The majority of Monday night’s meeting of the Chadron City Council was dedicated to preliminary budget discussions, particularly in the realm of fees and personnel costs.
City Manager Greg Yanker presented information to the council. In his review, Yanker noted the city establishes and collects fees to recover costs of services to users. City Council determines appropriate cost recovery level and establishes fees. Where feasible and desirable, the city looks to recover full direct and indirect costs. Fees are reviewed on a regular basis to calculate full cost recovery levels, compare them to the current fee structure and recommend adjustments as needed.
The city established a franchise fee for water and wastewater, with a cap of 12% of total gross revenues as defined by ordinance. Water and wastewater fees are currently 12% of gross revenues.
No changes are proposed to the fees for the Aquatics Center. Yanker said usage at the center has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but prior to that there was a slight increase in the number of daily admissions and usage of the center.
Electricity is currently 12% of the gross revenue, which would result in $717,758 of the budget. There is an opportunity to increase this to 12.5%, which would be $747,655 to the city budget, an increase of $29,907. Yanker further pointed out that, according to Nebraska Public Power District, the average monthly electric bill is about $160 per month. Going from 12% to 12.5% would increase the consumer’s bill by $1.11 per month.
Gas is currently at .0068 per therm, and cannot be negotiated until 2023 per terms of the franchise agreement. Similarly, cable television is 5% of gross revenues, which cannot change as the fee is set per the franchise agreement.
Other fees being looked into include facility and utility use by organized sports teams.
Board member Cheryl Welch questioned the provision of water to the golf course at 10% of the residential rate, noting the water to the course is untreated and the water to consumers is treated. Yanker explained in discussion between the Golf Board and City it was recognized there was a subsidy being provided to the course.
Mayor Miles Bannan said it was recommended to keep the rate at 10% of the residential rate, as the golf course would unsustainable if charged the full rate. Bannan also pointed out there is currently no plan to repair or replace a line that provides water to the course when the line fails.
Board member Keith Crofutt said he wouldn’t mind other options to raise the rates for water and wastewater beyond the proposed amount, taking slight increases now to avoid dramatic increases in the future. Council member Mark Werner wanted more information on what has and hasn’t been done with regard to water and wastewater, and the capital improvement plan.
Yanker also presented options regarding the bond for the Aquatics Center. The first is to not do a transfer from general fund revenue to cover the shortfall in the half-cent sales tax. With this option, the total fund balance would be exhausted in fiscal year 2023. If there is no transfer, the total deficit is $741,330. This is based off the current projected sales tax generation staying flat at $450,00 for the remainder of the six years.
The second option continues the $125,000 transfer, while the third increases the transfer to $130,625
The fourth option, which council gave the sense it wanted to pursue, means rewriting the bond to have sales tax cover the entire principal and interest of the bond without delving into the general fund. The term of the bond would increase the term of the bond, though the typical $125,000 transfer to be used in the general fund over the course of the bond. A change in the bond would require a vote of the public for approval during November’s General Election.
Another topic of discussion was employee investment. Looking at the current staffing level, there is the potential addition for a full-time public transportation supervisor/transportation dispatcher. The position would be responsible for day-to-day operations of the public transportation program, and could be funded at 80 percent by state and federal dollars
What is being considered for employees is a market rate increase of 2% with a merit rate increase of 3.5%, and options to recruit and retain employees. Merit raises are based off performance evaluations. Yanker said having the merit raises and not just doing a blanket market raise helps prevent a culture of complacency in the workplace. Incentives for new hires are also being considered.
There was some concern raised as to differences in how people evaluate their employees creating raises that would be considered unfair. Another concern was whether the budget could support several or all employees meeting the qualification for the maximum merit raise rate. It was suggested to have a lower cap on the merit rate, though Yanker pointed out having lower rates makes it more difficult to recruit and retain employees.
Looking at a comparability study, Janet Johnson said without the increase Chadron will still have just as many employees out of comparability with other communities this time next year. She further added the reason there are so many employees out of comparability is because there were no raises across the board two years ago.
Johnson suggested making adjustments to get caught up, such as increasing the rate that Nebraska Public Power District is being asked to pay.
Also at the meeting, council approved a special designated license for Fryday’s 120 Bar and Grill for an outdoor beer garden July 10 and 11 during Fur Trade Days. Special designated licenses were approved for the Bean Broker Coffee House and Pub, and for Wild’s Bar and Grill, for July 10 and 11, at the council’s June 1 meeting. Applications for the licenses were done in the hope that directed health measures will allow for the gardens.
According to the new directed health measures that take effect June 22, outdoor gatherings will be limited to 75% of rated occupancy (not to exceed 10,000). However, parades, carnivals, midways, dances and street dances, and beer gardens remain prohibited
The Ridge, was denied a special designated license for a beer garden in a 3-2 decision with Bannan, Crofutt and Welch voting against granting the license.
Concern arose about The Ridge being granted a license, due to the business having provided alcohol to minors and allowed patrons to be in the bar until 2 a.m. Staff members were present at the meeting, and presented steps they are taking to ensure such incidents don’t happen in the future. Among these measures are repeated ID checks at the business — including at the door, at the bar and via a revolving manager on the dance floor area — ensuring all staff have completed approved alcohol server training, cutting off people who have drank too much and helping people get home safely.
Though council was appreciative of the efforts made to ensure violations don’t happen again, there was also concern, initially raised by Police Chief Tim Lordino, that council would set a precedent for other businesses by granting the license. Another concern raised was not enough time has passed since the measures were implemented, and time was needed to make sure no further violations will happen.
Following a brief hearing, during which there was no comment from the public, council approved levying the special assessment for maintenance of the Business Improvement District for the calendar year 2020. The rate is $1.75 per square foot, and provides a total $6,776.58.
Three payments were also approved: $35,736.30 to Simon Contractors for road construction of the 100 block of West Eighth and the 200 block of West Ninth; $12,222.45 to Simon for construction in the high school parking lot; and $26,677.35 to Fuller Construction for concrete street repair.
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