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Water, sewer rate increases advance on second reading

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

McCOOK, Nebraska -- The McCook City Council approved the second of three required readings for the proposed water and sewer rate increases, Tuesday evening during their semi-monthly meeting at council chambers, but resisted one councilors desire to increase water rates even further than previously discussed. Councilman Aaron Kircher made a motion for an additional increase to the water rates, but after comments from Mayor Dennis Berry and Councilman Mike Gonzales opposing the added increase, the motion died lacking a second.

Kircher's additional increase to the water rates would have amounted to an average of $1.80 annually to the already proposed amount that is projected to average $13 annually. Kircher argued that the additional increase was the right thing to do in the long run, with Gonzales replying that councilors had already heard from constituents to keep the increases at a minimum.

"Kids complain when you make them eat their vegetables," replied Councilman Kircher. Gonzales then responded that Kircher's comment was an unfair comparison, "when your talking about seniors and a scenario where a minimal change can have quite an impact."

Berry said that he agreed that it looked like the right thing to do in the long run, but ultimately agreed with Gonzales that council members had heard from their constituents and the message was to keep it a minimum.

Water Director Jesse Dutcher reminded councilors that it was an average increase, "the higher consumers would see a larger increase."

Kircher commented that he could find the monthly amount of the increase in his couch cushions, before motioning to increase the rate increase by the additional amount. No second was heard for his motion.

Councillors subsequently approved the water and sewer rate increases at the amount approved during their last meeting, projected to be an average of $14 annually on residential sewer bills and an average of $13 annually on residential water bills. The new rates will be effective Oct. 1, 2011, if they receive final approval during the Sept. 19 meeting.

The 2011-12 fiscal year budget for the City of McCook was approved for its third and final reading and the employee classification pay plan was approved for its second of three required readings.

The pay plan features a two percent cost of living increase for all city employees, in addition to merit and longevity increases.

Police and fire personnel are not included in the plan, as they are negotiated separately through their respective unions.

Council members unanimously approved the donation of a city owned lot to the McCook Economic Development Corp. The lot is located at the corner of East Second Street and C Street and was approved for its second of three required readings.

MEDC had planned to develop the lot with an existing home located at 516 Norris Avenue, donated by Red Willow County Commissioners, but commissioners were informed last week that MEDC would no longer need the house. Mary Kircher, director of the housing committee of the MEDC, indicated to county commissioners that she could no longer keep contractors waiting and she was running out of time on the rehab grant that the project would have utilized.

Councilman Jerry Calvin asked Kircher how long remained on the grant and when Kircher replied that 12 months were remaining, Calvin said he didn't understand why that wasn't enough time. Kircher responded that there were constraints and that she was required to have six homes completed for the grant and thus far only had one, adding that "quite frankly the cost to move the house was becoming expensive."

Councilors then discussed whether or not to suspend the three reading rule on the donation. City Clerk Lea Anne Doak was in favor of the suspension and said that a commitment was made in April to donate the lot to MEDC. Councilman Aaron Kircher replied that the commitment meant that it would be done through the proper channels and that it was not a commitment to suspend the three reading rule.

The motion to suspend the three reading rule eventually failed on a 3-1 vote, needing a super-majority to pass and with Councilman Kircher the lone dissenting vote.

The McCook City Council awarded the bid for construction of the wildlife fence at McCook Ben Nelson Regional Airport to Ninemire Fence. The Ninemire Fence bid set the project cost at $536,456, approximately $23,000 lower than recent projections. American Fence had submitted a bid that was $7,000 lower than the Ninemire bid, however their bid was disqualified for failing to show "good faith efforts in obtaining participation by certified Disadvantaged Business Enterprise firms." The grant writer for the city, Greg Wolford of W Design Associates, explained to councillors that the ruling came back from Lincoln and the scenario was not uncommon. Wolford said that a disadvantaged business was defined as one owned by a woman or a minority group that was under a certain asset level, adding that they were typically start-up businesses and required certification by the state to qualify.

Public Works Director Kyle Potthoff said the key to the whole process was making a good faith effort and that effort was not there on the part of American Fence.

City Council members approved a proclamation designating a national Moment of Remembrance, 1 p.m. (EDT), Sept. 11, 2011. Fire Chief Marc Harpham said that the McCook area emergency responders planned to sound sirens, and would ask local churches to ring bells, in remembrance of those that were lost.

County Attorney Paul Wood spoke on behalf of Terry and Shelley Hoffmaster and their LLC, Stak 'N Store, during a public hearing to consider a special request to build storage units on a piece of property in the agricultural district. Wood said that the couple believed there was a need for additional storage space in the area and that it would be a mix of larger spaces suited for recreational vehicles as well as smaller spaces. No opposition has been received pertaining to the project, according to Wood and City Clerk Lea Ann Doak. The property is located across from Orschelns and just west of the McCook Public Power District. The planing commission unanimously recommended approval of the item during their Aug. 22, 2011, meeting and council members followed suit by unanimously approving the Hoffmaster's request.

Stephen Haag, a Division Manager for SourceGas, told councilors that his company would have equipment showing up on-site this week, as part of a five year project to replace the main line in a 160 block area of McCook. Haag said it may be necessary to close sections of certain alleys for up to a week or two at a time, but added that he was confident their contractors would be able to open and close areas as needed. The first phase of the project is anticipated to be finished prior to the upcoming winter.

Councilors also approved an easement from SourceGas that is necessary to relocate a gas line which runs down the middle of the lot that the new municipal facility is being constructed on. The gas company plans to relocate the gas line to the west edge of the property.

Other items on the consent and regular agenda;

* Members of the Firefighter Combat Challenge Team were approved to close East E Street, from Norris Avenue to East First Street, on Sept. 24, 2011. The closure will be during Heritage Days and to host a firefighters water fight that will raise money to assist with travel expenses at the Worlds Firefighter Combat Challenge at Myrtle Beach.

* The intercity bus agreement with the Nebraska Department of Roads, as well as the agreement with Dashabout Roadrunner, Inc., was approved. The service consists of one daily round trip, Sunday through Saturday, and includes McCook, Hastings, Grand Island, Columbus, North Platte, as well as all intermediate cities and villages on the route.

* Bid specifications were approved for a new 1/2 ton, 4-wheel drive, pickup truck for the Sewer Department. Sept 27, 2011, was also set as the deadline to receive bids by.

* Council members entered executive session to discuss city manager applicants, as well as for a strategy session pertaining to the collective bargaining with the police department.


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