NAPPANEE — Two former city officials quizzed the City Council Monday on a water rate increase and budget issues.
Former Clerk-Treasurer Kathy Brown and former council member Jacob Dermott asked the questions.
Brown asked that the link to council meetings be posted on the city’s website and the agenda be posted by noon on Mondays. She then said she wanted to speak about the budget, specifically to Todd Nunemaker, who was presiding over the meeting.
“According to the paper, so I have to take it with a grain of salt, you had a lot of questions about the 2% increase for employees,” Brown said.
Nunemaker agreed that was the case. She went on to state that she had no problem with the 2% raise and the $200 incentive pay for the first responders, but said the bigger issue was the proposed water rate increase, something she recognized was a board of works decision, not a council decision.
“It’s only been four years since the community had a big sewer increase, so I don’t know how you’re going to explain to the citizens that their water bill is going up. I think the citizens will be less concerned about the 2% increase for workers than their water bills,” she said.
Nunemaker agreed that with the impact from COVID-19 and a likely decrease in tax revenue that they’re going to be looking at everything. He said, “Everyone is conscious about that.”
She also asked if there had been additional appropriations this year and asked what for and Clerk-Treasurer Jeff Knight responded there had been and gave her the particulars.
Brown said, “I read it in the newspaper so I don’t know if it’s true or not” but said the article was talking about first responders wages being taken out of COVID money and not the city’s coffers and she said if that was the case then the city should reduce its budget because that is a huge chunk of the budget.
Knight said there would not be a budget reduction and this was a recent change from the state and the money the city would be saving in that area is earmarked for other things.
Nunemaker said the budget is a not-to-exceed amount and he questioned why Brown would want them to reduce the budget based on CARES Act funding without knowing how much they’d receive. He also confirmed with Knight that the city has to first spend the money and then get reimbursed by the state. Knight told Brown that the state has advised them on how to handle such situations.
Brown said as a citizen she wanted the council to keep an eye on it. She also mentioned if a certain employee was going to be switched to salary to save on overtime that the change is done fairly. Nunemaker said he and the salary committee were going to be looking at salaries in greater detail than in the past.
RATE HIKE ESTIMATE QUESTIONED
Dermott also expressed concern about water rate increases, claiming that an increase that would cover everything the City Council wants done, “it would be a $40-$50 increase.”
Both Knight and Water Superintendent Gale Gerber refuted Dermott’s estimate, saying from what they understood it is projected to be a $2- to $2.50-a-month increase. Gerber added it’s been 10 years since there has been a water rate increase.
Gerber said, “We need to wait until we get all the information in from Baker & Tilly” before giving out any numbers.
As the conversation veered off into past situations, Knight appealed to Nunemaker that public comment was supposed to be about current items.
“This is not the time or the place to be dealing with how things were handled in the past whether favorably or unfavorably by those present,” he said.
Later in the meeting, the council asked Gerber to talk about what is being proposed in the water project and he explained they’d be replacing the water mains — first installed in 1890s in the downtown area and around 1910 in other areas and at the same time replacing lines up to resident’s homes in a lead abatement project. Also included will be a new water tower at the airport to enhance the town’s water supply capacity.
Council Member Amy Rosa asked if the city didn’t go forward with the plan would they just wait until things needed to be fixed. Gerber said the city has had numerous water main breaks and the problem continues to worsen.
Knight also said during his report that the reason he gave a figure is because the question was asked and he said they don’t have all the information yet. “No final decision has been made,” he said of a rate increase.
The council passed the $9.9 million budget on third and final reading. The budget was reduced from the first to second readings so it would balance. The 2021 budget is $76,688 more than the 2020 budget, or 0.8%. The proposed tax rate per $100 assessed values is $1.538.
Council Member Denny Miller asked when they’d see the salary ordinance — something the council usually has along with the budget. Nunemaker said they hoped to have it by the final reading but the salary committee and the mayor want to go into more detail. He said they would get it to the council before the end of the year, or sooner.
During the public comment section, David Price said his wife asked him to ask why the swings and curly slide were removed from West Side Park. Park Superintendent Chris Davis, who was attending the meeting virtually said the swings were being replaced and they were working on getting them installed and the slide was removed due to “safety issues.”
In other business the council:
• Passed on first reading an amendment to the zoning ordinance so there would not have to be a subdivision if the city was purchasing land for public use projects.
• Passed a resolution stating that the city could invest certificates of deposit with banks outside of the city.
• Heard the Emergency Medical Service had a “very active month” in September.