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Backus City Council tackles water conservation, safety issues

The Backus City Council on Monday, Jan. 7, swore in two new members: council member Richard Bean and mayor Kurt Sawyer. Both were elected in November.

Bean was appointed secretary pro tem, water and sewer commissioner and street commissioner. In keeping with tradition, the mayor was appointed weeds commissioner.

The council also approved the appointment of Jason Smith as fire chief to succeed Carl Fleer. Fleer resigned from the position as chief, but remained on the department.

Wastewater operator Lee Bundy addressed the council concerning the failure of a recirculating pump used to keep water fluid inside the city water tower. Various parts of the pump failed. As a temporary solution, Bundy increased the store of water in the tower to prevent problems with ice formation.

Bundy suggested that the pump should be moved to a location at the base of the water tower, much like other cities. He said this solution would be least destructive and least expensive. More research must be done before a decision can be made.

The city discussed the possibility of suspending an existing policy concerning a “freeze run,” which is when residents allow their water to run constantly to prevent pipes from freezing.

In the past, the council has allowed residents with poorly insulated pipes to freeze run while only being charged for minimum usage, regardless of the actual amount of water used during that time. Minimum usage is normally 4,700 gallons of water per month for $24.50 a month, and 4,700 gallons of sewer for $35 a month. This water runs directly into the sewers, but the city is still charged for each gallon. The rest of the city residents absorb this cost.

“I don’t use all the water I’m billed for, so, am I going to be billed for the freeze run?” one resident asked. “I don’t think it would be fair for those who don’t use that much water to pay for those people to keep their pipes from freezing.”

The same resident has already had frozen pipes, but does not use the freeze run.

“It appears we are doing that at the convenience of those citizens at a price to other citizens. It’s definitely something we need to put a stop to,” Sawyer said.

The council agreed to inform residents who have used the freeze run in the past that the winter of 2013 will be the last year this will be allowed, and only when the temperature of the water in the city drops to 36 degrees or lower.

When the weather becomes warm again, those residents will be expected to take action to prevent their pipes from freezing in the future.

Pine River Police Chief Paul Sand reported that some houses in Backus have no house numbers. Sand explained that last month officers responded to a call at one of these houses, but because there were no numbers to designate the house, officers were forced to call back multiple times for assistance in finding the house.

In an emergency, this confusion could waste important time. This sentiment was seconded by firefighters Bean and Smith.

“We’re the ones who look like idiots driving up and down the street,” Bean said.

“It’s a common sense issue,” added Sand.

City code currently does allow for a penalty for residents without clearly displayed house numbers; however, City Clerk Jeff Turk explained that the amount is not defined.

The council agreed to begin a process of installing house numbers on properties without visible numbers.

The city will then charge residents the cost of materials. Before this action will be taken the city will give residents a warning to give them a chance to solve the problem themselves, and possibly find a less expensive solution.

The Backus First Responders requested the purchase of two Certificates of Deposit amounting to $6,000 each using their own money — one for First Response equipment, the other for a First Response vehicle.

The Fire Department also requested approval for a $50 increase in the individual yearly retirement funds, increasing the retirement benefits from $1,400 to $1,450 a year per firefighter. Both motions were approved.