Wednesday, December 16, 2009
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City briefs: tax levy ordinance, new squad cars and fire dept. hires, American Water buys EMC, and more

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[December 16, 2009]  Tuesday night was the fifth and final "roadshow" for the city council. It was hosted by Aldermen Buzz Busby and Nathan Turner at Lincoln Christian Church, in Ward 4.

Busby opened the meeting with a brief description about Ward 4. He also expressed his appreciation to Lincoln Christian Church and their people who came in and helped with the setup for the meeting.

Speaking about Ward 4, Busby said, "Ward 4 is a little different than all the other wards as it encompasses the majority of the downtown. We have the courthouse, city hall, safety complex, and two of the street and alley garages are in Ward 4. The majority of the main arteries are abutting or going through the 4th Ward."

He continued: "I can remember when the stimulus money came up, getting calls that the 4th Ward was going to get it all. The reason for that is that we have most of the main arteries going through the 4th Ward."

He jokingly ended his comments by saying, "And I don't know if this is a good omen or a bad omen, but we also have the majority of the city's churches."

Turner added: "I haven't lived in the 4th Ward but about five years. Like Alderman Busby said, we have a lot of the historic parts of Lincoln lay here, with the courthouse, fire department, police department, library, 14 different churches and a lot of homes that are well over 100 years old. It really is a beautiful part of the city of Lincoln and a great representation of the city and its history. It is something that I really appreciate. It is a wonderful attribute to the city."

Turner also thanked Lincoln Christian Church for the use of their facility, and Mayor Keith recognized Brandon Boyd of the church and also expressed his appreciation for making the church available to the council.

In addition, Busby offered a special thank you to his wife and daughter, who hosted the refreshment table. Everyone was invited to enjoy punch and cookies as well as fresh-brewed coffee.

Tax levy ordinance for 2009-10 year goes to vote Monday

Denise Martinek, city clerk, read excerpts from a 10-page document for the passing of a tax levy ordinance for the city's 2009-10 fiscal year.

The ordinance will be voted on at the meeting Monday night. There will be a brief public hearing regarding the ordinance immediately prior to the adjourned voting session.

The tax levy amounts for this fiscal year are as follows:

General corporate


Streets and alleys


Police protection


Fire protection


Special purposes:  







Crossing guards


Liability insurance


Social Security




Public benefits


Firemen's pension fund


Police pension fund


Debt service


Firemen's pension fund



Grand total


Once approved, this ordinance will be filed with the county. These funds will be gained through property tax revenues collected in 2010.

Vehicle repairs take a bite out of the budget

Police Chief Stuart Erlenbush said that in this year's budget, he had asked for $15,000 for vehicle repairs and maintenance. With five months left in the year, he has had to expend over $13,000 in that line item, and he expects that more money will be needed in the budget to finish out the year.

He noted that part of the problem was that one new vehicle purchased last year was totaled and thus out of commission, so the city is still dealing with at least one old vehicle that requires more upkeep.

He also commented on the high price of labor at local garages, saying that at the three businesses that could work on the cars, labor ranged from $70 per hour to $74.50.

Erlenbush said he wondered if the city might be better off to hire its own mechanic, but Alderwoman Marty Neitzel said she felt that would be much more costly, as the payroll for a mechanic would be a minimum of $40,000 per year.

Busby said that a number of years ago the city bid out the labor. He wondered if they should do that again. Erlenbush said he thought that was a good idea if the winning bidder had the proper diagnostic equipment and the ability to work on the cars.

In regard to the budget, Alderwoman Melody Anderson reminded everyone that the appropriations had actually allowed for $30,000 in vehicle repairs for the police department.

Although appropriations appear to have plenty of money in that line, the issue of finding it in the budget will remain.

Later Les Plotner, city treasurer, reminded the council that the city is in financial straits. He commented that it is not good this year, and it is going to be even worse next year. He also said that at the next meeting he will present a more complete picture of the city's financial situation.

