By Chad Koenen
The Henning City Council is taking a strong stance in its hope of renegotiating its current water contract with the City of Ottertail.
During its regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday night, the city council unanimously approved sending a proposal that seeks to raise the amount of money the City Ottertail pays for water from $2.08 per 1,000 gallons to $4.55 per thousand.
Currently the two communities are in the 22nd year of a 30 year contract in which Henning provides water to the City of Ottertail and its residents.
Henning Mayor Darren Wiese said attempts to renegotiate the current contract have not resulted in a new agreement between the two communities. Before spending more money on attorney fees, Wiese suggested the Henning City Council present the Ottertail City Council with a final proposal seeking to increase the rate charged to reflect the new water rates being paid by the residents in Henning.
“The Henning residents are paying $4.55 and that is what Ottertail should pay,” said Henning Mayor Darren Wiese. ”
As part of an agreement that began 22 years ago, the Henning Public Utilities agreed to provide water to the City of Ottertail for 30 years. As part of the agreement, Henning constructed a wastewater and treatment plant, along with a water tower large enough to service the needs of Ottertail. On the other hand, Ottertail paid for infrastructure to get the water from Henning to the neighboring community.
The agreement stipulates some of the costs that can be charged as part of the water contract. However, the City of Henning said some things were not included in that contract that should have been to reflect the true cost of providing water to the City of Ottertail.
The $2.08 per thousand gallons that is being charged to the City of Ottertail covers the cost of making the water and some employee wages associated with making the water, but not necessarily the cost of some of the infrastructure like the water tower and water plant.
When including the cost of infrastructure the City of Henning contends the actual cost of making water is closer to $4.26 per thousand gallons.
Over the years the Ottertail council has expressed a concern with renegotiating the contract with so much time left on the original agreement.
With a contract still in place for another eight years, councilman Jim Haberer said the Henning City Council cannot force Ottertail to renegotiate the agreement, but can ask them to do so.
“If they don’t want to we can’t force them (to sign a new contract),” he said.
After previous contract proposals were reportedly not accepted by the Ottertail City Council, Henning councilwoman Tammy Fosse asked if the Henning council should expect a different outcome this time around.
“If we offered them $4.26 and they didn’t accept it, is there any reason to expect they will accept $4.55,” she asked.
Wiese said if a new contract cannot be reached the City of Henning must move forward with letting the Ottertail council know it will not extend the current agreement when it expires in eight years. He went on to say it is unfair to continue to raise water rates for Henning residents when the current rates being charged for the Ottertail community is not covering what Henning feels is the true cost of producing water.
“We are not asking them to pay more than Henning residents, which we probably should, we are asking them to pay what Henning pays,” said Wiese.
Regardless of the outcome, new councilman Scott Hart said the Henning council needs to be united and work together to come to a new agreement for the betterment of the local residents.
“If we say we are going to do this at least they know where we stand as a board altogether. I think that’s more important too that we have some continuity,” said Hart who then asked why the City Ottertail couldn’t pay the same price for water as the residents of Henning. “As a council we need to agree on this is where we are, and what we stand for. We need to show our unity.”
The council unanimously agreed to propose a new water contract with the City of Ottertail that will charge $4.55 per thousand gallons of water, which is the rate Henning residents pay after using 2,000 gallons of water. The council agreed to give the Ottertail council 90 days to respond to the proposal and will include the current costs in providing water to the community, along with the proposal.
If the latest offer is rejected the current agreement will remain in place.
According to the City of Henning, approximately 40 percent of all of the water that is produced by the Henning Utilities Department is sold to Ottertail.
In other news
• Discussed placing a port a potty at the ice skating rink, however, the council and city staff questioned if it would actually be used and what kind of responsibility the city would be liable for if it was damaged. The cost to have a port a potty at the ice skating rink would be $150 a month, and at this time, the council opted against having the addition at this time.
• Heard the city had to unplug the wastewater pump again as a pair of women’s underwear was flushed down the toilet and plugged the pump. Utilities Supervisor Brenden Markuson said this was the second time in the past few months something like this has happened and costs the city approximately $1,000 each time a pump is plugged. He reminded people that “the only thing that should be going down is toilet paper.”
• Heard from Markuson that the city staff has been doing some of the pre-project electrical work for an upcoming project. He said the city saved about $9,000 by having the work done in-house, as opposed to hiring an outside group to complete the work.
• Heard from Henning Police and Fire Chief Mike who gave credit to the department for working through bitter cold on Christmas Eve to fight a fire at the Springer residence just outside of town. He said several businesses contributed food like breakfast sandwiches to feed to fire department and help keep them warm.
• Heard the Henning Ambulance Service responded to 344 calls last year, and had already responded to 9 or 10 calls by Jan. 5, 2021.
• Approved changing the city council meetings from the first Tuesday of the month at 5:30 p.m. to the first Monday of the month at 5:30 p.m. The change was made at the request of Hart who mentioned there are a number of athletic events on Tuesday nights and changing the meeting dates to Monday will allow not only council members, but the public, to not have to choose which event to attend.