Thursday, December 4, 2008

If the December 2 meeting seemed long to you watching on local cable, you should have been there. We had only one real long discussion, and one other short contentious issue. During these council meeting posts, I’ll try to review the whole meeting.

John Markas began the meeting speaking for Public Works. He mentioned that there will be a sewer rate increase proposal, but it was not ready for this meeting (John spoke again at the end of the meeting).

There was another discussion on the ambulance joint powers/mutual aid agreement with Kinney. Concerned Taxpayer commented on this in my Nov 18 meeting post. It was decided that the Buhl Clerk would set up a meeting with the Buhl lawyer, Kinney lawyer and the other concerned parties (hopefully the ambulance crew), and this issue will get hammered out. The major sticking points are hazy to me, but seem to be all about insurance and possible litigation if there is an accident or incident involving the ambulance crew. This will get finalized.

The Recreation Board decided on the holiday lighting contest, which will be held one night during the week of December 15. The council also okayed the skating crew for the winter, along with their wages. This year there will be a supervisor for the skating crew, other than just a member of the Recreation Board. There was a discussion on who the supervisor would be, with Councilor Swanson voting nay on the hiring of the supervisor.

The first order of business was a longggg discussion on a change to the Buhl code of ordinances. The new ordinance requires all utility billings to be in the name of the property owner. The previous ordinance allowed renters to have the utilities in their names. Two Buhl property owners spoke (one a current landlord, one a past landlord), and both spoke out against the new ordinance. Their main point of contention was that they should not be responsible for a bill that renters create. They argued that the renters used Buhl services, and therefore should be billed for those services. Initially it sounds like a valid point. However, there have been numerous times that renters run up a utility bill, and then leave town without paying that bill. At this time, past renters owe the City of Buhl over $3800.

This is where it gets tough. The State of Minnesota has a law forbidding cities from collecting past due electrical payments from landlords. That means we cannot collect on past due bills, and have to eat the loss. If the State did not tie our hands, then we would not have had to pass a new ordinance. We would just collect from landlords. Instead, we will now treat all property owners the same, and utility bills will be in the property owner’s name.

This will take the burden of collecting delinquent utility bills off of Buhl, and put in on the landlords where I think it belongs. Really, Buhl should not be at risk of loosing money simply because someone rents a home or apartment. The risk should be with the business, not the City. The landlord owns the business, and should own the risk.

Councilor Swanson and Mayor Pulford voted against the new ordinance. Both thought that we could have tried a less extreme step, like increasing deposits for utilities. That is a reasonable step, but would still leave open the possibility that a renter could leave town and leave an unpaid bill for Buhl taxpayers. I believe that we chose the correct solution. What do you think?
Next we adopted a budget for fiscal 2009 of $850,803, an increase of $3000 from last year (about 1/2 %)

Then we set the levy for fiscal 2009 at $256,000. This is an increase of about 4.5%. Since the total value of properties in Buhl increased by about 8%, the Buhl portion of property taxes should remain very stable. However, Buhl does not control the County levy, or the School District portion. We also cannot do anything about a homeowners property value, which the County controls. We can only set the City levy, and it will be very near the same in 2009 as it was in 2008.

We approved a grant that the fire department received from the DNR for $1500. This grant will be used for new radios.

We received the latest financial report for the Stubler Pit project. My next post will go into this in detail.

We transferred 2008 leftover money to Capital funds. This is a normal end of year transfer that takes any money that wasn’t spent in the previous year and puts it towards future capital expenditures. For instance, if the City needs a new dump truck, we would get part (or all) of that money from the capital funds that we set aside.

We paid a change order on the Stubler Pit project of $43.05.

We paid Hammerlund Construction $3680.30 for work completed on the Stubler Pit project.

We paid Jola and Sopp $3952 for work completed on East Monroe Drive.

We approved costs for new City Council members to go to a leadership conference in Nisswa. This conference is put on by the League of Minnesota Cities, and is only for newly elected officials.

