Tonasket council approves sewer contract, keeps levy steady

TONASKET – The Tonasket City Council approved its contract with engineering firm Varela and Associates, Inc., for the sewer project, decided to hold the tax levy at its current rate and held further budget discussions to highlight the Tuesday, Nov. 8, council meeting.

Jeff Moran of Varela and Associates was present to answer questions about the professional services agreement contract for the sewer project before the board voted to approve the deal.

Responding to a question from Councilwoman Jill Vugteveen, Moran clarified that the contract was for the sewer project only, and did not include the pending water project.

“All of the funding for the sewer project has been secured,” Moran said. “The water project funding has not yet been secured. When the water project is funded, then it can be an addendum to this agreement.”

Councilman Scott Olson asked if the project would have cost less if the contract had been finalized a year ago.

“Probably not,” Moran said. “Commodity (prices) have eased and the contractor pool has shrunk a bit, so it’s likely the cost would have been about the same. Our costs will be about the same.”

Moran also assured the board the project was ready to get underway immediately, with the goal of trying to get surveys done before snow was on the ground.

The board unanimously passed the agreement.

“That’s one small step for the Tonasket City Council,” said Mayor Patrick Plumb. “And one giant leap for the neighborhood.”

The council was far from unanimous on whether or not to enact the one percent tax levy increase. Ordinance 699 was adopted by the council without the increase by a 3-2 vote, with council members Jean Ramsey, Selena Hines and Vugteveen in favor and Olson and Julianna Griffin voting against.

The brief discussion was encapsulated in an exchange between Olson and Ramsey.

“We keep talking about the tight budget,” Olson said. “But we’re not willing to collect more revenue?”

“We’re raising rates across the board with everything else,” Ramsey said. “Why raise one more?

Though advertised as the final hearing for the 2012 budget, the budget discussion wasn’t quite so final.

“We needed to advertise that this would be the final hearing twice,” said City Clerk Alice Attwood. “But it was only advertised once. So our final hearing won’t be until Nov. 22.”

Discussion centered around employee compensation.

“We discussed (with the employees) whether they wanted us to continue paying for health insurance as we are now, COLA (cost of living adjustment) or a compromise dealing with some of each,” said Griffin said. “They predominantly wanted to keep the insurance as it is (as opposed to other options).”

City employees currently do not have an out-of-pocket insurance cost.

“They have strong feelings about their health insurance,” Olson said. “They take a lot of pride working for the city. They realize they make less money here than they would elsewhere and the insurance is an important part of ‘making it.’

“Still, rising health care costs are an issue. The employees are realistic that the budget is tight and are willing to work with the mayor to make it happen.”

Plumb, who said he met with 10 of the 12 city employees, noted that health insurance premiums rose between eight and 11 percent in the past year.

“The budget is built to encompass that without a salary increase,” Plumb said. “The Governor’s budget proposal may affect us as well. It could be scare tactics, but no one really knows. Some cuts could affect the city directly.”

Plumb added that he was pleased with the budget process thus far.

“Since I’ve been working with the city, this has been the most engaged council by far,” he said. “They collaborate well and have been thorough with the details. I’m very pleased.”

One more budget workshop was scheduled for Nov. 16.

Police Chief Robert Burks reported that the department will be receiving a $10,000 grant from Operation StoneGarden, which provides funding to enhance cooperation among various law enforcement agencies to secure the border. Burks said that about $6,000 of the grant would go toward new equipment and about $4,000 to wages. StoneGarden is funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Burks asked for and received permission from the council to apply for additional grant money from the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission. Last year a similar grant led to reimbursement for the purchase of about $3,000 of new equipment, including a handheld radar and intoximeters.

In other reports, Griffin talked about how she had her head shaved as part of a St. Baldrick’s fundraiser, inspired by Tonasket Middle School student Alicia Ponce-Myers, who is in Spokane being treated for a form of leukemia.

Vugteveen said she had received catalogs for new equipment at the State Street “Little Learner’s” Park and remarked that the equipment was compatible with what was there, but was expensive. The need for a civic group or individual volunteers to help install, maintain and repair the equipment was also discussed.

City Superintendent Bill Pilkinton reported that he was hoping to get a firm quote to video, inspect and clean the city storm drains as soon as possible, with special attention paid to issues on Third Street.

“We will need to pay for an eight hour day no matter what,” Pilkinton said of the work crew, “so we might as well get as much out of it as possible if we have the money.”

Atwood assured him that about $4,000 had been set aside for the project.

Atwood also reported that increasing the deductible for city insurance would bring about negligible or no savings, and that the city would have to go two years without making a claim to make such a change worthwhile.

Finally, there will be a meeting regarding the Bonaparte Creek project on Thursday, Nov. 17, at 6:00 p.m. at City Hall, while the next city council meeting will be Tuesday, Nov. 22, at 7:00 p.m.