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City Council OKs $8.9 million budget

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

$400,000 sewer plant ultraviolet project also a 'go'

The Cherokee City Council adopted the proposed $8.9 million City budget for fiscal year 2009-2010, following the 10th Public Hearing regarding the matter.

The new budget eclipses the 2007-2008 fiscal year budget by $500,000, with debt service accounting for the major hike over the current $8.4 million fiscal year 2008-2009 budget.

The Council approved the budget and certification of City taxes on a 3-0 vote Tuesday night, with Council members Bob Leach absent due to illness, and Council member Jim Peck on vacation.

Council members Linda Burkhart, Mick Mallory, and Greg Stieneke voted to approve the budget, with Stieneke voting begrudgingly for it.

"I would have voted no if there was one more Council member here tonight," said Stieneke. "But (because they're absent) I don't want to hold up the budget."

Stieneke took issue with the proposed budget because it included salaries for full-time fire department employees, and there was no money budgeted to ensure completion of the recent $479,000 Cherokee Community Center renovation project. There are still a few minor repairs and enhancements required for the Community Center.

"No other City our size has full-time fire department employees," noted Stieneke in protesting that budgeted item.

Citizen Frank Escue was the lone dissenter from the public sector to the proposed budget, and he questioned the disparity in telephone charges for Oak Hill Cemetery, the Parks & Recreation Department, and the Bacon Aquatics Center.

City Administrator Don Eikmeier explained that the combination of landline phones and cell phones by employees in those departments accounted for most of the disparity.

"Dead people don't need a phone," quipped Escue, to which City Clerk Deb Taylor responded, "You'd be surprised at the number of people who call the cemetery (for information)."

Escue also took fault with the Police Department's budget, saying that there was a $29,000 hike in the budget from last year, and that allowing $17,000 per year for vehicle replacement was not prudent, when budgeting every two years would save the City money.

Escue also faulted the Police Department for discouraging motorists from visiting and spending money in Cherokee by writing "unnecessary speeding tickets at 7 a.m. south of the airport."

Escue told the Council that it needs to cut the Police budget and drop the number of officers from (the current) eight to six. "They can use comp time and not collect overtime pay for court appearances not on their shifts," said Escue. "There's no reason to have three officers on duty during the day."

City Administrator Eikmeier told Escue that the City is on a three-year rotational cycle for acquiring new Police vehicles and that statistics show this was the most economical and efficient way to go. You must also factor in extra maintenance and repair costs if "you skip a year" advised Eikmeier, who explained that most Police vehicles have more than 100,000 miles on them after three years.

In other business, the Council approved awarding the bid for the Ultra-Violet WWTP Project at the City's sewer plant to original low bidder Grundman Hicks Construction of Cherokee, with a bid of $443,000 for both projects ($233,920 municipal, $209,080 industrial), exceeding by approximately $65,000 the engineer's total estimate of $376,618.

However, the Council also made that approval contingent on a coming change order that would lessen the bid by approximately $30,000.

The Cherokee Municipal Wastewater Ultraviolet Project is a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) mandate that consists of installing ultraviolet lighting systems that sterilizes bacteria and renders it harmless.

That project targeting the municipal wastewater treatment plant carries an engineer's estimate of $198,370, which would be paid for by the City. Wastewater Treatment Plant Superintendent Steve Casey told the Council that money has been set aside in a fund to pay for that portion of the Ultraviolet Project.

The second phase of the project includes the Industrial Wastewater Treatment Plant that falls under the auspices of Tyson Foods. That $178,248 project as estimated by engineers, will be funded by Tyson Foods.

In regards to the over-runs, at last month's meeting, Fox Engineering of Ames told the Council that the project review during the bidding process by the IDNR required an automatic by-pass system when the disinfection unit is not operating, and that the cost ($12,000) was not included in the original estimate.

Fox also reported that their structural engineer found an error in the unit price for backfill and concrete that totaled $10,000 for the municipal plant, and $5,000 for the industrial plant ($15,000 total).

Extras not required regarding the electrical and control pricing would cut from $6,000 to $9,000 off the bid.

Finally, a method for removal of the disinfection module, including a rail and hoist system, was included in the original estimate at a cost of $18,200. Normal operation requires removal and replacement of the module at least once a year. If that system is cut from the bid, the City would need to hire a crane or backhoe to come to the site twice a year to provide this function. The Council decided to choose that option and save the $18,200, the sum of these five change orders totaling the estimated $65,000 in cost over-runs.

However, since that last meeting, Fox negotiated with Grundman-Hicks and involved subcontractors and the best they could shave off the original bid was an estimated $30,000, concerning deductions for a laptop computer system, hoist lift for removal and replacement of the module, and various duplicated equipment.

Eikmeier said the project is slightly over budget now, but that the Council may look at adjusting sewer rates in the future to compensate.

The Council also authorized the Mayor and City Attorney to execute a deed accepting the Glen Larson property at 105 S. Sioux St.

The property contains a vacant, dilapidated house that Larson wants to deed to the City at no cost. The City has been negotiating with a neighboring property owner to clean up the property and then the City would deed the property to that property owner.

The Council also accepted the City's audit for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2008, from its auditors, Winther, Stave & Company from Spencer.

In its first year of a three-year contract as the City's auditors, the firm presented an overview and booklet of the City's finances for the year, which were reviewed by the Council, Eikmeier, and City Clerk Deb Taylor.

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