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Rushford cancels City Hall project, for now

By Kirsten Zoellner

Fri, Apr 12th, 2013
Posted in Rushford Government

By Kirsten Zoellner

At least for the time being, Rushford’s city hall will remain at its present location. Plans to convert the former municipal liquor store into new city hall have stalled more than once due to cost and funding. The council voted unanimously at the April 8 meeting to reject all bids for the project, cancel the project, and leave city hall in place while other courses of action are determined.

Capped at $200,000, the project has been a hotly debated item with some contending the city is spending money frivolously and others angry that the city denied the new library project last year, but proceeded with exploring renovating the “muni” and moving city hall. In a letter from City Administrator Steve Sarvi, it was noted that all bidders for the project came in under the maximum level, even with every additional alternative bid included.

“The one thing I come away with is that I don’t think there’s a consensus solution that we’ve come to yet that makes sense to the whole community,” said councilor Vern Bunke who suggested awareness to the current debt level. “Going any further at this point doesn’t seem to make sense to me. I hold out hope that we can go in and do the project with a strong sense of value engineering and create a space if we need it. Until we have a stronger direction, that’s my feeling.”

The council will revisit the issue at the first meeting in June to discuss funding sources, value engineering, and to determine further options.

The council also debated the recent question of their methods in water and sewer rate structure, especially in how it applies to multiple household dwellings such as apartments and motels. In effort to mitigate that issue, the city considered a proposal from MSA Professional Services for a study to evaluate the city’s current water and sewer utility rate structure at a cost of $3,500. The city noted that the study was not intended to dictate rates needed to fund projects, but rather a study of the structure itself.

The city uses Residential Equivalent Units (REU) based on water consumption. The REU structure was put in place in 1996 and was intended to have users which put the most stress on the system, such as manufacturing, more accountable for wear and tear to the system. “The funds are recovering from a deficiency,” added Bunke. “We’re building cash reserves to pay for debt.

Sarvi cautioned that changes to this structure could see a drastic effect. “With this rate structure, all our debt is based upon it. It might unravel the whole thing if we change the structure and have it affect our collections. It’s complex. We need to look at the future and see finance projections. We’re seeing progress in these funds due to the rates. We don’t want to jeopardize that by making a change and not understanding the full effect.”

Postponing the study to roll it into another study, which will need to be conducted for the 2014 Highway 43 project, was considered as a cost-sharing opportunity. While this study could give the city a head start on that project, it would likely complicate the issue further if both issues are tackled at once. For now, the city will not proceed with the study now, but research the options, look at trends, and revisit the issue when MSA representative Bill Chang can present more information to the council.

In other news, the council listened to councilor Roger Colbenson’s proposal for public works employee record keeping and documentation regarding mowing of city property. The council was mostly in agreement over the keeping of detailed logs for tasks associated with equipment repair and maintenance, maintenance expenses, and mowing time. They were less in sync, however, over Colbenson’s request to PW employees “punch in” for the start and end of each day, along with before and after each break and lunch break.

“You’re going to waste more time driving back and forth to punch a clock,” noted councilor Mark Honsey. “They’re big boys.”

One of the time issues, according to Colbenson, stems from public rumor over public works employees taking extended breaks. Per union contract, they are entitled to two 15 minute breaks, typically one morning and one afternoon, and a 30 minute lunch break. Public works employees were on hand to address the issue and noted that there are instances when they do take a longer morning break. In these occasions, they lump both breaks into one morning break, skipping the afternoon break to maximize time efficiency in the latter part of the day.

In the end, the council made no official motion on the proposal, instead offering it as discussion for the forthcoming record keeping.

The next regularly scheduled council meeting is Monday, April 22, at 6:30pm, at city hall. The public is encouraged to attend.

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