$250,000 for fire department van; $400,000 for Community Center
The Cherokee City Council, on back-to-back 3-1 votes, approved two resolutions authorizing the issuance and levying a tax for an amount not to exceed $650,000 in General Obligation Bonds for a new, custom-made Cherokee Fire Department equipment/personnel van, and renovation of the Community Center.
Interest on the bonds, which will be sold together covering a 10-year-period, total $139,815, pushing the bonds' total cost to $789,815. Factoring in that principal and interest will hike taxes on a $100,000 home in Cherokee $27 per year (27-cents per $1,000).
In its consecutive 3-1 votes, the Council approved both resolutions after Council members Linda Burkhart, Mick Mallory, and Jim Peck voted "yes." Council member Greg Stieneke cast the lone "no" vote for each proposal.
Council member and Mayor Pro-tem Bob Leach was absent for the meeting concerning the two major resolutions on the agenda. A check with City Clerk Deb Taylor, Mayor Dennis Henrich, and the rest of the Council, following the meeting, revealed that nobody knew why Leach missed the meeting.
The vote for the resolution for the Fire Department's equipment/personnel van came after more than an hour of stiff verbal opposition from Dwight Varce and Ron Johnson - two former City Council members, and citizen Sherald Grauer.
Speaking for the Fire Department resolution were firemen Hank Hayes, Roger Frisbie, Chief Dan Lucas, and Dan Murphy, Rural Fire District spokesman Glen Cave, and Cherokee County Emergency Management Manager Amy Barritt.
Barritt gave an impassioned plea emphasizing that the responsibility of the city is for citizen life safety. "You have to look at the safety of the firefighters," said Barritt, who pointed out many alleged shortcomings of the department's existing equipment van.
Barritt also took the opportunity to publicly criticize a recent Chronicle Times editorial opposing the bond issue for the equipment van, referring to certain terminology in the editorial as a "great injustice."
Cave said the RFD was formed in 1949 and has supported the CFD throughout. The RFD pays the CFD $250 for each rural call and averages 31 calls per year. The RFD also donated $60,000 to the CFD at $6,000 per year for 10 years for the new equipment truck. "We have a good relationship with the Cherokee Fire Department," noted Cave.
Hayes informed the Council that, earlier in the day, he and Frisbie asked the County Board of Supervisors for a donation and that the County donated $25,000 towards the van. Council member Mallory, the city's liaison for the Fire Department, did not attend the Supervisors' meeting as a city representative.
Hayes also said the Fire Department had applied three times for grant monies for the van in the past, and was turned down each time. "The emphasis of the grants is more towards training and not equipment," said Hayes, a long-time Cherokee firefighter.
Stieneke was adamant about the city not being able to afford such a vehicle at this time. "In a perfect world, this would be great to have a van like that. But we can't burden our taxpayers anymore with the state of our city finances and the state of the economy. Look at food prices. Look at gas prices. This is just not the time," said Stieneke, fully aware he was swimming alone against the tide.
Varce questioned the firemen about the length of the proposed new van and if it would fit in the existing fire station, or would it signal possible expansion of the station in the future. Frisbie said the new truck would be 24-feet long, that the current van is 14-feet long, and that the new vehicle would fit in the station. Varce also asked Mallory to abstain from voting on the measure, citing conflict of interest because Mallory's son is a fireman.
After later voting for the proposal, Mallory declared that neither he nor his son would realize any profit from the new van, so he was free to vote on the matter.
Johnson told the Council that it was a poor time for the city to bond for that much money. He said fixing the city streets and infrastructure was a primary concern and an equipment van was low priority compared to those acknowledged municipal problem areas. "We just can't afford something that grand," said Johnson.
Grauer asked the firemen why they "always give us the worst case scenario" when presenting their cause. "It's nothing but a pork barrel job," added Grauer. "The (existing) van has just 11,000 miles on it over a 22-year period. To make the existing van safer for the firefighters, Grauer espoused installing seat belts, ceiling straps, or a standing pole to help secure the firefighters en route to a call.
Frisbie said it would take 210 days to make the new van once the order is placed. Neither Frisbie or Hayes, or any Council member, knew any of the terms of payment, or how much had to be paid up front.
In voting yes, Burkhart emphasized her concerns for the safety of the firefighters, saying she knew the (existing) utility truck was not safe.
Peck echoed Burkhart's statements and factored in the RFD and County donations, and the fact things don't get cheaper down the road as reasons for his yes vote.
In making his yes vote, Mallory asked, "When is a good time? The problem is not going to go away."
In voting no, Stieneke said his main concern is the economy and raising taxes.
In regards to the Community Center bond, Stieneke voted no while asking the Council to take another look at the proposed plans and try to trim the costs.
In speaking for the bond issue, City Recreation Director Dan Rollison told the Council, "You just can't let the Community Center sit there and rot. You can't ignore it anymore," he said while pointing out the leaky roof, broken flooring, sagging walls and dire condition of the building.
Johnson lamented to the Council that past Councils he was a part of kept putting off Community Center repairs and now the city is faced with no choice but to proceed with the needed repairs. "It's time to get it fixed," he said.
Varce agreed with Stieneke that the Council needs to look at the plans and make cuts wherever necessary to lessen the cost.
Mayor Henrich, also a former Council member in years past, agreed with Johnson that the problems were severe, that there are water woes, and that nothing's been done for too long by past Councils. "It's a 45-year old building and nothing's been done. We've talked about this for years," said the Mayor.
In a related matter, the Council unanimously approved a contract with Haselhoff Construction of Cherokee for the Community Center Improvement Project. The Council had accepted Haselhoff's bid at a previous meeting.