We approved a one month note for the Northland Village. This is basically an extension of the previous note to the American Bank of the North that we had already made. The construction is about a month behind, so the Bank required an extension of the interest only note. This is at no cost to Buhl, and Northland Village will open in January instead of December.

Then John Markas talked about getting phone lines to our lift stations in Buhl, so that if a lift station failed there would be an automatic callout of the City Crew to fix it. He also said that we needed some power line upgrades, and MPL would be giving us an estimate soon.

Finally, John told us about the power lines at Stubler that the City recently purchased. I voted no on the purchase of these lines (a couple of meetings ago), because they cost the City $11,000. In my opinion, we paid to own power lines that we didn’t want or need. John came this time to explain that the lines were installed by MPL at a cost of $35,000, but MPL was willing to waive that cost if we purchased the lines for $11,000. Easy figuring there. If I had understood that at the previous meeting, I would have voted to buy the lines.

That was a lot of typing for me. I hope you could follow it. Let me know what you think.



Bill said...

Chris let me start by saying good job on hitting on everything that was discussed or passed at the Dec 2 meeting. I agree it was alot of typing but noone should complain as you hit on everything. Now I also have a comment on the Ambulance matter. Yes this is something that needs to get finished. How long has it been ongoing about 9 months now? Yet how many meetings has it been addressed?Now you have decided to have a meeting between Buhls attorney, Kinneys attorney, and any other pertinant partys. Well I think you are wasting alot of money on attorneys first off. A simple mutual aide agreement would have taken care of this matter a long time ago. I took a mutual aide agreement off of the League of Minnesota Cities website for Fire Departments I deleted the really unnecessary stuff that would pertain more to large departments such as Mpls or St. Paul. I tried to make it a simple agreement that stayed with what the League had and would yet cover and protect both departments. I turned it over to Buhls Fire Chief who in turn gave it to the City Council who then gave it to your attorney who went to the League and rewrote it (probably just more sofisticated than the one I gave) and he gave it back to you. The Council then passed it and sent it to the City of Kinney to be passed. WOW something that should have been so simple got turned into something complicated and what happened the attorney made a bunch of money off the city. I understand you sit and look at the liabilities and possibilities of litigations against the city but if we sit back and worry about these al the time there would be nothing getting done. I have a question about the mutual aide agreement you passed. Did you give it to the Fire Chief to get his input on it or did the council just pass it and not let the Fire Department have some input into what the council has agreed they will do in a mutual aide situation?I am the Fire CHief in Kinney and I have not seen the mutual aide agreement that the Buhl Council passed and the Kinney Council also passed and sent on to the Great Scott Township board for their approval. This matter is between myself and my city council but I again don't think it is right that the City council (which most members of the councils know nothing about firefighting) are making the decisions for those of us out there doing that job. I took it upon myself to get that agreement from the League website and work on it on my own to try to get an updated agreement on file as there has not been one done for far to many years and as you are concerned without one there could be problems in the event of injury or damage to equipment while providing mutual aide to a neighboring department. I hope I hve gotten my point across without going on too long. I would attend meetings to attempt to voice my opinions and concerns however I am accused of getting upset and yelling at people so I thought by typing here I could get my point across without you or anyone else thinking I am yelling or being out of line. Finally I would like to thank you for taking the time to put this website together and post the things you do so people have an oppertunity to comment on matters they are concerned about.

Chris Primeau said...

Thanks for the input Bill. I think that the most important thing you wrote was "most members of the councils know nothing about firefighting". Usually, Mike L (Buhl Fire Chief) tells us what he needs and gives us the plan. Most times, we ask questions and end up passing what he asks, because he is the expert. This time, we needed input from Al (our attorney) and Kinney's attorney. Without knowing a lot about every issue that comes up, we have to rely on the experts we have. Mike L is one, Al is another. I guess the important part of this issue got lost in the unimportant part. I do think that we need to have that meeting with all parties, but we need to do it quick.

Thanks again for writing all that you did. It's good information that I didn't know before.