City will take bids for two new squad cars

Erlenbush told the council that he needs to replace the new vehicle that was totaled this year, plus he'd like to add one more new vehicle.

The totaled squad car was partially covered by insurance with a reimbursement of $22,500. The estimated cost of a new car is approximately $24,000.

Erlenbush said he'd like to take bids for the new vehicle and can take the additional money needed for the purchase out of his special funds line.

In addition, he noted that he would like to go out for bids for a second vehicle to replace one of his aging fleet of squad cars.

Currently all city squad cars are Ford Crown Victorias. Snyder asked if the bid request could be expanded to include other makes and models.

He said that he realized there are issues concerning the amount of room inside the cars for equipment, but he wondered if there were other companies that could provide the right size vehicle for a lesser price.

Erlenbush said that he would contact other police departments and see what they had to suggest.

In the meantime, he asked that the city go ahead and seek bids for one Crown Victoria to replace the totaled vehicle so that he could get it back on the streets as quickly as possible.

Hulett speaks about grants and donations

Fire Chief Kent Hulett reminded everyone that the fire department has received a donation of $5,000 from the Allen Trust. He said that the money would be used to purchase capital equipment for the department and that the department was still deciding what they would purchase.

Hulett said that on Friday he will submit a federal grant application for hiring three new firefighters.

Hulett said the city applied for the grant last year but did not receive it.

He explained that the award this year is a little different. The grant funds will pay 100 percent for the first two years of employment. On the third year and each year thereafter, the city will be solely responsible for the payroll of the new hires.

Hulett said that a portion of the application includes outlining the city's financial ability to sustain the employees after year two.

Based on the amount of overtime that is currently being paid out due to short staffing, the chief said he felt that the city could afford the new hires through a reduction in overtime, and he will state that in his application.

He also reminded the council that if the city would win the award, they will have the opportunity to review the terms and conditions of it and vote on whether or not to accept the grant funds.

Taking bids for Palmer lift station repairs

Busby said that the city would be going out for bid for the purchase of new bar screens for the Palmer lift station.

This topic first arose in September, when city waste treatment manager Bob Tackett and Busby recommended that the city authorize the purchase of the bar screen from E & I Corp. of Columbus, Ohio, without getting bids.

Turner at that time spoke up, saying that he wasn't comfortable with forgoing the bidding process, and in the end other councilmen agreed.

At the Oct. 1 meeting, Busby removed the lift station project from the agenda, saying that it did need to be investigated further. In addition, he noted that as winter was drawing near and the repairs couldn't be done right away anyway, there was plenty of time to revisit the issue.

Be thinking about appropriations

Anderson reminded everyone that this year the city is going to make an amendment to the 2009-10 appropriations ordinance.

She said this needs to be done before the end of the fiscal year on April 30, but she would much prefer to do it sooner rather than later.

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Martinek to be Freedom of Information officer

At next week's voting meeting, the council will vote on appointing Martinek as the city's Freedom of Information officer.

This is a new requirement by Illinois law, based on a revision of the Freedom of Information Act that takes effect Jan. 1.

Erlenbush asked if Martinek would replace the police department's designated FOI officer.

Bates said that the intent of the new rule was that the FOI authority be centralized and able to act quickly. He also noted that he, as city attorney, was not going to be the FOI person, as his responsibility would be to advise that person on questionable requests for information.

Erlenbush said that his concern was that generally the police department sends all information requests to the state's attorney, and the state's attorney acts on their behalf.

Bates said that in those situations the requests may have to go to both places.

Job description to be posted on the Web site

Snyder said that he has a written job description for the position of building and safety officer for the city of Lincoln.

The job description will be posted on the city's Web site for all to view.

He said that resumes for the position will be weighed against the job description as they are being considered.

Snyder noted that he would follow the same process in seeking a new chief of police.

Revisions to city policy and procedures under way

Anderson chairs the Finance and Policy and Procedures Committee. She has been going through the city's policy and procedures manual, and a few weeks ago she provided copies to the council with her notes and suggested revisions.

