MOUNT VERNON — By a 4 to 2 vote, council adopted an ordinance, which raises the wastewater portion of residents’ bills. Council members Rebecca Jordan and John Fair cast the dissenting votes.
Councilman Burt Hanson said there has been a fair amount of discussion, inside and outside of council, and that raising the rates is “one of those necessary but unfortunate things we have to do.”
Councilman Derk Demaree asked Safety-Service Director David Glass to explain again why the increase is needed now, rather than raising rates in the future.
“We are in the middle of the design process,” said Glass. “Even though it’s enacted in April, money won’t be collected until the July bills. ... We’ll bid the project late this fall ... award the bid ... and start construction in the spring. We need the money when we start the project.”
Auditor Terry Scott added that if money were not collected until three years from now, the wastewater fund would be $1 million in the red. By law, utilities must be self-funded; money cannot come from the general fund to pay for utilities.
“It’s prudent to set it in place now,” he said.
Glass said the wastewater projects, which include an upgrade of the wastewater treatment plant and upgrades to the Center Run and Kokosing interceptors, are part of a 10-year wastewater plan. The city has been actively working on the projects for three years. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency mandates the upgrades.
Jordan received confirmation that the city had applied for stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and raised the suggestion of waiting to raise rates until a reply is received on whether the city will get any stimulus money. Councilman Burt Hanson pledged that if stimulus money was received, he will “be back with the administration, with water and wastewater, and with the auditor asking to decrease the rates.”
Glass said it looked like the way the government was handling the funding stream for wastewater projects, that the stimulus money would be a loan that would have to be repaid.
In response to Jordan’s query as to why the city did not raise rates in 16 years, Glass said the city was doing all right with the wastewater money being collected, and that there was no reason to raise rates.
“We felt guilty with having a surplus at the end of the year,” he said.
Council approved ordinances setting the number and wages of seasonal personnel, including parks, streets and cemetery departments, and water park personnel. According to Hawkins, the city reset some of the wages to comply with the recent increase in the state minimum wage. The number, wages and benefits of hourly non-bargaining unit city employees were also set. These employees include staff in the mayor, safety-service, income tax, law director and auditor offices, as well as in the police and fire departments.
Council gave a second reading to a resolution that would grant a permanent easement to the Woodward Development Corp. for a 15-foot-wide strip on Vine Street. Pat Crow said the request for the easement is twofold: Because there is a series of vaults and storefronts below ground level which the Woodward Development Corp. will make use of, and because the easement is where a test well will be drilled to see if enough water exists to use geothermal heating for the opera house and its adjacent buildings.
One reading was given to an ordinance that would set the wage and benefits of two of the three units within the Mount Vernon Police Department, specifically, the corporals and officers, and parking meter attendants and radio clerk. At the end of the legislative session council adjourned into executive session to discuss the wage package further. No further action was taken.
A first reading was also given to an ordinance relating to the amount of insurance taxicab drivers are required to carry.
Council authorized a number of reappointments, among them Allan Helser to the Shade Tree Commission; Maj. Robert Bender and Robert Shooter to the Mount Vernon Fair Housing Board; Gail LaBenne and Mary Schlegel to the Historical Review Commission; Kenneth Reynolds Jr. and Heather Darnold to the Board of Tax Appeals; and David Bouchard to the Zoning Board of Appeals.
•Passed a resolution in support of House Bill 420 relating to an appropriation to Central Ohio Technical College for capital improvement projects to Ariel Hall on the Knox Campus. Hawkins said it was important to recognize COTC and Mount Vernon Nazarene University for what they are doing in the downtown.
•Authorized Glass to advertise for bids and enter into a contract for asphalt paving materials and services.
Hawkins reported the city had no citations in its recent audit. There were a couple of recommendations, which Scott is addressing.
Mayor Richard Mavis said a preconstruction meeting was set for Thursday regarding the Gay Street project, and that the city installed flashing pedestrian lights Monday for East Elementary Street School. Rolls-Royce is also using its parking lot on the east side of the plant, so flashing lights will be activated on Sandusky Street also.
Scott reported the city received $51,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for debris cleanup from the windstorm last September. The city has other reimbursement requests in, for structural damages and personnel.
Jordan wanted the community to know that for those unemployed, Opportunity Knox will provide a phone number and Web site where they can get further information.
Councilman Mike Hillier encouraged residents to begin gathering items they can turn in during the city’s spring cleanup program, which begins May 2.
Hanson encouraged Mavis to continue looking into the possibility of a connector road behind Tim Horton’s as a way of alleviating traffic congestion and a dangerous left turn out of Tim Horton’s.
Fair questioned the status of the old middle school. Glass said he met with owner John Bechtel last week. Bechtel is cleaning up the building, has a set of renovation plans, and has a prospective buyer.
Fair also encouraged the community to attend two forums to voice their comments and concerns. One is held the first Saturday of each month at 8:30 a.m.; the other is the third Monday at 7 p.m. Both are held at Sips.