By Paul Struck, Editor
After considerable discussion, Cherokee's City Council Tuesday night reversed a contentious June 14 decision that rejected raises for full-time city employees not covered by collective bargaining agreement, or by an individual contract.
Earlier, the council had approved a 3-percent wage increase effective today for the city's two collective bargaining units - one for police department employees and one for other employees.
The council had budgeted 3-percent for salary increases, including those not under the collective bargaining agreement. However, the council, in a 3-2 vote June 14, rejected that 3-percent hike recommended by city administrator Ron Strickland, with council members Ron Johnson, Marty Zauhar and Doug Woods voting against the raise, and Bill Troth and Dwight Varce voting for it.
Tuesday's vote reversing that decision was also 3-2, with Varce, Troth and Zauhar voting for it, and Johnson and Woods voting nay.
As a result, the 3-percent wage hike for non-association employees is effective today, the first day of the new fiscal year.
Those positions affected are police chief, police secretary, park superintendent, park laborer/cemetery sexton, street superintendent, wastewater superintendent, library director, adult librarian, children's librarian, Parks & Recreation coordinator, city clerk, and water superintendent.
The approved 25-cents per hour wage hike for part-time positions also goes into effect today. Those positions include fire driver/dispatchers, cemetery laborer, library employees, and park laborer. Those rates ranged from $7.50 to $9.30 per hour before today's raise.
In other action the discussion heated up over a proposed nuisance abatement notice issued by police to property owner Jim Reitsma at 401 W. Beech St. Reitsma didn't agree with the abatement notice and appeared before the council to protest it.
Reitsma has four old cars in a secluded location behind a building on his property that's adjacent to city property used for storage. He uses the vehicles for their parts. Motorists cannot see the vehicles unless they drive onto the city property.
Because of that fact, the council, on a 3-2 vote, agreed to void the nuisance abatement notice, with Woods, Troth and Johnson voting to void it, and Varce and Zauhar voting for it.
Both Varce and Zauhar said the city should treat everyone fairly and to support the police department in its instructed efforts to enforce the nuisance ordinance. The three council members voting to void the notice cited the secluded property and the light industrial zoning area the property was in as reasons to exempt Reitsma from the abatement notice.
The council also approved on a 4-1 vote the first presentation of an ordinance establishing fire department fees for industrial and commercial (not residential) fire and emergency calls, with Varce the lone nay vote.
Varce said that city residents and businesses pay taxes for fire protection and that he thought Cherokee was not ready for a fee structure that could prove to be a financial burden. Varce made a motion to dismiss the ordinance presentation but it died for lack of a second.
As proposed, the new fees include up to $250 for vehicle fire, accident or grass fire; up to $1,000 for a commercial structure; up to $5,000 for industrial fire; up to $1,500 for controlled structure burn; and per truck plus man hours and costs for hazardous material response.
The ordinance also includes designated hourly fees for equipment, firefighters and related materials used. Replacement fees for damaged equipment and gear also is included. A fire safety inspection would cost $25, according to the fee structure.
The ordinance would go into effect after its third reading, final passage, approval and publication as provided by law. The council acknowledged that most of the fees would be covered by property insurance, less deductible.
The council also voted unanimously to set a minimum bid of $1,000 for disposal of city property at 110-112 S. 4th St. in downtown Cherokee. The $1,000 would cover the city's cost for advertising and paperwork involved in selling the property that now serves as a parking lot. It does not cover the city's costs for demolishing the two old buildings that once stood there. A public hearing authorizing bids will be conducted at the next meeting.
Per the city's demolition code, approval also was given for the removal of the foundation, filling in the basement, and capping off water and sewer lines for a demolished (by fire) house at 208 W. Locust. Building inspector Kent Wenck said the property owner has not responded to repeated notices to clean up the property.
The city will hire a private contractor to do the work and then put a lien on the property to recoup the costs amounting to "several thousand dollars," according to Wenck.
Varce questioned why city personnel could not do the job and Strickland said they were "over-taxed" as it is.
During the discussion considering the pay increases for the affected city employees, council member Johnson reiterated earlier statements that the city needs to trim expenses in tough economic times and promoted combining the police department and sheriff's department into one county-wide law enforcement agency.
Strickland advised the council that the issue was "currently being looked at by a county group."
The council meets again at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 12.