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Utilities Commission OKs beginning process to hire assistant engineer, says thousands will be saved

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news Willmar, 56201

Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- Willmar Municipal Utilities estimates it will save thousands of dollars by hiring an assistant engineer to work on electrical system and power plant upgrades and projects rather than hire outside engineering consultants to plan the projects.

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The utility has 13 projects pending for 2010. Hiring an outside consultant would cost an estimated $516,000, but the utility would save an estimated $320,000 by hiring an assistant engineer if all of the projects are done this year. The utility would have $196,000 remaining for outside consultants.

Based on the estimated savings and the need for the position, the Municipal Utilities Commission voted Monday to begin the process to hire an assistant engineer.

The commission confirmed the need for the position during its annual strategic planning session earlier this year.

The utility was ready to act a year and a half ago, said Utility General Manager Bruce Gomm, but held off because the city implemented a hiring freeze due to budget cuts.

However, City Council members indicated they were willing to go along with the utility's intent after Gomm told them last week that the cost for this employee will be more than offset by the savings that the utility will see by reduced consultants' time.

Gomm said the utility has been operating "very lean and mean'' for quite a while.

"We were very reserved up until recently with our projects,'' he said. "We were doing mainly just status quo, but we've shifted gears and we're trying to catch up and move forward to make sure that we're in a position to be as strong and economically viable as we can for the community. So part of that would be adding to the staff for an electrical engineer.''

Gomm said he will attend the next council meeting April 19 and answer any questions.

In other business, the commission voted to join other municipal utilities in a power coalition group to study the possibility of jointly buying power to supply their energy needs. Willmar's cost of participating in the study was estimated at $30,000.

Gomm said the coalition was discussed during a Central Minnesota Municipal Power Agency meeting on April 6. Central Minnesota was one of the partners in the cancelled Big Stone II project. Willmar was planning to buy power through CMMPA to replace a 30-megawatt power contract with Great River Energy. The contract expires in 2015.

Last month, an official of Central Minnesota encouraged Willmar to join a coalition interested in looking for long-term power supply needs.

Gomm said the study will determine the members' energy requirements and put together a request for a proposal to send to various energy suppliers to get their energy pricing.

In other business, Gomm said he was called by an outside power agency, which he declined to identify, that expressed an interest in negotiating a deal to sell energy to Willmar. Gomm said he would continue discussions with the agency.

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