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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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City, BPM, Inc. WWTP Partnership Ends Feb. 1

A partnership that began nearly 40 years ago between the City of Peshtigo and the paper mill that is the city’s biggest employer - and its biggest utility customer - will come to an end on Saturday, Feb. 1. At a special meeting Thursday, Dec. 19, Peshtigo City Council approved a mutually agreeable document drafted by BPM, Inc. to terminate the mill’s long standing partnership in the city’s wastewater treatment plant operation. That partnership began when the mill was owned by Badger Paper Mills and continued under the new owners.

The change comes on the heels of a very recently completed $1.944 million renovation of the wastewater treatment facilities.

The Wastewater Treatment Plant will now be run as a city department, with licensed operators working under the direction of Public Works Director George Cowell.

“BPM, Inc. has been really good to work with,” declared Mayor Al Krizenesky. “Their service has been great through the years, and their cooperation has continued even during this changeover!”

Alderman Tom Gryzwa, chair of the Water and Sewer committee, echoed the compliments. He said BPM, Inc. has been an excellent partner.

BPM, Inc. had requested a rate increase some months ago. General Manager Jim Kornkiewicz said at the time, and has continued to say at later negotiating sessions, that the mill cannot continue losing money under the current contract.

The Water and Sewer Committee had advertised for bids for contractors interested in handling the whole operation, but received only two that met specs. The one from BPM, Inc. was not low bid. The committee decided it will be less costly to handle it as a city operation, as the water utility is already handled.

A series of meetings Thursday afternoon for city fathers began with a 3 p.m. Personnel Committee meeting, where there were closed-door discussions of benefits for the person to be chosen lead operator of the Wastewater Treatment Plant, a salary adjustment for Cowell and a wage adjustment for the office staff.

That meeting resulted in a recommendation, approved at the 4 p.m. Council meeting, that Cowell receives an additional $4,000 a year, starting Jan. 1, 2014, for the added responsibilities of managing the facility. During budget negotiations last month Cowell had said he wanted no raise at that time, but would request one if the WWTP was added to his duties.

The wage adjustment for office staff was tabled for consideration at a later date.

Identity of the person who will take over WWTP operations has not yet been revealed. He is to start work in mid-January and take over the operations on Feb. 1, with regular city benefits and starting pay of $23.50 per hour.

The person initially chosen to be second in command has declined the position, so Cowell said he will post the job as a possibility that someone currently employed by the city will be interested in working toward an operator’s license, and if that effort is not successful he will advertise elsewhere.

Council approved creating that new position, designated “WWTP Operator/Laborer.” The agenda had called for a motion to set starting pay at $23.01 per hour, but Cowell suggested setting up a “step” schedule, since the person chosen to fill the job will not start out with an operator’s license. At Cowell’s recommendation starting pay will be $19.64 per hour, with raises up to the $23.01 per hour based on steps achieved toward obtaining a full operator’s license.

Cowell also stressed that when not performing WWTP duties the person will be paid at regular city crew wage rates for other work.

He explained to the Council that WWTP classes are available through Rural Water and at various conferences, and he too has to go through 18 hours of continuing education every two years to maintain his licenses.

Other business of the Council involved employee benefits and a labor union agreement with WPPA/LEER, the union that represents the city police force.

The WPPA contract gives officers a 1 percent raise for each of the three years of the agreement. Each officer gets a $500 clothing allowance, up $50 from last year. Regardless of promotion or rank, the most senior officer in the bargaining unit will draw sergeant pay after 15 years of continued service to the city.

The issue of paid sick days was settled for all city employees on the same basis as the WPPA contract, with all reverting to 1 1/2 days per month (18 days a year) until the maximum of 120 days accumulated sick pay is reached, except that all employees hired after 2011 will get only one sick day added per month.

Alderman Cathi Malke was opposed to the 18 days of sick pay allowed each year. She said with her husband as a Badger employee for many years their family had enjoyed excellent benefits, and she understands how valuable they are. She said she is pleased they can also offer good benefits to city employees, “but I have to think of the taxpayers too, and I feel 18 days a year is over the top! I feel we should go down to 12.”

Alderman Mike Behnke noted employees hired after 2011 get only one day a month until they accumulate the 120 days. He said there have been few problems with people using a lot of sick days, “but they’re there if they need them.”

Voting in favor of the WPPA contract were aldermen Debbie Sievert, Brigitte Schmidt, Behnke, Gryzwa, and Personnel Committee Chair Tim Colburn. Malke cast the sole opposing vote on both issues, and explained her vote was due to the sick leave issue.

In separate action on the motion restoring the sick leave for other employees to the 2011-2013 contract language calling for 1 1/2 days per month for employees hired prior to Sept. 9, 2010 and one day per month for those hired after that date, Malke and Sievert voted no, and the remainder of the Council voted in favor, and all city employees will receive sick pay under the policy that was in effect in 2013.

According to the WPPA contract, sick leave can be used for illness or injury, as well as for doctor or dental appointments, “provided the employee has made a good faith effort to schedule such appointments during non-working hours, or as close as possible to lunch breaks, or at the end of a shift.”

At a short 3:30 p.m. meeting the Police and License Committee recommended approval of licenses that will allow DOLGENCORP, LLC (Dollar General Store) to sell cigarettes and Class A beer, fermented malt beverages and intoxicating liquor. Police Chief Kent Kline said there was no problem with the background check. Individual clerks selling the beverages will also need to be licensed.

Before the vote, Behnke mentioned opposition from another business place, but commented, “I am not going to discriminate against someone who’s opening a business just because it’s a competition for some other business.

There was very brief discussion on the cost of licenses in general, and informal agreement that will be on the agenda for a meeting sometime in the future.


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