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Board makes decisions on sewer system’s future
Soldiers Grove
Soldiers Grove

SOLDIERS GROVE - The Village of Soldiers Grove made several noteworthy decisions about their sewer utility at their regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday, April 8. Those decisions included selecting a contractor for the massive sewer system upgrade project scheduled for this summer and fall, and agreement to write an ordinance adjusting their sewer rates.

Bart Nies, owner of Delta-3 Engineering was present to share the results of a request for proposals conducted at the village office on Thursday, March 25. Two contractors, JI Construction of Livingston and G Pro Excavating of Montfort submitted bids.

The JI Construction bid was for $1,094,074.50, and the G Pro Excavating bid was for $1,439,735. The board voted to accept the bid from JI Construction.

“The bid came in at $89,000 less than the estimate in the grant budget, and $50,000 less than the revised February estimate,” Nies explained. “With the bid and the project administration budget, the whole project is estimated to cost $1.3 million, with the village’s share $430,000.”

Nies had previously told the board that it was likely that the village’s share of the project cost, beyond the $914,000 Community Development Public Facility Grant received, could be paid for by a DNR Clean Water Fund Grant.

“After review, the village’s score doesn’t look that good in terms of eligibility for the DNR grant,” Nies told the board. “However, if the grant is not awarded, the DNR will offer the village low-interest financing on your share of the project cost, at the rate of 2.8 percent interest for 20 years. It is also possible the village could be awarded a combination of a grant and a loan, with the proviso that the grant funds will only be offered if the financing is accepted.”

Nies said that Delta-3 would move forward with the DNR grant application. He said the village would likely find out if the grant or grant/loan had been awarded in January of 2022.

Pursuant to fulfilling the terms of the Community Development Public Facility Grant, the board also moved to declare the week of April 12-16 Fair Housing Week in the Village of Soldiers Grove. The village clerk will post notice of Fair Housing Week in all the places where village board meeting agendas are posted, and also submit an announcement in the newspaper.

Sewer rate adjustment

The village had also contracted with Gary Koch of Community Development Alternatives for a review of the village’s sewer utility rates. After hearing Koch’s report, the board took action to recommend writing a revised ordinance for approval at their May meeting.

“The purpose of my review was to analyze the current way that sewer rates are charged in the village and to make recommendations about how the sewer utility could support itself,” Koch explained. “The village’s sewer utility has been supported by the general fund, which has shrunk in recent years, and the utility lost $16,866 in 2018 and owes the general fund $109,515.”

Koch said that the village currently charges customers a flat rate of $53.05 per month, no matter what size water meter they have coming out of their home or business. He told the board that in a review of similar sized municipal utilities in the area, most rates were based on the size of the water meter, and he advised the board to move away form the one-size-fits-all, flat rate system.

“The sewer utility rates are based on the home or businesses water usage, with the average usage in the village being 7,700 gallons per year,” Koch said. “What this fails to take into account is that businesses or a large family will use more water, whereas a family of two would likely use considerably less.”

Currently, village sewer customers are charged quarterly with a flat rate fee of $53.05 regardless of the size of their water meter, and a user fee of $8.27 per 9,000 gallons of water used.

Koch presented three options to revise the village’s sewer rates, and the board voted to write an ordinance based on option three. Those three options were:

Option One: bill for use proportionately, and increase a users flat rate fee based on the size water meter they have. This option would generate an estimated $8,000 more per year in revenue through increasing the user charge, and reduce a residential customer bill by $3.67 per month.

Option Two: raise the flat rate fee by $4.95 per quarter, and raise the user charge to $9.23. This would generate an estimated $26,000 per year.

Option Three: raise the flat rate fee by $10 per quarter to $63.05, and raise the user fee to $10 per 9,000 gallons of water used. By comparison, this would put the village’s sewer rates somewhere between those in Blue River and those in LaFarge.

Koch also pointed out that there is a 10-13 percent variance between the amount of water the village pumps and the amount it bills for. While there will always be some variance, he said that this is excessive and should be investigated and solved.

“I was very scared to see what numbers Gary’s analysis would reveal, but relieved when I actually saw them,” village president Paul Nicholson said. “I think with option three, what we’ll see is that sewer utility customers will be billed more fairly.”

Vicki Campbell asked if any special adjustments could be made for business customers in the village.

Koch said that the village doesn’t have any really big users of their water and sewer utilities, but that other villages offer businesses one rate up to a certain number of gallons, and then an adjusted rate for usage beyond that.

