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Commission OKs utilities’ purchase of four lots for its expansion

WILLMAR — The Willmar Planning Commission has approved the Willmar Municipal Utilities’ purchase of the former Gerry’s Liquors property as part of a long-range plan to improve the utility’s energy efficiency, facilities  and operations.

The Municipal Utilities Commission voted Dec. 23 to buy four lots that includes the liquor store in a two-block area located just west of the utilities’ present office building.

A 2009 study, approved by the Utilities Commission in early 2010, identifies the area where the utility hopes to build new facilities that would assist in improving services to customers.

General Manager Wesley Hompe told the Utilities Commission Monday that he brought the property purchase to the Planning Commission, which approved it Jan. 8.

The City Charter requires that land purchases by city organizations receive Planning Commission approval.

Now that the purchase has approved, Hompe said the utility will be moving forward with closing on the property.

Utilities Commission President Steve Salzer asked if that approval must go through the City Council yet. Salzer said he didn’t see an issue with it.

Council member Bruce DeBlieck, liaison to the Utilities Commission, said the minutes of the Planning Commission’s meeting would be approved through the council’s consent agenda.

In other business, the Utilities Commission received a report on energy industry legislative issues before Congress from Chase Kroll, an associate with the firm of David Turch and Associates of Washington D.C.

Hompe noted the cost of the long-range facilities planning study was funded in part with a grant that the Turch firm helped the utility receive.

“That was one of our energy efficiency initiatives is to find out if we could get a facility that was more efficient than we had, both energy and as far as operations,’’ said Hompe. “That’s what one of the results that came back was this building study and what we agreed on and we’re following through on that plan.’’

Kroll said the utility has been a Turch client since 2007. The cost of the annual contract is $30,000 per year.

Kroll said the firm has submitted millions of dollars in appropriations requests and he said the utility has done quite well in receiving help throughout those requests.

Among other things, Kroll said the firm has worked hard to keep the utility informed of developments that may affect the utility.

“We believe that the relationship has been and continues to be mutually beneficial,’’ Kroll said, adding he looks forward to working for the utility in 2014 and beyond.

In other action, the commission reelected Salzer president for 2014. Other officers reelected were Matt Schrupp vice president and Dan Holtz treasurer. Carol Laumer was elected secretary, replacing Jerry Gesch as secretary. Gesch retired from the commission last month after serving three consecutive three-year terms.

The commission welcomed Justin Mattern, who was appointed by Mayor Frank Yanish to replace Gesch. Mattern was born and raised in Willmar, owns ETap Marketing in Willmar, is familiar with the community and is fairly active with the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and business community.

Mattern said he looks forward to serving and said he’s always been interested in the energy market and utilities in general and politics.

Salzer appointed Schrupp, Laumer and Joe Gimse to the commission’s Labor Committee and appointed Mattern, Dan Holtz and Jeff Nagel to the Planning Committee.