CRYSTAL FALLS—It isn’t much, just .1 cent per kilowatt hour, but the Crystal Falls City Council needed to approve a rate increase to offset its Energy Optimization program’s surcharge or face funding $20,000 worth of energy costs.
The board reviewed the electric department’s calculation of proposed energy optimization rates at its Feb. 13 meeting.
The energy optimization, explained City Manager Dorothea Olson, is state-mandated and is a management program run by Efficiency United.
The goal is to provide incentives to energy customers in the form of rebates, energy-efficient products and more, but the returns are not coming as quickly or in as much of a quantity as anticipated.
“We’re new with this,” said Dave Graff, the city’s electrical department supervisor.
“It’s mandated, and we just started getting money back. We shouldn’t be too judgmental until after a couple of years.”
The current rate of collection is $23,037.70. The total EO surcharge is $43,440.
The option for cost allocation approved by the council would result in an average monthly increase per customer of 1.8 percent.
Jeff Bal of GEI Consultants asked for the council’s approval of the city’s recreation plan.
The plan must be filed with the DNR before March 1, he said.
“Our initial focus was on Runkle Lake Park,” noted Olson.
“We knew in order to qualify for grants, we had to fill in some other things with the original plan.
“I think the formation of the Rec Committee was a good idea,” added Mayor Janet Hendrickson.
“It brought a lot of different people from different areas together.”
The council approved the plan and retained GEI to help write a grant and provide engineering not to exceed $3,000 for a project at Runkle Lake Park.
The council reviewed the city’s Downtown Development Authority’s report, noting no progress had been made with a proposal for a business on Fifth Avenue.
Charles Steele made a presentation at the DDA’s Jan. 16 meeting, outlining his idea for a restaurant/lounge/training center.
The location is not zoned for commercial use, and there are also parking and setback issues, noted Olson.
“He needs to apply for variance applications. Thirty property owners need to be notified. We’ve not heard from him,” she said.
bill pfeifer, representing Habitat for Humanity, told the council the organization was building a home in Crystal Falls, and a group of volunteers was looking for space at the Runkle Lake Campground for their campers.
He asked if the city would consider a lower campground rate for the group, which would be using the campground June 18 to 29 and would require full hookups.
“You need to be careful,” said Olson, regarding special rates for groups. “If you want to set special rates, you’ll have to look at the charter.
“If you’re going to do it for one group, you’ll have to do it for all.
“They’re not just passing through,” said Hendrickson, “they’re building in Crystal Falls. I would like to think we owe them something.”
She asked for a month to consider the proposal.
The ski hill is operating “exceptionally well,” said a representative from the Crystella Recreation Association. One hundred fifteen season passes have been sold, along with 90 day passes. There is sledding and ice skating available. The concessions are running, and the lodge is open.
“We were hoping just to get the ropes going,” he said. “This has surpassed our expectations.”
The position of apprentice journeyman/lineman for the electric utility was discussed, with Graff making a presentation to the council. The city’s electric system needs improvements and maintenance, he said, so it will not be left in a compromised state.
Councilman Scott Thrasher asked whether specific projects could be contracted out.
Graff said he contacted electrical contractors, and learned a hiring a union lineman would cost, including benefits, much more than a city employee.
Currently, there are three employees in the department, including Graff.
“I’m looking for experience and qualifications,” he said. “I would like to hire someone who wants to stay in the area.”
Hendrickson asked that the council consider the outcome of the city’s audit before hiring a new employee.
“We should see how our general fund stands, and find out if we are out of our deficit.”
Graff said there was $680,000 net income from the electric utility last year.
“The money is there,” he said.
Hendrickson also reminded the council of the underfunded liability the city carries with MERS, (Michigan Employees’ Retirement System).
“I want to wait and see how the audit is and if we can really afford it.”
“You have to look at the infrastructure,” said Olson. “I have four interviews set up already.”
“Looking at the conditions (of the system),” said Thrasher, “it’s of concern. We need another lineman, and we need to look at the audit.”
“I need someone right now,” said Graff. “There’s meter replacement, and some crucial brushing needed to keep trees out of the lines.
“All the candidates we’re looking at can do the jobs now.”
Hendrickson said the accountant advised the council to wait until the audit.
“The MERS is being paid for little by little,” Olson said. “We do have money in the bank. We’re coming out of the deficit.
“Plus, it’s an electrical fund issue. It’s going to be a bigger liability to the city if we don’t keep up. I have interviews at the end of the week, and I intend to hire a lineman. It’s within my responsibilities.”
Thrasher made a motion to wait until the audit; Hendrickson supported the motion. On a vote, Councilmen Jack Bicigo, Jeff Hagglund and Dave Sherby voted no; Thrasher and Hendrickson voted yes.
olson had some good news for the council: Crystal Falls received a Michigan Workers’ Compensation Fund “Loss Control Achievement” award, and congratulated the city employees. The city was one of 29 communities given the award.
The council approved the appointment of Carol Sherby to the Board of Review, and approved the appointments of Maxine Henry, Charlie Sandstrom and Pat Milliron for two-year terms on the Crystal Theater Board of Directors.