McCOOK, Nebraska -- Amidst criticism for not keeping the public informed and questions whether an emergency actually existed, the McCook City Council confirmed the city's emergency purchase of two 2006 Freightliner semi trucks and subsequently denied a rate increase request from the city's contracted trash hauler, Frtiz Trucking.
City Manager Jeff Hancock repeated his previously stated stance that the decision was not made lightly and stemmed from the city's responsibility to ensure trash service would not stop.
The owner of the city's contracted trash hauling company, Steve Fritz, along with another citizen in attendance, questioned repeatedly whether the nearly full transfer station warranted an emergency. Their questions prompted Hancock to reiterate, several times, that the city manager had the authority to make emergency purchases and prompted City Attorney Nate Schneider to read the city ordinance pertaining to the definition of an emergency.
The new McCook Code of Ordinances, updated in May 2011, defines an emergency as any event that jeopardizes, among other items, the "convenience of citizens."
The vehicles were purchased for a combined $69,800 on Sept. 19, after city staff became concerned a trash build up at the McCook Transfer Station would lead to a shutdown.
John Hansen of McCook criticized the purchase and city's failure to inform the public or councilors of the scenario. Hancock replied that councilors were informed of the scenario during executive sessions in September, due to terms of the trash hauling contract.
Hancock and city staff stated numerous times that they had every intention of continuing the trash hauling contract with Fritz Trucking. Councilors indicated they had been made aware of the scenario and the decision to purchase the trucks during the executive sessions. One councilor questioned what the city would do with the purchased semi trucks if Fritz Trucking continued to provide trash service.
"What happens to the vehicles if an agreement is made with Steve?" asked City Councilwoman Janet Hepp. Public Works Director Kyle Potthoff responded that discussions had taken place about possibly purchasing a side-dump trailer so the semi trucks could be used to assist with snow hauling, or a scenario that would allow the water treatment plant to purchase salt via rail.
Hansen asked why another trash hauling company wasn't brought in instead of the city purchasing the vehicles and Potthoff responded that trash hauling required specialized equipment.
"It's a different commodity, there is not a lot of trash trailers out there to haul it," said Potthoff.
Hansen asked if the city would delay another budgeted expenditure in response to the emergency purchase, although no response was offered at that time, city staff explained later that the purchase of the semi trucks was funded via Landfill Reserve Funds and would have no budget impact.
Potthoff said that at one point the backlog of trash prompted the city to load 10 dump trucks at the transfer station in an effort to move trash out of the way.
'It would have been nice to know that," said Hanson, adding that the council had obviously agreed to the purchase, but information was not given to the public or the local newspaper.
Hancock replied that the responsibility rested with him and his decision was based on not putting the citizens at potential risk. Hanson said he did not agree that there was a risk, to which Hancock replied that disagreement was the beauty of the American way.
Fritz followed up Hanson's criticism of the scenario by repeating his claim that the city's former landfill was closed regularly due to wind, "It was never the end of the world."
No explanation as to the difference was offered, other than Potthoff saying he wasn't around when the city operated a landfill.
"Right now we have a contract with you, the action isn't to go against you, it is to have a backup plan," said Hancock.
In addition to the emergency purchase of two semi trucks that city staff has said will serve as a backup plan, the city has rented two trash hauling trailers at the price of $4,000 per month and added one new full time Class A CDL position. Although the new position remains unfilled, the trailers have arrived at the McCook Transfer Station.
Following the discussion, councilors unanimously affirmed the decision to purchase the trucks and subsequently denied Fritz's request for a rate increase.
According to the meeting agenda, Fritz had requested his trash hauling contract with the City of McCook be amended from a per ton rate of $13.50 to $16.50 per ton. The increase was estimated to amount to an annual increase to the city of $42,000.
Councilman Bruce McDowell said he struggled with approving a change in the middle of a contract that had been bid out, "I don't think that is fair to the bid process."
Frtiz said he was the city trash hauler for an eight-year period, was outbid for a several year stint by another contractor and is now in his third year of a five-year contract. He said he had never once asked for a rate increase during his previous eight-year stint as the city trash hauler, but the trash hauler that provided service for the several years between his time was granted the addition of a fuel surcharge 9-10 months into their contract and then also was granted a rate increase later on top of that.
"The business has really changed in the last two to three years," said Fritz, adding that he was making considerably more trips than was previously required and the weight per load was consistently decreasing. Fritz said he has hauled as many as 88 loads per month and even though he understood the transfer station was full, it never actually had to shut down.
Councilman Mike Gonzales said he was not comfortable with a 22 percent increase, but a 14 percent increase seemed like less of a jump.
Councilors unanimously rejected the request for a rate increase.
Also during Monday's meeting, councilors supported the decision of City Manager Jeff Hancock to deny a request for an administrative lot split split at 1604 West J Street, the property Sports Bar & Grill is located at. The request came from Larson Group, LLC who was represented at the meeting by Dan Miller.
Miller advocated for the lot split and said the seller had nothing to gain by investing in improvements to the property, in addition to identifying a lot south of the property that he said had been granted a similar lot split in 1995.
The denial letter from Hancock cited frontage, roadway, street and public access requirements that the lot split would not meet. Hancock said during the meeting that the lot split could still be accomplished but would require a minor subdivision plat, which would provide further details pertaining to how the requirements could be met as well as provide for an opportunity to hear neighborhood feedback.
Other items on the consent and regular agenda:
Councilors received and filed a claim for damages from Larry and Karen Siebrandt, without comment. According to the claim, the Siebrandt's home at 408 East 14th Street was damaged by a backup from the city sewer system on Sept. 21, 2012. The claim cited damage to the house's furnace room, bathroom, workshop, family room and stairway and did not provide an estimated dollar amount for the repairs.
A resolution increasing ambulance service rates was approved. According to the meeting agenda the rate increases were needed to keep federal reimbursement rates at their maximum level and will assist with the purchase of three new cardiac monitor and defibrillator devices that were approved in the 2012-13 budget. Bid specifications for the devices were also approved.
Councilors approved the McCook Police Department's submitted list of abandoned and unclaimed vehicles and property, that will subsequently be sold via their annual auction. The list includes nine vehicles, 17 bicycles and other items.
McCook National Bank was authorized to close the alley between Norris Avenue and West First Street, from West B to West C, 3 p.m. to midnight, on Oct. 27, 2012. The closure is for their annual "Halloween Haunted Bank Tour."
The McCook Rotary Club was authorized to utilize city streets and the walking trail for a 5k race on Oct. 27, 2012.
AmFirst Bank was authorized to utilize parts of Kelley Park, the walking trail and the former Borken Tee Golf Course for a 5k road race on Oct. 20, 2012.
The McCook Area Chamber of Commerce was approved for a special liquor license for a mixer at Wagner Chevrolet on Oct. 10, 2012.
Century Link was granted the use of city right-of-way for the installation of an underground fiber optic cable along West D Street.
City staff previously discovered that the section pertaining to the Tree Advisory Board was omitted from the City of McCook Code of Ordinances book during recent updates. Councilors approved an ordinance providing for the recreation of the board.
Proclamations designating October 2012 as "Domestic Violence Awareness Month" and Oct. 7-13 as "Fire Prevention Week" were approved.