From left, Tom Wente shares 2011 audit details with the Fountain City Council, including Chad Wangen and Dave Gudmundson. (Chatfield News photo by Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy)
From left, Tom Wente shares 2011 audit details with the Fountain City Council, including Chad Wangen and Dave Gudmundson. (Chatfield News photo by Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy)
"You have much less reliance on the state than a lot of small towns in southeast Minnesota," said auditor Tom Wente of Smith Shafer & Associates as he gave Fountain's 2011 audit report at the Fountain City Council meeting April 5, surveying the city's income sources.

However, he pointed out that Fountain's water and sewer revenues are not in line with its wastewater treatment plant operating costs, which have not drawn from ratepayers as much as he stated they should. The council approved the audit report as Wente finished speaking on the need to raise water and sewer rates.

Discussion - again - on plant

City maintenance foreman Dan Byer requested permission to find part-time help, as he finds himself busy at the wastewater treatment plant, attempting to balance operations there with other city maintenance tasks. "There are a lot of two-man jobs I can't do by myself. I'm already working half the day at the plant."

Upon McGhie & Betts engineer Dave Morrill's arrival at the meeting, conversation turned to whether the city should rent or purchase a pH meter to maintain neutral pH levels in processing wastewater at the treatment plant.

Morrill stated that the city could rent two meters for $1,000 each per month or purchase one for $2,000 in order to monitor and measure pH levels, tracking when and where spikes in levels occur and possibly offering direction in locating the contributing sources, as the plant's settling and de-nitrification processes, as well as its digesting bacteria, are not working due to an influx of soap.

Valley Design has cited intentions to change its washing chemicals to more environmentally friendly chemicals, but the powder-coating plant's owners feel that the production line's operation isn't the cause of the soap influx that has been killing the digesting bacteria.

Additionally, in February, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) informed the city of Fountain that it requires modifications to the wastewater treatment plant that could cost at least $100,000 - including a below-ground, 20,000-gallon equalization tank that the council initially felt is too expensive. A letter of intent sent to the MPCA noted that Fountain could not immediately install the tank, but that the city would continue to pursue progress on stabilizing the wastewater pH levels.

Mayor Richard Kujath proposed "waiting until we find out if the change in chemicals at Valley Design" make a difference in how soapy and unstable the water coming into the treatment plant is before attempting any costly fixes, including installing the equalization tank or purchasing pH meters.

Byer stated he felt that constructing the tank would be "the biggest bang for your buck, even though it's obviously the most expensive."

Frustration with plant

Councilman Jim Schott asked, "What if we put all this stuff in and it still doesn't work? Where do we go?"

Byer answered dryly, "To the bar."

Schott's frustration with the wastewater treatment plant's malfunctions was apparent as he said, "This whole thing has been a joke."

Review of the situation continued as Byer stated that he "hates to see the city spend $5,000 and get nowhere with rented pH meters."

Councilman Bryan Ostby asked, "How long do we have to wait to find out if we've gotten (state) money for the tank?"

Councilman Dave Gudmundson expressed his opinion that the city should get a second opinion on how chemicals, bacteria and technical functions of the plant are managed and whether the equalization tank is necessary.

Finally, Schott posed a motion to purchase one pH meter for the city so that renting isn't an issue.

Other business

• Fountain Police Chief Tom Mosher's March police report included training updates for use of force and the new 800-megahertz radios the department will receive, as well as recounts of two DWI stops that resulted in the non-resident drivers being deported to their home country, Mexico.

• The council chose not to hire someone to oversee the city brush site, instead choosing to find volunteers to open and close the gate each day.

• Ruskell Outdoor Services will again spray city property for broadleaf weeds at a cost of $1,682.

• Simon Hershberger's land use permit application for construction of a shed was granted.

• A resolution re-establishing precincts and polling places passed.

• Resident Richard Dahly - whom Mosher related is trustworthy and cautious - was given permission to sell firearms from his home as an occupation.

• Council members were given the opportunity to attend a Southeast Minnesota League of Municipalities (SEMLM) general membership meeting on April 30 in Caledonia for $20 per person.

• The fire department donated $2,000, $900 of which will be given to the parks department and the remaining amount used to purchase a refrigerator at the fire hall.