Marler hired by unanimous vote

Financial shortfall is a computer glitch


News editor

Peabody City Council voted 4-0 Monday night to affirm the employment of Shane Marler as interim director of Peabody Main Street and to split with Main Street the cost of sending Marler to the national convention in Philadelphia, Pa.

Councilman Peggy Phillips was not present for the meeting.

Prior to the vote, Mayor Ed Slocombe recognized Randy Dallke and Karen Benbrook, both of whom wanted to address the council during public comment.

Dallke expressed suspicion of Marler's loyalty to the Peabody community while serving as a councilman in Hillsboro.

Karen Benbrook read a prepared statement requesting the council refuse to fund the Main Street program and insist the downtown businesses be responsible for supporting the program and paying the director.

Ratification of Marler's employment came up later on the regular agenda.

Marler will be employed for six months with two weeks off in June for a previously planned trip. The city will pay one-half the cost of the Main Street National Town meeting required by the state Main Street program, not to exceed $600.

The city council split on a decision to proceed with closing out the sewer project.

According to city administrator Jeff Benbrook, Kansas Department of Health and Environment has determined that since the city was the entity that halted the project with the discovery of mercury, the city should make the decision about when to complete it.

After discussion Councilman Steve Rose moved to contact project engineer Al Reiss and Middlecreek Corp. to complete the project. Rose and Tim Peterson voted in favor, with LaFoy and Larsen against. Mayor Slocombe broke the tie with a vote to approve.

The city won't be completely off the hook, however. KDHE may still require monitoring wells be put in place to keep track of cadmium, which is now causing problems with the former sewer site. Following additional testing, the city will be advised about its options.

Also related to the sewer project, a rumored "shortfall" of nearly $300,000 that circulated the community during the past week was put to rest in a report by Benbrook about "Fund 31." That fund covers all deposits and withdrawals related to the sewer project from its inception in December 2002, until March 2008.

When running an audit for that time period, Benbrook found a shortage of $300,000. After conversations with the city auditor and experts with Data Team, the city's software provider, it was discovered that the reputed shortfall was a "computer anomaly" caused by running the audit on multiple years of data.

A later review of finances offered during Benbrook's report to the council indicated that even with the money problems the city is facing, everything is not gloom and doom.

"If the year were to end today, we would be OK," said Benbrook. "Of course we are only two months into the new accounting period and not even close to the end of the year."

Councilman LaFoy noted most departments had come in about 10 percent under budget so far and all the bills are being paid.

"I certainly think we need to be cautious," she said. "And we need to hope we aren't saddled with another unexpected expense, but I just don't see a crisis here.

"It's entirely possible we will end the year able to replace reserves and pay our bills as well," she noted.

Mayor Slocombe asked Benbrook if he had any additional bad news.

"No, there's none," Benbrook replied.

In other business, the council:

— extended until Aug. 11, the deadline for Betty Sebree to demolish her former home on Plum St. Sebree had made an agreement with Peabody Fire Department to use the house for training, but the firemen have been unable to get final permission from Marion County.

— agreed to have health and safety officer Tammy Whiteside meet with public works director Darren Pickens to discuss the list of abatement procedures necessary for the house at 710 N. Walnut. Council members requested the work done before the next meeting.

— heard employee reports from Marler, Whiteside, and Benbrook.

— granted permission for Parents as Teachers to insert an information sheet in the monthly water bill.

— entered a 15-minute executive session for the purpose of discussing personnel. The mayor and council members remained in executive session. On return to open meeting no action was taken.

— entered a second executive session for 10 minutes for the purpose of discussing personnel. At the end of the session council returned to open meeting and went into a second executive session for five minutes, also for the purpose of discussing personnel. Upon return to open meeting, LaFoy moved to re-instate the title of deputy clerk to Stephanie Ax with the provision that the title would not affect her pay range, nor the parameters or duties of her current job description.

The title change would allow Ax to pursue additional training as outlined in her personal evaluation process. The motion was seconded by Larsen. In the absence of councilman Phillips, the vote was a tie with Rose and Peterson opposed to the title change and Mayor Slocombe breaking the tie with an opposition vote.

— heard from Steve Frye that Whiteside had asked him to move a travel trailer parked in the alley behind his home. Frye told council the dealings were amicable and he had complied with the request.

— heard from Benbrook that a suit filed by Wayland Carson against the city in small claims court was heard March 5 in Marion. The case was dismissed because the judge has no jurisdiction over municipal issues. Benbrook noted that Carson has paid the fee that was at issue in the case.

— heard information presented by LaFoy about a lease arrangement cities use to divest themselves of the financial responsibility for upkeep, repairs, salaries, and other issues related to water and wastewater systems. Council members will review the information for discussion at a later meeting.

— discussed the possibility of public works employees occupying the new city shop on Ninth street. Councilmen learned that basic services are in place, but water and sewer have not been hooked up. After discussion it was decided to have Pickens come to the next meeting with a list of basic needs to get the building put into use.

— heard that Larsen met with Beth Peter, who will operate the municipal pool this summer. They discussed salary, lifeguards, swim team and swimming lessons, and other issues. They will meet again.

— heard that economic development will be nominating a business for Kansas Business Month in June. Economic development also is working on getting the large directional sign put back up on U.S.-50.