Property tax increase offers financial options

Peabody City Council members had their first look Monday night at the numbers with which they will be dealing in the 2009 budget.

Taxes generated by the increase in property taxes this year will provide the city with a $130,000 cushion it could not claim during the past year's budget crunch.

The mill levy is currently 75.931. If the council elects to make no changes it will remain at that number (unless there is an increase from another entity such as the school). However, the council has more money available because of the increase in property taxes.

City administrator Jeff Benbrook passed out copies of different budget options the council could adopt for the 2009 budget. Council members were not faced with such dire financial issues as they were in 2008 and a discussion of projects the city might be able to address was varied.

Payroll increases, lower mill levy, repaying the sewer project deficit, creating a comfortable repair fund for city infrastructure, completion of the new city shop, street and sidewalk upgrades, and other options were discussed.

No decisions were made. The final budget work meeting will be at 2 p.m. Monday in the council room.

The upcoming street project also was addressed. Council members decided to request additional bids from Jim Ralston of APAC Paving for Eighth Street between Maple and Elm and Pine Street adjacent to the high school track. The upgrades will include paving and curb and guttering. Also up for consideration would be replacement sewer and water lines.

In other business, the council:

— welcomed Bill Spangler, candidate for 70th district representative. Spangler introduced himself and requested a spot on the agenda at the next meeting.

— heard a request from Tracy Kemper for a determination on a motorized scooter she owns and wants to use as a means of getting to and from her job at Food Mart. She is willing to make any adjustments to it the city would require (tag, lights, etc.) She requested the ruling because Peabody police chief Bruce Burke told her the scooter is a motorized skateboard and is illegal in Peabody.

After discussion, council agreed to contact Burke for more information before making a ruling.

— approved a permit to drill a water well at 510 N. Walnut providing the driller is licensed and insured in accordance with city regulations.

— discussed the problem of tree branches hanging into streets and alleys and in front of traffic signs. The city has an ordinance that requires property owners to take care of such problems. Council members discussed whether they really wanted to pass this responsibility on to the city's residents when the trees become a nuisance issue. No decision was made.

— discussed the problem of property owners removing aging sidewalks, but not replacing them. After a review of the city ordinance and the options available, council members recalled that sidewalks were high on the list of priorities established by the city's new comprehensive plan. Council agreed the issue should come under the auspices of the new planning and zoning committee.

— heard the interior of the new city shop has been marked for interior construction. Arlen Gfeller has been contacted to put together a design plan. Council discussed relocating city court to the new building, but agreed to seek input from police chief Burke before making the decision.

— reviewed the "peer review" portion of the selection process for the fire department's cadet program. Peer review allows selection for the program by other cadets based on the theory that the cadet group knows best who would be a responsible member.

— entered a 10-minute executive session for the purpose of discussing personnel. No action was taken on return to open meeting.

— noted the Allegiance franchise agreement with the city is still under legal review. It was noted by council members however, that they have no control or authority over the franchise and the level or type of service they offer the community.

— at the request of Mayor Slocombe council reviewed a contract between Peabody City Council and a park volunteer group approved at the June 30 meeting. Slocombe advised council members to refrain from approving future contracts or agreements until members have had time to review the documents and ask questions. Slocombe felt there were some contract items that should have generated discussion and additional understanding before the document was accepted by city council.

— heard the next budget meeting will be at 2 p.m. Monday and the first meeting of the new planning and zoning group will be at 7 p.m. Both meetings will be in the council room.

— reviewed and accepted new employee job descriptions as presented.

— heard that minimum wage will go up to $6.55 per hour. There was discussion on how that would impact city employees.