Cherokee's City Council Tuesday night wrestled with replacing a vacant firefighter position, enforcement of the City's snow removal ordinance, and narrowly passed the second reading of a new ordinance increasing City sewer rates to compensate for a continued shortfall in the sewer budget.
In regards to the vacant paid firefighter position, long-time firefighter Keith Willis has retired due to illness and all full-time positions that become vacant must be reviewed by the Council prior to advertising for the position and filling it.
Citing City budget woes, Council member Greg Stieneke objected to replacing Willis and made a motion to table the matter until next budget time. When there was no second to Stieneke's motion, Council member Mick Mallory made a motion to move ahead with plans for advertising for a replacement and that motion was seconded by Council member Linda Burkhart. The motion then passed 4-1, with Stieneke voting no.
The City plans are for the new firefighter to also serve as the building inspector as is done in many cities. Former Cherokee building inspector Kent Wenck resigned Jan. 1 of this year.
The two paid firefighters staff the station from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., and maintain the equipment. On weekends and from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. weekdays, the department relies on its 30 volunteer firefighters to respond to any calls.
The firefighters are each paid approximately $40,000-$45,000, including fringe benefits.
In a related matter, the Council approved the appointments of Gary Chase as Fire Chief, Greg Eaton as Assistant Chief, and Mike Allbaugh as 2nd Assistant Chief.
Due to problems resulting from the recent heavy snows and inclement winter weather, the Council reviewed the City's snow removal ordinance, especially pertaining to downtown City sidewalks.
City Street Superintendent Jim Agnitsch told the Council to either start enforcing the ordinance or get rid of it altogether.
One of the problems is some merchants and snow removal employees are damaging the nodes and portions of sidewalk by continuing to use steel blades, skid loaders, and small tractors to clear snow downtown. Steel blades and heavy equipment are banned by the ordinance.
Agnitsch also said that some City workers are as guilty as anybody by insisting on using steel blades and other equipment that is damaging the sidewalks, especially the raised bumps in the nodes designed for the blind.
Police Chief Steve Schuck and Agnitsch have warned some businesses, but they then point out the fact the City uses such banned equipment at City Hall and the Library.
The Council finally agreed that the City will begin enforcing the ordinance, with fines being issued to violators. It was agreed that walk-behind snowblowers would not cause damage to the sidewalks, and people involved in snow removal efforts downtown must use them, shovels, brooms, or face fines.
In regards to the proposed City sewer rate increase, the Council initially approved the hike Dec. 15 and approved first reading of the ordinance creating the increase.
The sewer rate increase is designed to put the City Sewer Fund into the black after continually running in the red due to recent mandatory upgrades at the Wastewater Treatment Plant and on-going maintenance of the sophisticated facility. The Sewer Fund was $24,000 in the red at the end of the past fiscal year June 30.
The new ordinance would increase the rates from the $6.37 (per month) current base fee to $8, and hike the commodity (volume used) fee 9-percent from the current $3.47 per 100 CF, to $3.79 per 100 C.F.
The Council approved the second reading Tuesday night on a narrow 3-2 vote, and failed a motion to waive the third and final reading, which will then take place at the next regularly scheduled meeting. If then approved, the sewer rate hike will have passed.
Stieneke and Mallory voted against passing the second reading, while Council members Jim Peck, Dan Morrow, and Linda Burkhart successfully voted for it. In the Dec. 15 vote, Mallory was the lone Council member voting no.
In other action, the Council approved a resolution disposing of a portion of undeveloped alley property off Clark Street. Kyle Stoneking, a property owner adjacent to the City property, bid $502 plus publication and legal costs for the eight-foot strip of land that would access his property.
The Council also set Jan. 26 as the public hearing date for plans to refinance two existing bond issues that will save the City an estimated $150,000 in interest costs over the life of the bond issues. The General Obligation bonds total $2,830,000 and are being refinanced due to favorable interest rates on municipal bonds and after consulting with the City's finance bonding firm.
The Council also approved a tax abatement request for Schoon Warehouse Expansion on Lake Street. LeRoy Schoon had requested a 10-year abatement, which is a graduated tax reduction on the value of the expansion project.
Mayor Mark Murphy lauded the City street crews for their exemplary work clearing snow in the severe weather conditions, and also praised the Cherokee Fire & Rescue for its work in battling the recent Timber Ridge Apartments fire.