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Mayor says sewer district agreement has been made more complicated

EYOTA — The new agreement between Dover, Eyota and St. Charles over the cities’ shared sewer district is becoming a bit too complex, said Mayor Wes Bussell at Thursday night’s Eyota City Council meeting.

The mayor voiced concern after the city of St. Charles hired an attorney to make a multitude of suggested changes to a draft of the new agreement among the cities. The current agreement ends on Dec. 31, and the new agreement needs to be signed before then.

"All this is in attorney language," Bussell said, referring to the recommended changes from St. Charles. "They’ll need an attorney in the future to get it interpreted."

Bussell and the council agreed to meet in a special session on Nov. 3 so the mayor could explain all the changes to the draft agreement. The changes could affect the city far into the future, Bussell said, so he wants the council to understand what they're agreeing to before they sign off on the deal.

"The old agreement was for 30 years," Bussell said. "(St. Charles) wants an agreement where you can opt out every 10 years." The problem with the opt-out clause — a clause the old agreement did not have — is that if a city left the sewer district, the other entities would be on the hook for covering all the operating costs.

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Currently, Dover uses about 10 percent of the plant’s capacity, Eyota uses roughly 30 percent, and St. Charles uses the rest.

The old agreement also included North Star Foods. But when the company didn't reopen after a devastating fire, the three cities had to pick up the slack, Bussell said.

The next meeting of the sewer board is Nov. 15.

In other business

• The council voted 3-1 to pay up to $500 to help Peace Lutheran Church celebrate its grand opening on Nov. 6. The city’s Economic Development Authority has a fund to help celebrate new businesses. Councilman Tyrel Clark said the church, officially designated a "nonprofit business entity," requested the funds to help mail announcements of the grand opening.

"I don’t think the grand opening of a church is what these funds were intended for," said Bussell, who voted against the allocation. But Clark said the council probably would approve funds for non-religious nonprofit organizations to promote their grand openings.

Councilman Joe Loftus asked city clerk Marlis Knowlton if there were a legal issue with regard to the separation of church and state. "There’s always an issue," Knowlton said, but it didn't make approval of the request illegal.

• The city is considering amending its employee handbook to better control health care costs. Currently, city employees with health care coverage can enroll family members at any time during the year. But such an enrollment, Bussell said, could cost the city more than $500 per month per family, and if that cost were not budgeted, it could hit Eyota in its pocketbook.

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"If an employee wants to make a change (to family coverage)," Bussell said, "the city needs to be notified.

Since the city cannot set up limited open-enrollment periods with its health care provider — Eyota does not have enough employees to qualify for an open-enrollment policy, the provider stated — any restrictions would have to be part of the employee handbook.

Bussell said he is not against covering families — the city has fewer than five employees who qualify for its health care plan — but would just like notice so the city isn’t hit with surprise expenses.

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