changes from 2019. Rasmussen will continue as Chief; James Dailey First Asst. Chief; Paul Corcoran Second Asst. Chief; Training/Safety Officers Nick Smith and Tim Diepenbrock; Maintenance/Safety Officers Brent Johnson and Craig Hanson; and Secretary/Finance Officer Michael Evenson.

There was only one change to the officers named to the Relief Association Board, and that was replacement of outgoing Mayor Chris Hallum with Mayor Terri Benson. Officers for 2020 will be Nick Smith (Pres.), Nathan Peterson (vice pres.), Paul Corcoran (treasurer), Tim Diepenbrock (sec.), Nick Corcoran (trustee), Wayne Exe (trustee), and Ex-Officio members Rasmussen, Mayor Benson, and City Clerk Kathy Zacher. The city council voted unanimously to ratify these election results.

Rasmussen also updated the council on the meetings and events scheduled for 2020, and ongoing training, seminars and workshops schedule for the year. After reviewing this report, council members briefly discussed fire department status and business with Rasmussen. “Dave Lombard recently retired after 23 years,” Rasmussen noted. “He wore a lot of hats for us during that time; losing him is like losing two guys. We also lost Rich Smith, who did a good job.” Rasmussen noted that 30 firefighters is full capacity for the department, and current numbers stand at 27. “We’ll probably be there for awhile,” he said. “It’s tough to attract people these days, and many local departments are struggling. The training itself is a huge commitment.”

Regarding equipment, Rasmussen said, “As long as the trucks keep going we’re in pretty good shape. We shouldn’t need any big equipment purchases this year and we really don’t have a replacement vehicle scheduled until 2027.” The council moved to accept the Fire Dept. report and thanked Rasmussen for providing the update.

Public Works truck purchase

Public Works Director Roger Knutson had submitted a request to pursue replacement of the department’s 1996 Ford tandem truck. This vehicle was originally purchased shortly after the 2007 flood, when the vehicle was badly needed but there was not much time for shopping around. Knutson’s report noted beside routine maintenance, the largest repairs to the vehicle had been for brakes, leaf springs, etc., in 2012 and 2014, totaling approximately $8,000. We have just had a DOT inspection...and find we will now have to make repairs costing approximately $3,300 for flywheel housing replacement, starter and clutch repair.”

Knutson noted that these repairs will bring the Ford up to DOT inspection standards, “but it’s not likely to last a lot longer. We’ll use it as needed over the coming months, but we’d like to have the authority to make an offer if we find a vehicle that will work for us and fits within the budget.” Knutson felt the purchase of a solid used truck could range from $35,000 to $60,000, minus the sale of the old tandem, which could bring between $5,000-$8,000.

While the council recognized the need for a replacement truck, they were hesitant to give Knutson blanket approval for such a purchase. “I don’t have a problem with the concept,” said Councilor O’Donnell, “I just don’t like the idea of giving you the checkbook. I’d just feel more comfortable with you running it by us first. Part of our job as the council is to be fiscally responsible agents of the city. “Councilor Volkman agreed, noting, “I’d like to see you refine the proposal with some specs about what features you’re looking for, the year, etc.”

Knutson acknowledged the input, but noted that they’d had a chance to inspect, and possibly buy, a truck that seemed to fit their needs. “But before we could even get there, the truck had been sold,” he said. “Sometimes these used trucks, especially the good ones, can come and go so quickly. [Waiting] isn’t such a big deal, but we just missed this deal.” City Administrator Chladek noted, “This might be a chance to discuss how we communicate on matters like this, rather than making Roger wait until the next meeting. “The council urged Knutson to keep shopping for a vehicle, then report to Chladek if he found a potential purchase. Chladek could then inform council members, probably by e-mail, about the proper next steps.

Sewer rate increase

The council agreed to set the date for a public hearing regarding sewer rates, which have not seen an increase since 2016. The city’s financial bond consultant has reviewed current rates and suggested a two percent increase for each residential unit per month over the next two years, which would result in an increase of $.94 per month for 2020, and a $.96 increase per month in 2021. City of Rushford Village residents would see an increase of $.60 per month in 2020 and an increase of $.61 per month in 2021. CRV will be sent information about the rates and inviting them to the hearing. The council set the date for a public hearing regarding these proposed increases for Jan. 27, 2020 at 7 p.m.

EDA/Edward Lowe Foundation Contract

City Administrator Chladek had submitted a request that the city adopt a contract with the Edward Lowe Foundation, which provides consulting services to businesses with at least 10 employees. “They’re willing to offer a contract that could service up to five small businesses in the area,” Chladek said. “The intent would be to use Rushford Manufacturing as a model, and they’re open to the idea.”

The cost of the program is a $150 initial consulting fee, with the potential of up to 33 additional hours if the business requests it; this would cap costs at $4,125. “From an economic development standpoint, if this is a good program, the costs are a drop in the bucket,” Chladek said.

Councilor Ryman, who also sits on the EDA board, said, “Rushford Manufacturing has already grown their business from seven to 22 employees, and they have plans for more growth. If this program works for them, maybe it will be a good model for other businesses.” After some discussion, the council approved entering into the Edward Lowe Foundation contract.

Business items

In its final act of the meeting, the council set the meeting dates/times for the year (the second and fourth Mondays of each month, except for May and October, which will be held on Tuesday due to national holidays) and a time of 6:30 p.m. They also voted Councilor O’Donnell to serve as acting mayor if Mayor Benson is absent.

The council also adopted board, commission, and committee appointments, which can be reviewed on the city’s website.

Schedule

The next meeting of the Rushford City Council will be held Monday, Jan. 27 at 6:30 p.m. There will also be a public hearing regarding a possible increase in the sewer rate at 7 p.m. that night. All members of the public are encouraged to attend.