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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Snow Plowing Hard On Peshtigo Budget

“It’s been a busy year out there,” Peshtigo Public Works Director George Cowell told the city council’s Finance Committee as they reviewed disbursements at their regular monthly meeting at 9 a.m. Monday, Feb. 25. They were discussing costs of street maintenance this year, the first for which the city has been handling its own snow plowing and anti-ice treatments. In the past, the work was done through a contract with Marinette County Highway Department.

Cowell said because of all the rain, sleet and ice conditions this year they have used a lot of salt sand. Sand is purchased from the Highway Department for about $20 a ton, and the city crew mixes in the salt, which costs about $900 for a truck load. Cowell said the last load of sand seemed to have a higher than usual percentage of small stones, which may cause a few problems.

Committee members Tim Colburn, Tom Gryzwa and Chair Mike Behnke were present, along with Mayor Al Krizenesky, Cowell and City Clerk/Treasurer Mary Ann Wills.

Colburn asked about complaints regarding street conditions after snow storms.

Cowell felt things are getting better. “It’s been a long winter. I think people are getting used to it,” he commented.

Gryzwa said he had calls asking that the mountains of snow be removed from intersections because they hamper visibility. Cowell said he has plans to do that as soon as it stops snowing long enough. He noted the men can work no more than 16 hours at a stretch, so when it snows he had them come in at midnight and work until 3 p.m. the following afternoon.

(On Monday and Tuesday crews were busy removing the snow piles from intersections, driveway entrances and other strategic locations.)

A request from Marinette County Crime Stoppers for a donation to help fund their program which offers rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of criminals in the county was discussed at some length. The decision finally was to not make a donation at this time, but suggest it could be included in next year’s budget.

Crime Stoppers gave $1,500 in rewards last year. Formerly they were largely funded through fines and grants generated through the court system, but a recent Supreme Court decision ended that.

“I know they generate a lot of leads, and their work is worth supporting,” Behnke commented, “but this is something we should consider at budget time.” He also felt that for requests of this sort someone from the organization should be on hand to answer questions. He wondered what other sources of income they have, and what other communities are doing.

“This is a tool that law enforcement uses,” Behnke said, then added, “but is it necessary for public protection?...No.”

Krizenesky suggested giving a token donation at this time, along with a letter explaining the city will do better at budget time.

Gryzwa agreed they should consider the request at budget time, and meanwhile suggested just send a letter saying the city is interested in their program and will consider it in the future.

“It irritates me that the courts get all the money from the fines and now they won’t support it,” Colburn declared. He said his business contributes to Crime Stoppers, and he is sure other businesses also contribute, so he felt they should be able to make up the $1,500.

Behnke felt they should also hear from the police chief as to how much Crime Stoppers benefits their department, and Gryzwa suggested perhaps the chief could put a contribution in his budget next year under police protection.

“I know it’s a good program, but it’s not in the budget,” Behnke said. “I’m all for it, but we have to draw the line on things we will do without budgeting for them....Unless it’s for something that benefits our revenue, I don’t think we should take any more money out of our general fund. I wish we’d received this request at budget time.”

There was no vote taken, but committee agreed Wills should send a letter to Crime Stoppers advising them of the decision and suggesting that they ask again at budget time.

Discussing finances later in the meeting, Cowell explained there had been only $7,500 left over from last year in the snow plowing account, and the streets budget included nothing extra for overtime for plowing or other work. However, there currently is a balance in the streets budget because last summer his crew had done more work than usual with the Water and Sewer utilities, and had helped water Riverside Cemetery, which was dry because the river was drawn down for the bridge reconstruction. He noted the county also charged extra for overtime, and at state rates besides. Most of the county plowing for the city was done on overtime, he added. He said by the end of winter.

Transfers totaling $124,627.25 between various accounts within the 2012 budget were approved. Wills explained the final budget balances will not be known until all the bills are in, paid and audited, which will not happen until April. Meanwhile, funds remain from grants and loans for the wastewater treatment plant, Riverfront Park, street and sewer improvements and more, and some of that work will not be completed until the end of June . Krizenesky said he has asked the auditors to be sure he and the Council get copies of the audit report a week before the April meeting so they can study it before being asked to approve it.

Behnke noted that a few months ago there had been discussion on the need for a new computer system for the city offices, and he suggested the Finance Committee should at least get information on what kind of problems there are with the current system, what the departments need, and what new hardware and software will cost. He felt they should ask department heads what they need their system to do, and keep in mind that systems used by the city in general and the Water/Sewer department need to be compatible.

Wills said the last time the city upgraded its computers they worked with the suppliers, and found they needed specific software programs for municipalities and for utilities. “This isn’t something you can just go to a computer place and pick up off the shelf,” Wills commented. She said last time CMS was the software supplier and served as consultant for the system purchase, and Halron Technologies provided hardware and hardware support.

Gryzwa felt they need all departments to get involved, including Wills’ office, water and sewer, police department, parks and rec, maintenance, and public works.

Decision was to invite all department heads for a discussion at the next committee meeting, and then for a subsequent meeting invite the computer representatives. They also will need to decide if bids are or are not required before they ask for price quotes.

There was discussion on two outstanding loans from the Wisconsin Board of Commissioners of Public Lands on which the city is paying more than the current average interest rate. There is a $282,618 balance at 5% interest on a 20-year loan taken in 2002 to finance work on the Wastewater Treatment Plant, and a $229,489 balance at 4.5% on a loan taken for storm water improvements, which is scheduled to be paid up in 2014.

Wills explained both can be pre-paid without penalty, but as a refinancing to get the lower interest rate of 2.5% or 2.75% depending on the term, they would need to borrow at least an additional $128,000.

The current wastewater treatment plant reconstruction is financed with a loan at 2% interest through another state program. Gryzwa pointed out that is a construction loan that will need to be paid off shortly after the project is complete. There also is the storm water project being paid for with TIF funds. There will be further discussion on this issue.

The meeting was to have included a discussion on insurance coverage with a representative of AJG, the city’s carrier for vehicle and equipment insurance, but he was unable to attend. He will be invited for the next meeting, which was scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Friday, March 22. Committee members felt they might want to go with a higher deductible, and perhaps just have liability coverage on some of their lower value vehicles, since the city crew includes a mechanic who can do much of whatever repair work might be needed.


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