Tuesday, November 22, 2011
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New inspector, city finances, questions about BlueStar Energy and more

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[November 22, 2011]  Monday evening all 10 members of the Lincoln City Council were present for their Monday night voting session. With a light agenda, the meeting lasted less than an hour. 

Fire department swears in new inspector 

The first order of business for the evening was to swear in Lincoln city firefighter Ashley Williams as an inspector for the department. 

Fire Chief Mark Miller spoke briefly, saying Williams is a native of Lincoln, joined the fire department in 2010 and is now moving into a position of inspector. 

Miller said Williams' responsibilities will include fire safety inspections in local businesses as well as in some homes as needed. He will also be involved in fire safety education. 

Williams will be attending training to do fire investigations. Miller said the department has to investigate all fires that occur. The training Williams will attend will be approximately five to six weeks and will prepare him to fulfill that portion of his duties. 

Williams was then sworn into his position by city attorney Bill Bates. 

EMA letter of support tabled 

On the agenda there was to be a motion to approve a letter of support to Springfield legislators for an increase in the 911 surcharge imposed on cellphones. 

Mayor Keith Snyder asked that the vote remain on the table until the next voting session.  He said Dan Fulscher had wanted to be present for the vote, but Fulscher had another obligation and could not attend this session. 

The council agreed to table the motion until December. 

Treasurer speaks about October revenues 

Chuck Conzo, city treasurer, delivered his monthly report for October. 

Comparing Oct. 31, 2011, with Oct. 31, 2010, the city's general fund balance is considerably better this year than last, ending the month with $271,943.11, compared with only $84,702.53 last year. 

However, the balance is also considerably smaller than it has been in previous years, including October of 2009, when the general fund balance was at $895,789.54. 

The Oct. 31 balance is also down compared with the end of September and August this year. 

Conzo noted the receipts from the state of Illinois, saying the local share of state income tax was missing from this month's reimbursements. 

The state is still running several months behind in most disbursements. With the exception of motor fuel tax, which was a September receipt, and replacement tax, which was an October receipt, all other payments were backlogged from July. 

Looking specifically at the state income tax, Conzo pointed out the city is still waiting for July, August and September payments. Comparing the month-by-month numbers between 2011 and 2010, Conzo said the numbers are holding, not falling off. 

One area that Conzo is concerned about is the replacement tax. In the months of March, April, May, July and August of 2011, the numbers had increased over comparable months in 2010.

However, Conzo said actions taken on a state level are reducing the percentage of the replacement tax that comes to local municipalities. The result is that the October receipts for the replacement tax were approximately $6,000 less than the same month last year. In addition, Conzo said the state will draw from this fund pool to pay regional superintendents of education.   

Conzo also noted receipts from sales tax are up, which indicates people are spending money locally. 

Alderwoman Marty Neitzel took the opportunity to comment on a news story she'd seen on television, involving the CEO of American Express, whose advice to America was to "buy from small business." 

Alderwoman Joni Tibbs also noted this coming Saturday is "Small Business Saturday" in Lincoln. She said it was a great time to come downtown and go shopping. She added, "It is easy to spend two hours downtown, just looking around." 

Fiscal year 2010-2011 audit comes back clean 

Denise Martinek, city clerk, said she now has official copies of the outside audit for the fiscal year ending April 30, 2011. The audit came back clean, with no findings. She said this is the second year in a row that the city has had a clean audit and that all the problems from 2009 have been corrected. 

In 2009, the city went through a rough time with the abrupt departure of the former city clerk, Melanie Riggs, under suspicions of wrongdoing. Riggs was later convicted.

When the city books were analyzed, it was found that funds were missing from the city coffers and that accounting practices were slack, lacking the proper checks and balances to deter mismanagement. 

City aldermen, Martinek and city clerk staff have worked to make the city record-keeping process more secure. Passing an audit with no findings is a clear indication that their efforts are paying off. 

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Vote in favor of BlueStar is not unanimous 

A motion made by Alderwoman Kathy Horn and seconded by Alderman David Wilmert to enter into a contract agreement with BlueStar Energy passed only by a vote of 7-3.  Those who voted against the motion were Aldermen David Armbrust, Buzz Busby and Tom O'Donohue. 

When the motion was made and the floor open for discussion, Neitzel was the first one to speak up, saying she would prefer to table the vote for further discussion. 

Busby agreed, saying he also preferred to table it. He recalled to the council the work that he had done with David Kitzmiller, then the waste treatment manager for the city of Lincoln, when the sewer plant sought out their own energy provider. He said they had talked to several different providers, and each one had a different plan. Busby also noted he was still a little uncertain about the "opt in, opt out" portion of the plan. 

Tibbs also indicated she'd be in favor of tabling it. 

Horn said if the people wanted it tabled, she would do that, but as she sees it, no other companies have come forward wanting to work with the city. 

Wilmert asked what the city was committing itself to if they agreed to go with BlueStar, and O'Donohue said basically BlueStar would do the work of finding the service provider. 

Horn also noted BlueStar had been brought to the city by the development partnership.  She named Steve Smith of the partnership, who attended last week's meeting, saying she's known him for a long time and trusts that he would not point the city in the wrong direction. 

Bates did note to everyone that while he has no objections to the contract as it is written, there is one thing that has been overlooked. He said he'd contacted BlueStar about the term of service, or length of the contract, and had not yet heard back. Right now, the section addressing this in the contract is blank. 

Wilmert asked if the motion should be amended to include a "subject to" clause that would allow the city to back out if they didn't like the length-of-service portion of the contract. 

Bates said that could be done, and the motion was amended. 

In the end, the council went ahead and voted on the contract, and it passed 7-3. 

The second portion of this matter involved approving putting a referendum on the March 20 ballot. 

It was asked if this had to be done right away. The motion has to be made and approved in time for the filing deadline. BlueStar had recommended it be done by the end of December at the latest. 

The original motion included BlueStar's name, but Bates said it really shouldn't. The motion should be to place a referendum question on the ballot asking voters if they would choose to participate in an aggregated electric plan. 

That motion passed by unanimous vote. 

Humvees coming soon 

The council approved by unanimous vote to accept military surplus Humvees from a Law Enforcement Support Office grant.   

The used military-issue Humvees will be used for specific purposes only and will not be daily drivers for the police force. Greenslate said there would be very few dollars invested in the machines. The Lincoln Community High School shop classes will provide free labor for the educational experience when the machines need to be repaired. Greenslate also indicated that of the three vehicles, one would be designated for parts. 

Fifth Street crossing still not repaired 

Snyder said he's had emails with the Interstate Commerce Commission indicating Union Pacific had advised them that work on the Fifth Street railroad crossing would begin in October. However that hasn't happened. 

Snyder said he'd contacted the ICC and had told them no repairs were under way. 

Snyder received word back from the ICC that UP had guaranteed the crossing would be repaired by Dec. 15. 

Police taking applications and looking for volunteers 

Chief Greenslate told the council at the end of the evening that he is taking applications for school crossing guards. (See related story: Crossing guard issue put to rest)

In addition, he said he needs more volunteers for the parking enforcement program in Lincoln's downtown district. Anyone wishing to learn more about the all-volunteer programs should contact the police department. 


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