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Guest commentary: Don’t move TH electrical department

From Steve Blettner

Two Harbors

When I started working for the City of Two Harbors in 1984, the electrical department was located at the South Avenue garage along with the public works. We had trucks, material and equipment stored there and at the gas and water garage, now called the north campus. Almost every day, depending on the work that was assigned, my boss would chauffer one or two employees up to and back from the gas and water garage for trucks and material needed that day. When we needed something else during the day, you had to remember which location it was at since the garages were located on the opposite ends of town. People would come in needing to talk about utilities, only to be told that they would have to go up north to talk to gas and water. This is not cost effective or customer friendly. When I became the superintendent in 1995, I knew there had to be a better and cheaper way. So, a couple of department heads started the push the city to consolidate all the city utilities and the public works in one location. Given space constraints, the logical choice was at the north campus. After nearly 10 years of working with various councilors and two administrators, a building was built, the existing building was enlarged and new offices for the department heads were constructed. Finally, we had all of the city utilities and public works consolidated in one location – “one stop shopping” for our customers, taxpayers and developers. There is no more need for chauffeuring people back and forth. All materials are delivered to one location. When we have truck issues the mechanics are right there to get it fixed. This has proven invaluable for the three department heads, and it’s nice to be able to visit face to face in the morning and throughout the day about the day’s interdepartmental needs as opposed to communicating through multiple phone calls. Most of all operating costs were decreased, saving the city money. This was a win for everybody. When we still owned the south garage, we would store some equipment there, primarily in the winter to keep it out of the weather, which is a big reason that we could get the maximum life out of our equipment. Now that the south garage has been sold, there is a need for additional storage. It only makes sense to have that storage building at the north campus.

Now, the Mayor is pushing to move the liquor store and the electrical department to the old Sonju building (1100 7th Ave., Two Harbors). While I don’t disagree that the liquor store could be enlarged or put in a better location, that is not the point of this letter. Remember, the liquor store turns a profit every year. The problem is that there is not enough money in the liquor fund to move or construct a new building because the mayor and the council constantly take money from the liquor fund to pay for the golf course and all their little projects.

The asking price for the building in question is $1,200,000 (According to the website of Greg Follmer, the real estate seller that is marketing the building, the asking price is $1,595,000 – Ed.). That’s right - $1.2 million dollars! I am told that the building needs some repair, and then you add the remodeling costs to put a liquor store there, the purchase of large coolers and needs of the electrical department, what are we up to? $1.5 million? More?

Now you see why he wants to put the electrical department in the Sonju building. It’s too expensive for just a liquor store. He can take the money out of the electric fund. This is the only reason to move this department. No one in the electrical department asked for this move. It serves no useful purpose. Remember, we worked for nearly 10 years to consolidate all the departments into one location, and now he wants to change that. This is not progressive thinking; this is regressive thinking. We are going backward; not forward. This is not cost effective. Go ahead and move the liquor store, as they could use the space, but don’t move the electrical department.

You would think that now that I am retired, I would not care about what happens to the electrical department. However, since I’ve put almost 30 years – about half of my life – into the department, I felt I had to speak up.

Steve Blettner recently retired from the city of Two Harbors after nearly 30 years of working in the electrical department. For the last 19 years, he was the electrical superintendent.