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Engineering firm doesn’t want city’s business

After learning that Foth Infrastructure and Environment is terminating its contract to serve as Hudson’s consulting engineering firm as of June 30, the City Council on Monday night approved starting the process to find a new firm.

The council also authorized Mayor Alan Burchill and Council President Rich Vanselow to talk with an individual civil engineer to see if it would be beneficial to hire him on a part-time, contract basis.

Burchill said he was informed by Foth representatives at a March 19 meeting that the firm is moving away from providing municipal engineering services, and will no longer offer them from its Lake Elmo, Minn., office.

Karen Erickson, who has served as Hudson’s city engineer in recent years, works out of the Lake Elmo office.

Erickson said Foth will assist with the transition to a new engineering firm.

“We’re going to be here after June 30 to finish up all the projects we have under contract. And we’re going to help the next engineering firm, too,” she told the council.

Erickson said all of the records Foth obtained from the city’s previous engineering firm, Bonestroo Inc., would be passed on to the new company –- along with the work that Foth did.

Erickson also offered to help in the selection of the next engineering firm.

Part-time engineer?

Mayor Burchill proposed that the council explore contracting with an individual civil engineer to assist the city in the interim between Foth leaving and a new firm coming on board.

In the Finance Committee meeting that preceded the council meeting, Burchill said he had an individual in mind, and that he would like to talk to him more about the possibility.

Burchill asked that he and Council President Vanselow be allowed to interview the engineer further, and then bring a possible proposal to the council.

He didn’t name the engineer he had in mind, but Tom Syfko, a Hudson resident who served as the city’s consulting engineer when he was with Bonestroo, was in the audience.

“The person I talked to has been the city engineer and is very familiar with the city,” Burchill said.

He listed a number of services that he said engineering firms typically charge $102 to $110 per hour to provide. The contract engineer, he said, would do the work for $60 to $70 per hour.

Burchill said the city would still need a large firm to provide all the specialty services it requires, but that a part-time city engineer would be able to handle some of the workload at a lower price.

“It’s a decrease in our costs, the way I see it,” he said.

Alderperson John Hoggatt suggested that the mayor also talk to Water Utility Director Tim Caruso about another possible candidate for the contract engineer position.

The council approved both the request to start the search for a new engineering firm and to explore contracting a part-time engineer without opposition.

City Administrator Devin Willi said it could be two-and-a-half or three months before a new engineering firm is on the job.

Pay-by-phone parking on hold

The implementation of a pay-by-phone parking system for all of downtown Hudson isn’t a done deal, after all.

At its March 10 meeting, the council voted 4-2 to contract with Passport Parking to provide the service. But Monday night, the council delayed approval of the contract with the Charlotte, N.C., company.

The contract calls for a fee of 40 cents per transaction, with motorists paying 25 cents, and the city, 15 cents.

Council President Vanselow’s arguments against the city paying any share of the fee swayed enough council members to reconsider the arrangement to postpone the vote on the contract.

Alderperson Mary Yacoub, who originally moved to approve the contract, withdrew that motion and moved to delay the vote until the next council meeting. In the meantime, the city will ask whether Passport Parking is willing to have its customers cover the entire 40-cent transaction fee.

“I do not feel the city should subsidize a convenience transaction,” Vanselow argued.

“In my mind, we don’t have to be part of this transaction and we shouldn’t be part of the transaction.”

He said Hudson is doing Passport Parking a favor by allowing it to operate in the city, and the city shouldn’t bear any expense for the program.

Alderperson Kurt TeWinkel said Vanselow’s argument had come to make sense to him. TeWinkel said it was his understanding that Passport Parking is the merchant, and that credit card merchant fees can’t be passed on to another party.

City Attorney Catherine Munkittrick countered that the city could be considered the merchant.

Yacoub said the system would be a convenience for Hudson visitors and residents, and could result in more parking revenue for the city.

She said it also would be less expensive than putting in new parking pay stations that can take debit and credit cards.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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