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Rate hike leads to debate over federal funding

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

McCOOK, Nebraska -- A resolution seeking to increase the ambulance rate turned into a back-and-forth argument between two council members about the use of federal funds, Monday evening at Council Chambers. Councilman Aaron Kircher made a motion to delay approval of the ordinance until the next meeting, after asking city staff if they had looked at figures for the amount of revenue the rate increase would bring in. "When we raise a rate we should look at what impact it will have on the bottom line," said Kircher.

Councilman Jerry Calvin retorted with "Why? It's not costing taxpayers any extra money or costing users anything more."

"Our people still pay for the services that are being reimbursed. We are helping ourselves at the expense of everyone else. It's never good to raise rates without knowing the impact it will have on the bottom line," replied Kircher.

Councilman Shane Hilker originally seconded Kircher's motion, then changed his mind and retracted his second midway through the discussion. Kircher's motion for delay failed without a second and he said he couldn't vote for the resolution if the council was going to raise rates without looking at the end result, "Because it comes from the government isn't a good enough excuse."

Calvin replied by saying "If this was coming out of my pocket I could see it, we're just raising what Medicaid will reimburse."

"Medicare and Medicaid are going up, we can't change that but we can do the homework to at least look at it," said Kircher.

Calvin replied with "If the government is willing to reimburse, how do you say no to it?"

"I'm not saying yes or no, just saying we need to look at the numbers, part of doing the job thoroughly," said Kircher.

City Manager Kurt Fritsch said he apologized to council members for not having the numbers available and could have them in a day or so.

Kircher closed by saying "I'm not doing it without even looking at the numbers. Part of the problem we have going on is people don't understand that taking federal money has to be paid back."

Council members voted to approve the ambulance rate increase on a 4-1 vote, with Kircher the lone dissenting vote. The approved resolution will increase rates on basic life support, non-emergency, from $400 to $430 and emergency from $500 to $575. Advanced life support, non-emergency, will increase from $525 to $685 and emergency from $625 to $715. The new rates are proposed to go into effect March 1.

The council conducted a public hearing to review the 2011 one and six year street improvement plan. The hearing, along with matching funds and employing a street superintendent, are requirements to receive state funding for street improvement projects. The one year plan consisted of two projects, a drainage project on West 10th Street, south of Arby's, and asphalt paving on East O Street and Kelly Park Drive. Public Works Director Kyle Potthoff said the West 10th Street area, that was included on the plan, has historically been a nightmare for the street department and the drainage project would be a step in eventually getting that section of gravel road paved.

Calvin asked that West Fifth Street, from J Street to Q Street, be added to the either the six year or long range street plan. Calvin said it was a rough patch of road and that traveling down it "would pitch you out of the back of a pickup truck if you were riding." Hilker said he was concerned with East C Street, from 11th Street to Airport Road and asked the same be done with it. City staff commented that they could see no problems with adding the projects and the plan was subsequently approved on a 5-0 vote.

A second public hearing was hosted to amend the budget to show $3,750,000 in funds coming in from bond sales, for the voter approved municipal facility. Fritsch explained the budget was submitted prior to the November election and the amendment was approved unanimously with no discussion.

The city has been approached by a business interested in leasing airport and waste water treatment plant property for oil and gas exploration. State law requires that an auction of the lease proposals be scheduled and city staff asked for authorization from council members. The five year lease would not guarantee funds, other than the initial rent, but should oil or gas be found, a standard royalty of twelve and a half percent would be paid for minerals extracted. Kircher motioned to have additional text added to the oil and gas lease agreement, adding the requirement that the city be notified of any environmental issues or spills within 24 hours of such an event. Fritsch said city staff certainly agreed with the motion and the auction was authorized with the amendment.

Representatives of Prochaska & Associates presented a review of the proposed design of the new municipal facility to be constructed on the West Ward School lot. City staff recommended that the project utilize the construction management at risk process and received council approval. The project is on target for July bidding and to start construction in August, according the architect firm.

Other items on the consent and regular agenda;:

* Mo Dough LLC was granted two special liquor licenses. The first for a March 8 chamber mixer at Olson Photography and the second for a wedding reception at Red Willow County Fairgrounds Community Building, May 7.

* The Community Development Block Grant contract with the Nebraska Department of Economic Development for the Fox Theatre reconstruction and upgrading project was approved. The grant will provide $254,300 of the $336,200 total project cost.

* Miller & Associates was approved as the general administrator of the Fox Theatre CDBG project as well as the city's Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant.

* A contract between the city and W Design Associates for preliminary engineering services for the East H Street improvement project was approved.

* Council members approved the second of three required readings of an ordinance that authorizes the sale of a portion of the property the city acquired from Merilyn Schaffer and Eileen Hubert. The McCook Housing Agency will be purchasing the lot, located just off of F Street in the First Bison Addition, for $15,025.

* Amendments to the zoning ordinance that will allow individual domestic wind turbines in the agricultural district were approved for the second of three required readings for approval. The ordinance change will allow for domestic use, single turbines that will be limited to a 55 foot height requirement.

* An ordinance was approved for its second of three readings that clarified membership requirements for the Loan Committee per the McCook Economic Development Plan.

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What about adding the road in front of Hillcrest nursing home between West 5th and 7th? They may have redone the concrete approaching the stop sign but the rest of it is worse than it was before they redid West 5th.

-- Posted by Rural Citizen on Tue, Feb 8, 2011, at 3:19 PM

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