The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.
LA HARPE CITY COUNCIL
Nov. 9--The latest La Harpe city council meeting featured several heated debates on spending issues, positional authority, and requests for changing long-standing procedures.
Council members discussed at length a proposed ordinance change to section A of the current water and sewer billing ordinance.
The proposed change was to clarify how billing worked for residents with home-based businesses and apartment buildings with one water meter and multiple apartments.
It was discovered that residents were billed in two different ways in the above situations.
The proposed amendment to Section A clarified that residents were billed for each water meter they had.
If one water meter was at an apartment building, the bill would go to the building's owner and he/she would decide how to divide the bill between the apartments.
This also means the building owner is responsible for the water bill if a renter leaves town without paying their portion of the bill.
Council member Josiah Neff said he was worried that the city would lose a lot of revenue if the proposed amended ordinance passed.
He also believed the existing ordinance was specific enough and did not need amending.
"We're going to be way, way under billed if we pass this," said Neff. "If four apartments have one meter and use 10,000 gallons of water, they are charged less than if each apartment gets a water usage charge."
Council member Marcia Stiller said she had City Attorney Kurt Dittmer draw up the proposed amendment, because she felt it was unfair to bill people differently.
Home businesses are billed for business water and for home water use. The home businesses are self-reported, so not every home business is billed.
"Some people are being double billed because they have a home business," said Stiller. "There is too much inconsistency going on. We are trying to clarify it to be fair."
Water Superintendent Tim Graves asked the council a billing question.
When Kienast informed him that the discussion was only open to council members, he left the meeting.
After much discussion, the issue was tabled until the Monday, Nov. 23, meeting.
A second major issue of the night was remodeling the ground floor garage area of city hall to use it as the future council chambers. Bids have been gathered for the project. No vote has been taken to approve the project.
Part of the reason for the renovation is to make the council chambers handicapped accessible.
In the past, the council meeting was moved downstairs or to another venue like the senior citizens center when the council had prior knowledge that accessibility was needed.
The discussion became heated when council member Darrell Kraft began talking about using city hall to house a Peace Corp Fellow beginning Jan. 1.
The issue had not been brought up at a full council meeting, and some council members did not know that this was happening.
The Peace Corp Fellow is working for the city by applying for grants and doing other work the city deems necessary.
There is no cost to the city. Private donations and a USDA grant pay for her expenses. The Love La Harpe civic improvement group is sponsoring the position of which the mayor is a member of.
Neff objected to not knowing about the person coming to La Harpe, and he objected to using city hall for her work space.
"Love La Harpe needs to house her, not the city of LaHarpe," said Neff. "She isn't a city employee."
Neff and Kienast got into a verbal altercation over the issue, causing Treasurer Marcia Neff to chastise Kienast.
"This is not the tone a mayor should have," she said. "This is not how you lead a meeting."
Josiah Neff also objected to the idea of using city funds to pay for remodeling the former garage area. Kraft became upset when Neff suggested the issue had never been discussed.
"We've discussed using the money we budgeted for the roof on the stage (in the city park) and instead using it for this (remodeling)," said Kraft. "I specifically asked if we could do this and was told we could if we amend the budget."
Josiah Neff said council meetings where someone needed access could be relocated as the city had been doing. Kraft and Kienast argued the city needed to provide equal access for all meetings without anyone needing to give prior notice.
"I think it's insensitive of us to continue making people climb the stairs when we know they have problems getting up them," said Kienast. "The meetings are supposed to be available to everybody."
The council approved a new wall for the downstairs area at a previous meeting. The wall was to provide access to the downstairs bathroom for people at city hall without them having to go through the police department offices.
It was discussed as a privacy issue for police records. Neff was the lone "no" vote for the project. At this meeting, he implied that Kienast had snuck the issue through the council and that it was an unnecessary expense like the proposed remodeled garage area.
The issue was eventually tabled.
Another flare up occurred when council member Dave Mershon asked Treasurer Marcia Neff for copies each month of the credit card receipts of purchases by city employees.
He also asked if the council wanted a two-signature system implemented for payroll checks. Payroll checks are the only checks issued by the city that only has one signature, that of Treasurer Marcia Neff.
Marcia Neff took exception to the request.
"I've done this job for 17 years. I know how to do it. I don't like being questioned about everything," she said.
Mershon said he wanted the process of two signatories in place as a precaution and was not insinuating Neff was not doing a good job.
"I believe it is better to have two signatures on every check that goes out of here," said Mershon. "It's about the process. I am not accusing you of anything."
Marcia Neff agreed to provide the credit card receipts. She later said she understood the request for two signatories.
"I can see how if something happened to me, the city would be in a tough spot," said Neff.
Stiller said the city was turned down for a sanitary sewer flood grant.
The city is still in the running for a CDAP grant for water main replacement. That decision is supposed to happen at the end of the month.
Kienast read a letter from Nicor thanking several city officials, employees, and the people of La Harpe for their information and patience in dealing with a gas leak in October.
City employees are receiving the same Christmas bonus as last year. The council approved $200 for full time employees and $100 for part-time employees.
The approval was 5-1, with Stiller voting "no." Stiller said she voted no because employees had been given a 2 percent raise, the state budget impasse created too much uncertainty, and Social Security is not issuing a cost of living increase.
The council voted to not hold a Christmas appreciation dinner this year due to uncertainty created by the state budget impasse.
Bids for mowing the city's portion of the city and township cemetery are available beginning Monday, Nov. 16, at Kurt Dittmer's law office.
Bid papers will include the recently passed ordinance governing cleanup days at the cemetery. Bids are opened at the city council meeting on Monday, Dec. 14.
The city decided at a previous meeting to have city employees mow the city park, so no bids are being sought for that work.
The council approved the annual tax levy ordinance for the year ending April 30, 2016. The total levy amount is $83,350.
The council approved spending up to $110 to repair a chainsaw. They also approved buying a new cement saw for $1,000, because needed repairs were going to cost at least $500. Neither saw is being made any more, and parts are hard to find.
Street Superintendent Wayne Humphrey said neither saw is an everyday-use item, but the cement saw is used when the city has water main breaks.
The council approved the final payment of $8,395.76 to Midwest Bridge and Crane, Inc. of Good Hope for the replacement of three intersections last spring.
The total project cost was $83,957.60. The good news it's about $6,700 under budget.
A ribbon cutting for Rt. 9 Shop and Save, a new business in the former Dollar General building in La Harpe, is at 10 a.m. on Nov. 12. The owners are Rob and Sonja Strange.
Andy Jackson is a new part time police officer.
The next city supervisor's meeting is Dec. 3.
Josiah Neff questioned why the council limited public comments to three minutes. The three-minute limit is the least amount of time allowed by law for public comment. Neff asked that a timer be at the council meetings.
Neff also questioned the switching of chairmen on committees by Kienast. Neff contends this can only be done once per year. Kienast said he can set the chairmen at his discretion.
Present were: Aldermen: Amy Palmer, Dave Mershon, Marcia Stiller, Kenneth Foster, Josiah Neff, Darrell Kraft, Treasurer- Marcia Neff, City Clerk-Lucretia McPeak, and Mayor-Ryan Kienast.
Also present were: Tim Graves, Monalisa Graves, David Little, Megan Crook, Doug Endres, Wayne Humphrey, Kurt Dittmer, Dan Gillett, and Dean Spangler. Justin Livingston came at 7:34 pm.
The regular meeting was adjourned at 8:49 pm.
The next council meeting is Monday, Nov. 23, at 7 p.m. at the La Harpe Village Hall upstairs meeting room. The public is invited.