Prior to the Tuesday night committee-of-the-whole meeting, the Finance and Policy and Procedures Committee met to go through these suggested revisions.

For the most part, the revisions involve removing or replacing outdated language and don't constitute any major changes in the policy.

However, there were a few issues that the council did discover needed to be worked through.

Anderson said that Martinek had brought to her attention that the city does not have a written statement regarding sexual harassment, nor do they have any terminology to address discrimination in the workplace.

Anderson said that she would work on putting something together for those two subjects.

The topic that drew the most attention revolved around where city employees reside.

At the time the policy was written, it stated that all city employees were to have a telephone prefix of 732 or 735 and that future employees would live within the city limits. It also stated that new hires would be given 90 days to move to Lincoln once hired.

Anderson said that with cell phones being prevalent in today's society, she felt like the 732 or 735 clause needed to be stricken altogether.

In addition, she wondered if it was right to force new hires to move inside city limits.

She said that first of all, she was very much in favor of city employees supporting the local tax base. However, opportunities for newly constructed homes inside the city are limited in that there is very little building space available today.

She also noted that some of the individual departments had a 10-mile limit on employee residences.

The council discussed what might be in each of the union contracts, and Anderson said she would look into that before the committee meets again.

Busby questioned whether or not there should be limits at all. He said that he felt like the requirement to relocate might hinder some people from applying for a position.

Jackson voiced a concern about dropping the limitations. He noted that during police or fire emergencies that occur in the middle of the night, it takes time to get a city employee to the scene to set up barricades. He said that if employees lived 10 or 20 miles away, it would cause a problem for his department during these types of emergencies.

Other items that were discussed included reimbursements of travel expenses.

Anderson wants to establish some sort of guideline on how much can be spent by an alderman or city employee when traveling for the city.

The council does not want to establish a per diem for travel but agreed that they do need some kind of limits on how much money can be spent.

Sparks fly at the fire station

Alderwoman Joni Tibbs said that it had been brought to her attention that there were some electrical problems at the fire station.

She said that visible sparks coming from some of the lighting fixtures had prompted her to authorize an expenditure of $598 for electrical work.

This size expenditure does not require council approval.

New bulletin boards in City Hall

Tibbs said that thanks to Eric Morris and the streets and alleys department, City Hall now has two bulletin boards for public notices. The first board is located inside at the front door and the second at the entryway on the north side of the building.

Tibbs, along with Snyder, commented that having the boards was a nice asset to the building. From now on, instead of taping public notices to the windows and doors at the entries, everything will be posted on the boards.

EMC acquired by American Water

The Environmental Management Corp., which provides contracted services to the city through their waste treatment manager as well as city engineer Mark Mathon, has been acquired by American Water Co.

Busby said that more information regarding this acquisition would be coming at a later date.

Fast track to demolition hits a speed bump

Snyder reported on two problem properties that are a part of the city's new "fast track to demolition" program.

He said that the 30-day notice period for the two locations has expired and no owner or related party has come forth to protest the demolition.

However, a new problem has arisen. The city had to do an asbestos evaluation on the buildings, and both were found to have asbestos in their construction.

This means that a special asbestos abatement procedure will have to be conducted on the two properties. This kind of work is quite costly.

Snyder said the original budget of $10,000 to demolish both properties will probably cover only one demolition now because of that added cost.

Snyder also reported that Les Last, city building and safety officer, has sent out a letter to the owners of a property located at 546 10th St., giving them 90 days to demolish or get the property in habitable condition.

If the owners do not comply, the matter will be turned over to city attorney Bill Bates, and it may be the next fast-track project.

Dr. Frank in the house on Dec. 22

Dr. Frank Adubato will set up a thermal scanner in the council chambers at 11 a.m. on Dec. 22 to do free screenings for city employees.

All city employees are invited to visit the doctor and have a wellness check done.


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