Wednesday, October 12, 2011
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Sewer collections and leaves top agenda

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[October 12, 2011]  Tuesday evening all 10 members of the Lincoln City Council were on hand for the committee-of-the-whole workshop meeting. 

Everyone got a chuckle when during the course of a discussion, Alderman Tom O'Donohue came close to referring to Alderman Buzz Busby as "Senator." When good-natured comments were made about it, O'Donohue said, "Well, he's been here long enough; maybe he should have an upgrade."  To which Busby returned, "Then give me the pay!" 

O'Donohue expresses concerns about clerk's office 

O'Donohue said he was concerned about whether or not the clerk's office would be able to handle the work involved in doing water shutoffs for delinquent sewer bills. 

He expressed that since the ordinance allowing for the use of collection agencies for delinquent bills had been passed, only three accounts have actually gone to collections.  He noted the city had selected a total of 22 to turn over to collections. 

He asked the city clerk, Denise Martinek, specifically if there was a process in place for the clerical portion of a water shutoff program, and if her office could handle the work. 

O'Donohue said he didn't feel the city had the luxury of waiting once everything is in place for the shutoffs, and he said if the clerk's office needs help getting ready, he wants to make sure it gets done. 

Martinek responded to the question of the collections, saying that since the last report to the city, two more have turned over to collections. She also noted that some of the original 22 have been removed from the list because the properties sold and the bills were collected as a result of liens. 

O'Donohue said he wanted a report from the clerk on what has been done and who is left on the list. 

He also noted that he had requested this topic be on the Monday night agenda last week and it wasn't there. He stressed he really wants it on the coming week's agenda for further discussion. 

Busby noted there is a meeting scheduled for next week with Chris Johnson and Dave Schonauer of Illinois American Water and city attorney Bill Bates, Mayor Keith Snyder and Busby. He invited O'Donohue to sit in on the meeting as well, but O'Donohue said he had a conflict that might not make that possible. 

Moving on, O'Donohue said he also had some concerns about the sewer department's structure for late fees. His concern is that it is too harsh for those who do pay their bills but occasionally are a day late. 

Currently, late fees are assessed at 10 percent the first day the payment is late, then it goes to a $25 fee. 

Alderwoman Melody Anderson asked if the late fees had been established by ordinance.  O'Donohue said he believed so, making it his responsibility as the chair of the ordinance committee. She then said he should prepare a recommendation and bring it back to the full council. 

Snyder agreed that there might be need for a change. He said the city was paying a lot of attention to those who don't pay their bills, but hadn't done anything for the ones who do. 

He also noted he still hears complaints about the use of the postcard bill. The problem with the postcards, Snyder said, is they get lost, they stick to things, and all in all, folks end up not paying their bill right on time due to this. 

He asked Martinek about the switch to paper statements, and she said the process is still under way. She had hoped to have it up and running by now, but it hasn't happened. 

Anderson asked Martinek what she needed in the clerk's office, and Martinek said she really needed more help. 

The problem in the clerk's office right now is that they are down one staff member.   

Several months ago, Doris Anderson who is primarily responsible for the sewer department billing, took an extended leave to be with her husband, who has fallen gravely ill. 

Because of this, only one full-time and two part-time employees are in the clerk's office with Martinek. 

Anderson wondered if the city should try to hire a temp to fill the gap until the sewer clerk returns. 

Hiring a temp is something the city has never done. It was discussed how the civil service requirements for city employees would play into it. Snyder said he believed the person would have to be hired to work less than 32 hours per week. Bates agreed, saying they could only hire a part-time temporary, not a full-time temporary. 

Snyder asked Anderson to get with Martinek and work out what needs to be done to get more help in that office. 

Returning to the water shutoff topic, Busby said the clerk's office would have to have some kind of logbook of who had been contacted. Snyder said the current billing software has the capacity to do that for the office, but Martinek said no one was trained to do it. 

Snyder questioned this, and Martinek explained that the former city clerk had not wanted the system and had not permitted training for it. More recently, training was attempted but not completed.  She said the software company had sent a representative to do the training, which he started but could not finish.

Treasurer Chuck Conzo asked if the training was stopped due to Doris Anderson's absence from work. Martinek said that was partially the reason. Melody Anderson then asked if it was also a personnel issue and Martinek said it was. Anderson said that was a topic she and Martinek would discuss as well. 

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City wants to crack down on leaves in the streets 

Alderwoman Marty Neitzel said the city landfill would be expanding its fall hours for those who need to haul leaves out of their lawns. Beginning Oct. 25 the city landfill will be open Tuesday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 3:50 p.m. These extended hours will remain in place until Nov. 23. 

Tracy Jackson, city street and alley superintendent, also handed out a schedule of city leaf pickup days. There will be three dates per ward between Oct. 17 and Nov. 21 when the city will pick up leaves. The leaves must be placed in biodegradable paper containers with no brush or other landscape waste included. 

This led to a discussion about residents who rake their leaves into the streets. This is a violation of city ordinance and comes with fines ranging from $25 to $100. 

Alderwoman Joni Tibbs asked who was responsible for enforcing the ordinance, and it was agreed the task falls primarily on John Lebegue, the building and safety officer. 

Police Chief Ken Greenslate said residents who have a complaint should contact Lebegue's office during the normal Monday through Friday office hours. After hours, they can contact the police department, as they too can issue tickets to violators. 

Tibbs then asked if the city intends to crack down on these violators this year. Neitzel asserted that something does need to be done, saying, "We can't have them getting into the sewer." 

Leaves and lawn waste going into storm drains and traveling to the sewer plant can cause mechanical problems at the plant, so keeping them out of the sewer system is important to the city. 

Will the roof be repaired soon? 

The roof at City Hall sustained storm damage this year. Tibbs, who is in charge of buildings and grounds for the city, asked if Top Quality, the contractors who installed the roof, would be coming soon to make the repairs. 

City engineer Mark Mathon said he'd heard from the company, and they are hoping to be here in about two weeks.

Tibbs said, "I'm not really happy. We've been standing in line a long time." 

Mathon said he had gotten confirmation to fix the roof only a couple of weeks ago, but Tibbs said the problem had started in June. Storm damage insurance was involved in situation, which Mathon said did slow the process. 

City wins $3,000 grant for trees 

Alderman David Armbrust and Jackson said the city had applied for a grant for the forestry department and it had been awarded. The city now has an extra $3,000 to purchase trees for the city. 

As it was discussed, Alderman David Wilmert also noted the city could take trees free of charge from the Wilmert Tree Farm. 

City administrator résumés coming in already 

O'Donohue shared that the city placed their ad Friday for a city administrator. By the time the weekend was over, they already had collected four résumés. 

He said the ad, which is being run in a trade magazine targeted at city administrators and managers, will run for approximately one month, so he is anticipating a great many more. 

He also noted the four thus far received appear to be very well-qualified potential candidates. 

Other news 

At the end of the evening, the council went into executive session to discuss personnel and collective bargaining.   

Before doing so, Snyder reminded everyone to come out to the "Save Logan" rally Thursday evening. He also encouraged everyone to attend the first planning meeting for the new health park. That meeting will be at 7 p.m. Thursday at Central School. 

In addition, he asked for city representatives to attend the ribbon-cut at Best Western on Wednesday afternoon at 4 and shared that all the council had been invited to attend the United Way Tailgate party Saturday evening. He also mentioned the Germanfest on Saturday at St. John United Church of Christ and encouraged aldermen to stop by there as well. 


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