McCOOK, Nebraska -- A councilman's comparison of eating vegetables and paying higher water rates raised the hackles of at least one citizen at Monday night's meeting of the City Council.
Gene Morris of Apache Drive challenged Councilman Aaron Kircher's comment earlier in the month that "Kids complain when you make them eat their vegetables, too."
Kircher's comment was in defense of an increase to the water rates, which would have been in addition to the water rate increase finalized Monday evening.
Morris said he the comment was flippant -- "I don't believe that is the type of comment you should be making."
Kircher explained that he meant only that the additional increase was better in the long run, but not everyone would enjoy it now.
"You don't have a real understanding of what it is to be on a fixed income; that isn't the only increase they will receive," said Morris, citing other increases such as food and vehicle tires.
Morris referred to an article in the Gazette that offered tips on how to live on a fixed income, and said it was an important topic to many but he didn't believe it was important to Kircher. "The bottom line is that you could be more classy about the words you use and do it in a manner that is more professional," said Morris.
"I live on a fixed income," replied Kircher.
Later in the meeting council members unanimously approved the third and final reading of the proposed water and sewer rate increases. Prior to the vote Kircher again lobbied for his additional increase to the water rate, "I am still looking for a correction to save more in the out years," said Kircher.
Berry responded that the council had applied surplus sales tax dollars to the sewer bond, as well as taken other steps to aid the water department, adding that the long term was addressed to some degree.
When reviewing the water department financial model during a previous meeting Utility Director Jesse Dutcher indicated that the financing models contained so many variables that they could be unreliable in predicting farther than two years out.
The approved water and sewer rate increases are 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.
The McCook Library Foundation gifting of a property located at 806 Norris Ave. to the City of McCook was delayed during the meeting. Jason Loop, representing the foundation, informed councilors that closing on the property had not yet occurred but their intention was still to donate the property as soon as the transaction was completed.
Councilor Mike Gonzales expressed concerns around demolition of the home on the property and expense involved in that process. Loop said he had approached Habitat for Humanity about gifting the house to them, but they indicated they were not interested.
Mayor Dennis Berry thanked Loop and said he appreciated all the work the foundation had done on this project. City use of the lot has not yet been determined, but councilors said it would be a great piece of property if the library ever needed to expand, as well as for a parking lot in the meantime.
The gift is contingent upon the closing of a sale of the property between Paul L. Orvis, personal representative of the estate of Lawrence L. Orvis, and the McCook Library Foundation.
Greg Wolford with W Design Associates presented councilors with a progress report detailing the preliminary phasing plan for improvements to East H Street. The summer 2012 project will consist of three phases, with differing traffic rerouting necessary during each phase.
Wolford said a public hearing is scheduled for Oct. 10, 2011, at the Heritage Senior Center, to provide for one-on-one conversations with homeowners impacted by the project. Residents along the street will also receive letters providing information.
The is similar to the recently completed West J Street improvements and will span along East H Street, from Norris Avenue to Airport Road. It is 80 percent funded by the federal government according to Wolford.
The collective bargaining agreement and a Memorandum of Understanding between the city and the McCook Police officers union was approved. The changes to the collective bargaining agreement have already been adopted into the 2011-12 budget and include:
* Police officers will no longer be required to maintain a separate professional license with state as either a EMS provider, EMT or First Responder will be eliminated. The union has agreed to continue to respond to ambulance calls and be trained in CPR and basic first aid.
* Specific language was added to clarify the role of a 32 hour a week employee.
* "Field Training Officer" will be added to the list of employee duties that qualify for 5 percent premium pay, when actual field training is taking place.
* The lodge will be allowed to use Police department facilities for its meetings.
* Language will be included that sets the rate for health insurance premiums for the length of the contract.
City staff was authorized to proceed with a grant application that requests assistance from the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission Recreational Trails Program, for the third phase of the McCook walking trail. The next phase of the walking trail will begin on East H Street and move in a southeast direction to East 11th Street. Total cost of the phase is estimated at $142,000 with 80 percent of that picked up by the grant. The City's 20 percent portion will be $28,400, which has already been budgeted for in the 2011-12 budget.
An addendum that modifies the agreement between the city and the McCook Humane Society was approved. The addendum authorized a $1,000 annual increase to the McCook Humane Society, which was approved during the Sept. 6 City Council meeting.
The annual cost to the City of McCook for the McCook Humane Society will be $44,000 for 2011-12. The North Platte animal shelter, which has a strict 3-day euthanasia policy, is budgeted to cost the City of North Platte $258,772 during that same time-period.
Changes to the application for public transportation assistance were approved. The total cost to fund the McCook Public Transit System, for fiscal year 2011-12, is $106,610. The City of McCook will be responsible for $23,753 of that amount, which is a decrease from the prior years $25,452.
The public transit system is a Monday through Friday dial-a-ride system available to anyone, regardless of age, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with a $1 fee for each one-way trip. For more information, or to make an appointment, call 308-345-6098.
Other items on the consent and regular agenda;
* Council members approved the third and final reading pertaining to the donation of a city owned lot to the McCook Economic Development Corp. The lot is located at the corner of East Second and C streets.
* An addendum was approved authorizing an increase from the West Central Nebraska Area Agency on Aging that increased the eligible meal reimbursement for the McCook Heritage Senior Center. The increase is estimated to bring the reimbursement amount for congregate and home delivered meals to $65,541, which is an increase of $3,241.
* AmFirst Bank was approved to use portions of Kelley Park and the walking trail for their first annual 5K cross country road race on Oct. 29, 2011. A representative from the bank told councilors the event is intended to be a fun event for runners. It will take place at night, with participants encouraged to use glow lights and headlamps, and it will be followed by a chili and cinnamon roll feed.
* A resolution setting the property tax request for 2011-12 at a different amount than it was for prior year was approved. The levy amount will remain at the same $.319044, which is less than the $.45 maximum allowed levy for the city.
* A change order was approved to increase the cost of the East O Street paving project by $7,500. The change order was necessary to remove saturated soils that were discovered once asphalt was removed.
* The McCook Chamber of Commerce was approved for a special liquor license for a mixer at Wagner Chevrolet on Oct. 19, 2011.
* The United Way was approved to use city streets for their 11th annual United Way Fun Run and 5K Race on Sept. 24, 2011.
* Sehnert's Bakery and Bieroc Cafe was approved for a special liquor license for a Oct. 15 reception at the Keystone Business Center.