Final reading and unamimous passage of a $22,332,650 budget plan for 2012-13 by the Chadron City Council took place with little discussion Monday, following a second workshop held a week earlier to iron out details of the document.
But the final reading of the city’s comprehensive fee ordinance did raise some questions about the charge for disposing of liquid wastes at the city’s new wastewater treatment plant, which the council agreed would be investigated further.
The total budget approved Monday remained unchanged after the Sept. 10 workshop, said Finance Officer Lois Chizek. At that meeting the council agreed to restore funds to several organizations which receive revenue from the tax on Keno games. The city’s income from Keno has been falling, but the income projection was increased to make up for difference, Chizek said, and if revenue is short, the money will be taken from the contingency funds.
Projected spending for the coming year is about $6 million higher than in the previous budget but the difference is due largely to anticipation of a storm water drainage project that is still being debated. State highway officials want the city to improve its storm water system before they begin a resurfacing project on Highway 20 (Third Street). The drainage project could include replacement of pipes under Main Street, as well as the main storm water line under First Street, and would likely require bonds for financing.
The general fund portion of Chadron’s budget is $3,456,636, compared to $3.38 million last year. The amount supported by property tax is $842,513 and the tax levy to support that amount is $.422549, the same as last year’s levy, noted Chizek.
One city department head, Library Director Rossella Tesch, did raise a concern about the budget plan. Tesch urged the council to consider hiring an information technology specialist, and said that the position could improve efficiency in all departments.
Fire Chief Pat Gould also spoke in the budget hearing, and reassured the council that the recent wildfires would not add significantly to the fire department’s financial needs. Most of the costs for fuel and equipment repair from the fires will be covered by rural fire departments, who have agreements with the U.S. Forest Service for fighting wildfires, said Gould.
Discussion of the fee ordinance, which sets the rates for a whole range of charges for services, centered on the $75 per 1,000 gallon charge for dumping of wastes. That amount is much higher than other cities charge, said Lisa Westerbuhr of Bruns Laundry and Car Wash, and affects disposal of car wash sludge as well as septic tank wastes.
According to Westerbuhr, Gering charges only $17.50 for disposing of 1,000 gallons, and $27.50 for non-residents. “Our fees are comparable to those on the eastern end of the state, but we aren’t on the eastern end,” she said.
Westerbuhr said her business already pays for regular sewage service, and the charge for dumping the mud from the car wash pit “feels like we get hit coming and going.”
The issue has been raised previously by septic tank pumper Joseph Applegarth, who also said the fee is far higher than other communities charge.
But the city incurs costs for treating both septic wastes and car wash sludge, said Public Works Superintendent Milo Rust. Charging different amounts for septic or sludge disposal might be valid, he said, but the fee for septic disposal should reflect the cost of treatment.
Other communities may charge less than Chadron, because they have lagoon systems rather than mechanical treatment, said Rust. “Any liquid we have has to go through treatment. With a lagoon system, it doesn’t go through a treatment system.”
Council members were sympathetic to Westerbuhr’s situation, and asked Rust to report back on the cost of disposing of car wash sludge. The fee ordinance was passed, with the understanding that an amendment could be made to the dumping charge at a later date.
In other business the council:
•changed the starting time of the regular Oct. 1 meeting to 3 p.m., to allow attendance at a planned three-county meeting on the region’s fire rehabilitation needs. Dawes County Commissioner Stacy Swinney said the meeting, at 5:30 p.m. at the Chadron State College Student Center, would aim to create a coordinated response plan that can be presented to Governor Dave Heineman in advance of his visit to Chadron on Oct. 10. “This is a long term thing. It will bring our communities together,” said Swinney. “If we don’t do this…we’ll end up driving down the road and seeing black trees for the rest of our lives.”
•heard City Manager Wayne Anderson report on the positive comments from firefighters about their reception by Chadron residents. A letter from the Rapid City, S.D. Fire Chief noted praise for the actions of several individuals and businesses, including Ann Hencey of Hencey Plumbing, Ron Jensen from Ron’s Welding, Sturdevant’s Auto Parts, and the city’s volunteer fire department, for their help in repairing a firefighting pump truck. “Over and over I have heard stories about our people responding to firefighters,” said Anderson.
•approved the salary schedule for city employees, after reviewing a survey of the salary and benefits provided at 10 communities in the region. Chadron’s 45 employees put it at the midpoint of the communities surveyed, and its wages and benefits are in the range with the other towns, the survey showed. “As a business owner, it’s hard to compete with those wages and benefits,” said council member Levi Grant. “It always spirals up, never down. That’s a problem on the state level.”
•approved an amendment to the policy on overtime, which requires paying for accumulated compensatory time at the end of the fiscal year, rather than allowing it to be carried over.
•approved a plat of four lots on the 200 block between North Pine and North Maple for Robert and Roberta Philby.