Two Harbors CouncilThe Two Harbors City Council met July 8 with all councilors, Mayor Bolen, City Administrator Lee Klein and City Attorney Steve Overom present.
By: Tammy Francois, Lake County News Chronicle
The Two Harbors City Council met July 8 with all councilors, Mayor Bolen, City Administrator Lee Klein and City Attorney Steve Overom present.
City makes agreements with employees
The city reached an agreement with members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 31. The union, which represents the city’s lineworkers and fresh water workers, had been under the third year of a wage freeze and without a contract since January 1, 2013. In an interview with the Lake County News-Chronicle in May, Stuart Anderson, the union’s steward and a Two Harbors lineworker, said that the city’s IBEW members’ wages are more than $10 below those of lineworkers at Cooperative Light and Power for the same work. After months of negotiation, union officials said the agreement reached between the union and the City of Two Harbors is not what the employees had hoped.
“I didn’t expect more than they got, but the linemen are so far behind that something has got to give sometime. I believe they’re under paid compared to surrounding utilities. In order to have good employees, the city is going to have to bring wages up sometime,” said the IBEW Local 31 Business Manager Mark Glazer on Monday.
The city’s labor negotiator, Bill Sample, presented the council with the terms of the agreement which, in fact, included two separate agreements. The first covered the period from Jan. 1, 2013- Dec. 31, 2014, and provided workers with a 1% wage increase effective April 1, 2013, and an additional 2% increase and a 5 cent adjustment effective Jan.1, 2014. Union members will also be required to convert to the health insurance plan that covers the city’s other employees.
The second agreement would increase wages by 2% as of Jan. 1, 2015, with a 35 cent adjustment for lineworkers and a 15 cent per hour increase for fresh water workers. The city council ratified the contracts unanimously.
Glazer said this contract, while an improvement, still lags behind the union’s other contracts for municipal electrical workers in similar size cities throughout the state, including Aitkin, Brainerd, Staples and Moose Lake.
“It’s more in each of these” he said, “and I think all the communities I mentioned are in worse shape financially than the City of Two Harbors.”
In other city employee news, Gail Ostman’s grievance against the City of Two Harbors has been settled. Ostman, who has been performing some of the duties of the finance director since the retirement of Richard Sundstrom, requested that her compensation be stepped up to reflect the increased workload. A deal was struck and in exchange for an increase of just under $142 per month retroactive to Jan. 1, 2013, Ostman agreed to drop her grievance, said Sample, who also negotiated the terms on behalf of the city. The council approved the agreement unanimously.
So, about that trail...
Tom Pfeffer, senior project manager at Ayres Associates, appeared before the council with news that an additional $24,000 will be needed to move forward on the trail behind Super One and Shopko. The trail crosses a segment of the Canadian National Railroad. His announcement comes on the heels of Pfeffer’s April appearance before the council, at which he said that the city’s portion of the project would cost over $100,000 more than anticipated. The need for the yet another $24,000 from the city came as a surprise to the council. Pfeffer said that the additional costs were due to the increased amount of liability insurance required of contractors working on railroad property, and that all of the bids were higher than originally expected for this reason. He also said there may also be more costs associated with the project.
“These are the costs that I know right now, the only thing it doesn’t include is the wetlands work,” he said, estimating the additional costs at around $15,000 for drainage and $5,000 for the construction of a berm. “These costs are not solid. That number could go down.”
Pfeffer said that Lake County planned to award the bid for the trail at an upcoming meeting, but needed to know that the City of Two Harbors is onboard with its share of the funding. The council grappled with the new information.
“What did we have budgeted (for this project)?” Asked Mayor Bolen.
“We had nothing budgeted for this,” said Klein. “We were under the impression that grants would pay for this.” Taking another tack, Councilor Cathy Erickson proposed looking into a way to give the council time to consider its options.
“Can we find out when the federal funds expire so we can consider a rebid? Can we reject the bid without rejecting the project?” She asked.
The council then asked about its liability if it opted out of the project altogether. Klein said that no contract existed between the city and the county. Pfeffer countered , saying that the county was responsible for payment if it accepts a contractor’s bid, “but it’s implied that the city is involved.”
Council President Jerry Norberg summed it up: “Are we willing to potentially commit an additional $100 thousand on this project? That’s what we have to decide. At some point we have to decide, is our head above water? Are we sinking or swimming? And we have to decide sooner rather than later.” Councilors Simonson and McDonald suggested that perhaps it is time to consider cutting the city’s losses instead of sinking more money into the trail.
In the end, the council passed a motion to inform the county that the City had some questions and would make a decision at the next council meeting.
The council approved requests by the Two Harbors Police Department to go forward with a deer hunt within city limits and to keep the Crown Victoria squad car as a back-up.
A motion carried to receive bids for repainting the mural on the west side of the municipal liquor store building, to approve $300 for banners to be hung on utility poles in town, $100 to sponsor a chalk artist for the Chalk.a.Lot Festival, $100 for the outdoor movie project at the airport and up to $1000 for additions to the city-owned PA system.