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Morris City Council discusses water meter costs, airport land use and equipment

MORRIS, Minn. - The Morris City Council had a short meeting Tuesday night where they discussed the bill from Ferguson Waterworks for the water meter replacement project and what to do about two issues out at the Morris Municipal Airport.

At a meeting earlier in February, council members questioned why the total payment to Ferguson Waterworks was about $28,400 more than the original bid amount.

After reviewing the bid and work done, City Manager Blaine Hill told the council on Tuesday that the city ha to purchase 12 additional commercial water meters that weren't in the original bid, which made up most of the extra cost.

"When we went to bids on this, we weren't sure the exact number of everything we were going to do," said Hill. "There was some discussion about these big commercial meters and what we were going to do with them."

According to Hill, the new commercial meters were needed for locations where the old meters were not working. Having working water meters will increase sales and help pay for the meter, said Hill.

During the meter replacement project, the city's policy was that it couldn't ask commercial businesses to pay for the bigger, commercial water meters and any plumbing changes that would need to go with it. For residential meters, the city asked property owners to have shutoff valves installed if they did not have one or re-plumb meters if they were in a poor location, Hill explained.

Council member Bill Storck asked when the city would know whether the project - which cost the city about $438,000 in total - would pay off.

"The whole reason behind this is we wanted to account for the water," said Strock. "I'm anxious to find out if it was worthwhile that we spent that much money."

"It will be good to see when everything gets leveled off," Mayor Sheldon Giese concurred.

Finance Director Gene Krosschell said that it is still too early to tell what the impact of the new meters will be. He estimated in about four months the city would be able to do a comparison to prior years to see how the new meters are working.

"We're in the transition period where we're doing the catch-up billing; we haven't really had any good, clean billing periods yet," Krosschell said.

Hill said that once there was data available it would be brought to a meeting for the council to review.

Airport land lease, tug purchase discussed

The council voted to table a resolution that would have leased the land around the Morris Municipal Airport to MTM Farms after concerns from city staff brought up issues that may impact what the airport land can be used for.

The council originally passed a three-year lease with farmer Gary Jacobson in December, who had been farming the land for several years. However, Jacobson declined the lease because he was not able to farm anymore.

Hill advertised for proposals to farm the land and received five bids. The highest - to farm the land for $102 per acre plus taxes - was from MTM Farms.

After city staff voiced concerns about what can be done with land near an airport runway, Hill recommended that the council table the resolution to sign a lease with MTM Farms until he can investigate land use further.

Hill said he would have a recommendation by the next city council meeting and would likely ask for a new round of proposals for the property.

Airport equipment was another concern that surfaced at Tuesday's meeting. Earlier in the month, Hill told the council that he was working with Superior Industries to look into buying a new tug for the airport. In his report, Hill said the pilot for Superior Industries was concerned about moving the company's new, $3 million plane with the current setup, a tractor.

Since he first mentioned the possible purchase, Hill said he hasn't heard from anyone about moving the project forward.

"Nothing's been done with this," Hill told the council. "What I'm looking at is, as an airport operator, we should have a piece of equipment that can be used to move planes in and out. We have to have planes move in and out in order to maximize the use of the facility."

A new tug would cost about $15,000, but Hill said he thought the city could find a used tug for much cheaper. Additionally, the state of Minnesota will fund 50 percent of the cost of a new piece of equipment.

Council member Twig Webster said that buying the tug could be part of a service agreement with airport users.

"I think if we're providing more and more services, [users] should be charged accordingly, just so it's equitable," said Webster.