The Mabel City Council approved a 3 percent increase in employee wages at its last meeting of 2012 last Wednesday evening. The council also discussed Jim Narum's retirement at the end of March from his position as city clerk and approved a wage adjustment for Bob Mierau to compensate him for extra duties he has acquired since he was hired as the public works director.

First, the council approved the wage increase for all the city employees, following the "standard" being set by other cities and counties in the area. The increase will be the same for 2014 as well.

The council approved the extension of the phased retirement plan for clerk Jim Narum through March 31. Narum is working part-time and will continue to do so through March as he helps train the new clerk and prepare that person to take over his duties.

At the November meeting, the council discussed promoting Karen Larson, the current deputy clerk, to the position of city clerk. Narum had contacted the League of Minnesota Cities to see what protocol the city would have to follow to do this. He reported to the council that the city could indeed promote within and would then advertise for a deputy clerk after the new year.

Laura St. Mary, who will join the council in January, was present at the meeting and asked the current council members if the promotion of Larson was a "done deal." She stated it would be the perfect opportunity for the city to revisit the positions and redefine job duties. "Are two people needed or one and a half or just one?" she asked.

It was explained that Narum has been working part-time for the past several years and both the clerk's position as well as that of the deputy clerk will continue to be part-time positions.

As deputy clerk, Larson has also been responsible for community center bookings and will be updating the city's website when it goes online. Those were new duties to her position in the recent months as Jim and Brenda Westby had been volunteering their time to conduct tours and schedule events since the center opened.

Because Larson has been working at the city for several months, Narum anticipated a smooth transition. He did note that some of the duties he had, such as zoning and weed inspector, might actually be more suited for the maintenance employees to take over once he retires.

In a related matter, Mierau asked the council to consider a wage increase in addition to the 3 percent for the other employees. He explained he has been handling a lot of additional duties since he has been hired. "With Jimmy retiring, there will be more coming my way," he said. "I'd like you to consider making an adjustment."

When asked if he had a figure in mind, Mierau said he would like $25 an hour while he is currently making $21.78 an hour.

One concern, Narum said, was in regard to pay equity. Considering Larson's promotion to clerk, her position will be comparable to Mierau's. "So you can't get them too out of line," Narum added.

After a brief discussion, the council agreed to a wage increase to $23.39 an hour for 2013 and another wage adjustment to $25 an hour for 2014.

Budget and levy

The council also held its truth in taxation hearing, but there were no residents present.

Narum presented the final draft of the 2013 budget and tax levy. The proposed general fund budget is $650,050 with non-tax income of $107,700 and certified state aid of $224,400 for a general fund need of $318,350.

An additional $6,600 is levied for the ambulance reserve for a final levy of $324,950. Last year's levy was $317,723, therefore the residents of Mabel will see a 2.22 percent increase.

Narum explained the final budget includes additional funds for utility costs at the community center, based on actual usage in 2012. "Of course, rental income from the use of the community center may offset that too," Narum said.

He also pointed out that the health insurance costs for employees increased 15 percent while Narum had initially projected 10 percent.

That said, the budget allows an increase to the general fund balance, which was $501,615 as of Nov. 1, 2012. He project the general fund balance to increase with year-end receipts of $200,000 and estimated year-end disbursements to be $37,000, resulting in an end-of-the-year estimated balance of $664,615.

"We will have about a year's budget in reserve now," Narum said. "We should be in fine shape for the next year."

The council approved the final budget and the tax levy for the upcoming year.

City maintenance report

Mierau told the board that he had discovered a big leak in the storm sewer near the stream. He had told the council previously that he would like to do a smoke test to try and find the source of water infiltration into the system, but used a fire truck to force water through the system, which worked to find the problem.

"This is just one piece of the puzzle," said Mierau. "There are still a lot of issues that need to be fixed in the system, but this is a good place to start."

He also reported that he and fellow maintenance employee, Chuck Dahl, fixed the leak for the time being.

Mierau also noted the safety coordinator had recently visited the city and recommended installing a defibrillator on site at the community center. Mayor Liz Folstad, also a member of the ambulance crew, noted they cost about $3,000 and the city could ask local organizations to donate toward the cost. Narum mentioned there would be funds in the equipment fund that could also be used to purchase the defibrillator. No other action was taken.

In regard to the upcoming sewer and water project, Mierau noted plans have been sent in to the state for approval. One point of concern is the Department of Health requires that water and sewer services be 10 feet apart. "That's virtually impossible for us," he explained. "In Mabel, most are in the same trench." Because this would nearly double the cost of the project to change it, the city approved a waiver for the requirement.

In other business, the council handled the following issues.

• Melissa Vander Plas, representing Habitat for Humanity Winona-Fillmore Counties, asked the council to allow the organization to use Steam Engine Park as a stop for its March Meltdown snowmobile ride. The event, held the first Saturday in March, will begin in Harmony and snowmobilers will ride to Mabel where there will be a soup lunch and warming fire in the park. The council voiced no opposition for the use of the park.

• The council approved renewals of four liquor and cigarette licenses. Liquor licenses were approved for the Mabel Liquor Store, the bp Station, Highway 44 Bar and Grill and the American Legion Club. Cigarette licenses were approved for the bp Station and the Mabel Liquor Store.

• The council passed a resolution formally accepting the donation of the former Mabel Record building from Don Gjere to the EDA. The building and/or the lot may be used for a grocery store development.

• The council reviewed some possibilities for new holiday banners for the light poles, but made no decision as they would not be needed until next year. He noted each banner would cost anywhere between $79 to $150. Each banner can be customized for the city. Sue Amunrud took the catalog and will bring the matter back to the council in the near future. In regard to other holiday decorations, Mierau recommended replacing the old light bulbs in the fixtures with LED lights.

• The city council and Mierau complimented the residents living on Minnesota Avenue for parking on one side of the street during the last snow. Mierau said it made snow removal from that street much easier and provided more room for the snow plow to pass.