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Citizens voice concerns about city budget

Staff writer

Half dozen patrons attended the public hearing on the 2010 budget Monday night. Some voiced concerns about a proposed sewer charge increase.

The increase, in $2.50 increments, could eventually generate $60,000 a year if the city approves four increases, raising the base rate by $10 a month.

The ordinance allows for an immediate $2.50 hike, followed by a second in January. However, the third and fourth increases will be considered in late spring when the council begins reviewing budget issues.

The council plans to issue general obligation bonds for $204,000 to cover the cost of the mercury remediation associated with the former sewer plant. The money will “payback” funds the city used to pay for cleanup.

An annual payment of about $22,000 a year is necessary to pay the bonds. That money will come from the increase in sewer fees. The balance of funds generated by the increase will go into a fund to replace sewer lines, which have been collapsing with increasing regularity the past few years.

Former Mayor Ed Slocombe expressed disappointment in the plan, saying that too many Peabody residents are on a fixed income and cannot afford a rate increase.

“I would rather see a cut in services and put the savings into a fund to address water concerns,” he said, holding up a copy of the budget. “I don’t see any solution in this budget.”

“The council has spent many hours and held lots meetings discussing this situation. We feel this is the best solution for now,” Mayor Larry Larsen said. “We will review the increase next spring and if there is funding available somewhere else, we won’t need to implement the final fee increases.”

“We did not raise the mill levy for this. We want the expense spread among the users —including people who are renting their homes and apartments —not just property owners,” Councilman Tom Schmidt said. “We felt this was the fairest way to distribute the cost.”

After about 35 minutes of discussion, the 2010 budget was approved for $1,652,895.

A unanimous vote also was cast to adopt the ordinance for the increase in sewer charges to $5 by January, with a review scheduled for late spring to determine whether additional increases will be necessary.

Additional financial headaches arose in discussion of street repairs to Plum Street. The council determined that with the $25,000 Union Pacific insurance settlement and $40,000 payment to close the crossing at Seventh Street, the city would be $14,000 shy of an APAC bid to repair Plum Street with an asphalt hot mix.

However, if the city makes up the $14,000 for Plum Street, there will not be enough money in the street fund to repair a bridge on Fifth Street.

After a discussion about the type of traffic on Plum and Fifth streets and perhaps using a “chip-seal” method on Plum as a temporary fix, the council instead agreed to wait and properly pave Plum in 2010. Funds from the insurance settlement and Seventh Street crossing closing will be encumbered to pay for the work.

The plan was approved.

In other business:

  • Council members agreed they were satisfied with the drainage work adjacent to the Union Pacific railroad tracks on Plum Street provided by Graber Backhoe of Newton. City Administrator Mack Manning said Graber has installed a larger culvert under a Second Street crossing to facilitate drainage at the intersection of Second and Plum.
  • Items tabled until the next meeting were a decision on the amount of insurance required of contractors working in Peabody, an ordinance requiring property owners to trim tree limbs over city streets and sidewalks, and a review of merit raises that was supposed to have taken place at the first of the year.
  • Economic Development and Peabody Main Street Association Director Shane Marler reported that a high-speed Internet company is still involved in talks about locating in Peabody. Westar was contacted about painting streetlights, but their contract with the city requires maintenance only, not aesthetic treatments. Westar will allow the city to hire painters, but will not allow volunteers to do it.
  • Marler also reported that Peabody Main Street’s new Web site is operating. There were 115 people at the July 25 Sleepy Creek concert. A new newsletter is being included with city water bills.
  • Health and Safety Officer Tammy Whiteside reviewed nuisance properties.
  • Manning has been appointed to represent Peabody on Marion County Economic Development Council. Marler also serves on the council.
  • Manning attended a census meeting and explained the importance of local citizens properly completing census forms. He will visit the senior center to explain the issue.

Last modified Aug. 12, 2009

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