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Paonia down to one water/sewer operator

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The Town of Paonia Public Works Department is down to one certified operator to run its two-million and one-million gallon water plants and wastewater treatment plant.

Town administrator Ken Knight would not comment on why Kirk Morgan was dismissed on Aug. 29 citing a "personnel issue." Morgan was hired in 2016 as back-up operator to public works director Travis Loberg. Morgan, who was a full-time employee, also performed other public works duties, said Knight.

The town's two water treatment plants require a level C certified operator and the wastewater treatment plant a level D certification. Morgan was certified as a level B water treatment plant operator and level C wastewater operator; Loberg holds level C water and level D wastewater certifications. Loberg is also listed on the Colorado state website as the treatment operator for the Bone Mesa Domestic Water District.

Knight said the three plants can be run by one person, which requires a minimum of 10 hours per week of actual work. Most of the day-to-day operations and monitoring can be done remotely by computer. The town must also comply with scheduled sample testing for microorganisms, disinfectants, lead and copper and other contaminants required under the Safe Drinking Water Act, and results must be submitted through the state's compliance portal. Knight said samples can be pulled by another employee.

During the Sept. 25 Finance and Personnel committee report, mayor pro tem Chelsea Bookout reported that an employee termination letter was discussed, but didn't give the employee's name. Morgan was in the audience at the time. "I believe we came to an agreement that was amenable to all parties," said Bookout.

The committee also discussed possible amendments to the town personnel handbook "surrounding the function of the personnel liaison committee, how it works, and how an employee files their need for that committee to meet" that would give the employee their desired outcome, said Bookout. "It was discovered really quickly that it was an issue that maybe could have been resolved without us."

Bookout suggested that possible revisions to the employee handbook be placed on the Oct. 9 agenda, "specifying very clearly" what those revisions are.

Knight said the town is in discussion now about hiring another certified operator or obtaining certification for an existing or new employee. If for any reason Loberg can't work, he said, the town may be able to borrow an operator from Montrose or another community, which the town has done in the past.

Damage to the raw water delivery system recently resulted in a drawdown to about half of the one-million gallon tank from its normal level after an elbow in a line leading from the springs at the base of Mt. Lamborn broke open. The damage was expected to be repaired by late last week and resulted in no interruptions in service, said Knight.

The town currently relies solely on the Lamborn plant to supply drinking water to its customers while the one-million gallon Clock tank undergoes repairs. The Clock plant is expected to be back in service by mid-October, said Loberg at the Sept. 25 meeting.

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