“All these years, we’ve put off doing something about this because we were scared that the sewer rates would be too high,” trustee Vicki Campbell said. “The result is that now the sewer utility is in the hole.”

Gary Koch pointed out that many area utilities in the area bill monthly instead of quarterly, and that is something the village should consider. Nicholson pointed out that setting up a monthly billing plan is something the village allows, and that some customers are already taking advantage of as a way to manage their expenses.

“Once we adopt the new ordinance and rates I think the village needs to send customers a letter explaining the changes,” trustee Shayne Chapman said. “At that time, we can also offer them the monthly payment plan option.”

Public input

The meeting started with a robust and lively session of public input. First up was librarian Sarah DiPadova, who announced that the library would hold a 50th Anniversary celebration on Saturday, August 14, with a variety of activities to mark the occasion. The celebration was postponed from 2020 due to the pandemic.

Resident Marla Walsh asked the board if the walk way that used to exist on New Well Road could be opened back up again. Nicholson said that the village would look into who owns that property and what might be possible.

Another resident reported that there is a group of people working together on fundraising to put disc golf courses in communities in the area. With money they have and expect to raise, they are going to put in a course in LaFarge, and estimate that they may have the funds to put one in the park in Soldiers Grove if the village was willing to allow it. He said that members of the group had attended the Myrtle Lake fundraiser last fall, and would like to be involved in creating recreational opportunities in the village park. He said that there would be no real cost to the village.

Peyton Zitzner, an eight-year-old village resident, addressed the board asking that they consider a revision to their fowl ordinance which would allow his family to keep their backyard chickens. He said that he likes to eat eggs, likes the chicken litter for his garden, and likes that chickens eat bugs and ticks.

Another resident who had recently moved to the village from Viroqua asked that the board consider creation of a dog park in the village. She said that she still drives with her dog up to the dog park in Viroqua so her dog can run and play with other dogs, and that she had moved to the village to “get away from Viroqua.” Trustee Vicki Campbell said that she personally didn’t have a problem with the idea, but would first like to see dog owners in the village renewing their dog licenses and paying their dog license fees. President Nicholson said the board would “look into it.” 

President’s report

Nicholson reported that the clerk’s new computer had been installed yesterday, and that he and village clerk Kaitlynn Gander were currently working to resolve issues with the village sign that is operated by the computer.

According to Nicholson, the new campground permits have been printed. He said that the Mobil station likes the changed format, and is happy to work with the village on the park rental system.

He said that the campground is expected to open for the season on April 15, and that the public works crew is currently painting the bathrooms. He reported that he had resolved an issue with the village’s insurance where the company alleged that there had been a claim in 2020, which there had not. He reminded the board that village clean up day was scheduled for Saturday, April 10, and cemetery clean up would take place on April 12.

In other business

In other business:

• Fire Chief Roger Olson reported that the Red Coats would hold a spring fundraising event on Saturday, April 24. The event will feature a drive-through meal of two brats or a burger or two hot dogs, chips, beans, and potato salad while it lasts, for $6. Beverages can be purchased for $1. He said the department had received donations for the event from Organic Valley and Kwik Trip

• the board voted to accept a bid from Pro Line Printing of Viroqua for the design, printing and installation of four village signs – three to be placed on the outskirts of town and one at the village hall – for a cost of $4,461 for the three signs, and $1,120.20 for the sign at the village hall. The signs will be paid for with CDC funds

• the board voted to establish a committee to make recommendations for use of room tax funds paid into the CDC fund for advertising. The committee will be formed from owners of restaurants and hotels in the village

• Director of Public Works Brian Copus reported that his crew would start reading water meters next week

• Nicholson reported that the village’s back hoe was becoming “very ill,” and replacement is something that the board will need to consider in the near future

• Nicholson reported that the public works team had been “babysitting” one of the sewer lift station pumps by the American Legion, and believed that the one pump still working would likely last until the sewer upgrade work could be completed, with the other pump at that lift station being totally dead

• Nicholson proposed and the board approved hiring Gordy Burns to remove 43 stumps at the cemetery at a cost of $70 apiece, for a total of $3,010

• Nicholson reported that he had participated in a number of Zoom calls regarding approved uses for the total $50,000 the village will receive from the federal American Recovery Act. The funds will be received in two equal payments, in 2021 and in 2022. He said that the League of Wisconsin Municipalities advises that guidelines for how the funds can be spent aren’t yet completely clear, and they are advising communities to put the funds in a segregated account and await further clarification

• The board approved appointing Katrina Johnson to the library board

• The board approved an operator license for Monica Horner.