Vacuum truck and salary increases discussed at council meeting

By Carol Walker

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Only two action items, the second reading of the 2019 Hill City Budget Appropriation and certifying the 2018 Property Tax Levy Request, were on the agenda for the regular city council meeting on Monday night, but they generated plenty of interest and discussion.

Discussion on the budget centered around two things: the purchase of a vacuum truck for $80,000 and a sewer main camera for $65,000, and the automatic three percent salary increase for city employees.

Brett McMacken, city administrator, brought some additional information to the table regarding a used vacuum truck that was discussed at the last council meeting. He said he and Dan Pladson, public works director, visited with Custer’s mayor and had the chance to look at a $25,000 used vacuum truck Custer is selling. McMacken made an offer that will be discussed at Custer’s council meeting next Monday night.

“We asked if the selling price could include training on how to use it. The mayor said there shouldn’t be a problem with that. They will know more after next week’s meeting. We have contingency funds that would allow us to take this purchase out of this year’s budget,” said McMacken.

Councilman Jim Peterson said he would be “marginally” in favor of buying the used truck. He said equipment wears out, it needs maintenance and people need to know how to use the equipment. His preference is to outsource things like the use of a vacuum truck and sewer main camera.

The sewer main camera would be used to look for things like splices in the lines, cracks, tree root issues, infiltration and shifting of lines. Skorsewski suggested that if Hill City owned the camera, it could scope the lines on a regular basis, perhaps finding potential problems early on. McMacken said the lines are supposed to be jetted and scoped on a regular schedule.

The council voted unanimously to take the new vacuum truck off the 2019 budget and pursue the used one in Custer. Kathy Skorzewski voted yes to keep the camera in the budget while John Johnson, Peterson and Jason Gillaspie voted to take it out.

A motion was then made by Skorzewski to remove the truck ($40,000) and camera ($45,000) from Highways and Streets, and from Sewer Fund, an additional cost of the truck ($40,000) and camera ($20,000). Of that total amount, $10,000 would go back into the Sewer Fund to contract the use of a sewer camera, $85,000 would go into the Road Improvement Fund and the revenue would be adjusted down by $50,000. The vote for this motion was unanimous.

Next issue on the table was the automatic three percent increase in salaries for city employees, which McMacken broke down into the cost of living increase (COLA) and performance evaluations.

“With the federal government over a period of 20 years, the median cost of living increase was 2.1 percent and the average was right at two percent,” said McMacken.

He said employee evaluations were developed in 2013 with the library board, but he was not sure they were being used across the board in city departments. He said they are difficult to implement because the city is not producing items that can be easily measured. The evaluations are inherently subjective. Currently, they are not tied to salary.

“Evaluations work well if you don’t have a cream puff supervisor that gives everyone fours and fives,” said Lorena Freis.

Gillaspie said if they are tied to salary and we have a cap on the percentage attached to a raise, there is not much incentive when an employee reaches that cap. It was suggested that longevity bonuses could be offered after that point.

McMacken and Carla Sheldon, finance officer, have looked at other communities of comparable size to see what they pay their employees, but Gillaspie suggested we need an independent company to do a comparable salary range study. McMacken agreed that is the most important thing they can do now.

A motion was made and approved to keep the three percent raise for all employees in the 2019 budget, but before the end of the year, the council hopes to have a salary range study done. Employees will be notified that their salary could include a two percent COLA increase with the remaining percent coming from performance evaluations.

One other small item on the budget, the Summit Cemetery Program at a cost of $2,765, was discussed. It would compile all the historical information contained in many books into one program that could be accessed when individuals call with questions. That was kept in the budget.

Certifying the property tax levy request also evoked some discussion. It was proposed that the maximum tax levy of $531,802 be certified. Last year the levy was about $518,000, and it goes up about $10,000 to $15,000 each year.

Peterson asked if that is the maximum, couldn’t we certify less than that and save the taxpayers some money?

“Just because we can get this, should we?” asked Peterson.

McMacken said if we lower that number, the entire budget would have to be redone. He said, using that money we have been able to accrue a surplus that can be used for unexpected expenditures, to provide pools of money in all the departments, and to pay down our debt. Gillaspie commented that this is the only guaranteed income that the city has.

In the end the council voted unanimously to certify the property tax levy request and approve the budget with the changes discussed.

Kale McNaboe, city engineer, told McMacken there are a few more tweaks that have come from the state regarding the sidewalk project. McMacken is working at acquiring easements from downtown property owners, needed before work begins on the sidewalk. He has about a half-dozen to get before the project can go out for bids.

There was a walk-through with the architect and engineer for the Business Improvement District (BID) project. McNaboe made a rough estimate for all the work outlined in the BID, the cost being about $600,000. McMacken said the key to the project is the asphalting.

“That sets the elevation for the alley and then for the restrooms,” said McMacken.

In other report items, a sinkhole was repaired on Museum Dr.,  infiltration has declined at the wastewater treatment plant and the encroachment of Tracy Park on private property is being corrected.

In addition, Sheldon said if people have questions about what they can do with skunks in the city limits, they can call city hall for information.

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