The Backus City Council had an emergency meeting Sept. 22 to discuss an upcoming Pine River Area Sanitary District meeting later that night where the PRASD board was planning to discuss possibly contracting with an independent company for services provided to the city of Backus for public works services.

PRASD employees currently serve in various capacities in Backus and other communities. The city has contracted with the sanitary district for public works services for the past nine years. The Backus council learned the morning of Sept. 22 that the PRASD board was going to review a quote from an independent contractor to provide those services instead.

At the special meeting, Backus council members discussed their official stance and drafted a letter to PRASD.

The letter included questions and concerns from the council. One concern was the possibility of added cost to the city, which has already set its preliminary tax levy and did not account for a contract increase in its budget.

The letter also said the council was worried that the new dynamic might negatively impact the service the city is receiving given that PRASD employees are familiar with the needs of the city and willing to work hard for the city, sometimes on short notice.

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The letter reads: "The Council has concerns that losing this relationship will negatively impact the operations of our City to the detriment of our citizens."

Only an hour after the start of their own special meeting, Mayor Kurt Sawyer and council member Karl Flier attended the PRASD meeting to bring the city's official stance and ask questions. The PRASD board did not ultimately make a decision on the contract.

Documents from that meeting were available at the Oct. 4 regular Backus City Council meeting, but the council did not have additional discussion.

Clerk Ann Swanson said council members might attend upcoming PRASD meetings to keep involved with those decisions. There are also discussions going on between Backus and other stakeholders, such as Pequot Lakes and Lake Shore, who also contract with PRASD for public works services.

Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com.