A disagreement over how an alderman voted last month on the purchase of a new water and electric meter monitoring system highlighted the Salem Board of Aldermen meeting April 1.
Alderman Kenneth Nash insisted he voted “no” when the board approved the purchase at its March 4 meeting. He actually voted against a motion to award the project to NexGrid for $1,021,815, but voted for a subsequent ordinance authorizing the mayor to sign the contract with NexGrid.
At the April 1 meeting, his vote came up after the board approved a $100,176 bid for installing the water meters. City administrator Ray Walden said it had been budgeted at $175,000.
Aldermen asked why the cost wasn’t part of the original contract, but Walden said water meter installation was always shown as an additional line item to be bid out separately. Electric meters, on the other hand, will be installed by city crews.
The board voted 3-1 to award the bid with Nash casting the dissenting vote. He said he voted “no” because he believes the city already has too much long-term debt, primarily for wastewater plant improvements.
“I understood we would install the meters,” Nash said. “I think it’s ridiculous with us owing $10 million that we’d just keep going deeper and deeper in debt. You can’t borrow yourself out of debt.”
Alderman Chad Heithold then turned to Nash and said, “Kenny, you approved the purchase of them,” referring to the earlier vote in March. “No, I didn’t approve the purchase,” Nash replied. “I voted ‘no.’”
City attorney William Camm Seay confirmed that Nash voted for the ordinance, but against awarding the contract “in the first place.”
“That’s not the way I understood it,” Nash said. “This thing hasn’t been understood all the way. It’s not been explained.”
Walden disagreed, saying Nash attended meetings where he and other interested parties had the opportunity to ask questions. “I don’t know how to respond when you say it’s not been understood,” Walden said. “We’ve talked through the projects and tried to share information about the quotes. We had representatives available to answer questions.”
Nash responded, “If you look at the minutes, I voted ‘no’ on the purchase of this.” Heithold reiterated that Nash voted “no” on awarding the contract and “yes” on signing it.
“Man, I never heard no story like that one before,” Nash said. “If I voted ‘no’ on something, I voted ‘no’ on it all the way.” Heithold replied, “But you didn’t.”
“I must have read it the wrong way,” Nash said. “Somebody did. I won’t argue with you. I voted ‘no.’ I know I did.”
With the grass-growing season beginning, the board also heard a presentation by Jarred Brown, animal control/nuisance officer, on the need for new nuisance abatement fees.
Brown proposed an administration fee of at least $100 if a property owner fails to remove the nuisance in the time allowed, requiring the city to, for example, hire a contractor to mow tall grass and weeds.
He also requested a new section of the nuisance ordinance be added establishing a minimum charge of $75 to abate a nuisance in addition to the $100 administration fee. The fees are already contained in codes in other cities he researched, including Rolla, Lebanon, St. Clair and Mountain Grove.
Brown said he was referring mostly to recovering costs associated with mowing tall grass. “There is more cost as far as man-hours and actual costs to get nuisances taken care of—more than just what the contractor charges to mow the grass,” he said, adding he will have more recommendations in the near future. “This is not a fix-all.”
Walden said a planned workshop on nuisance abatement is still needed. Seay advised Brown to keep track of any hours he worked and expenses he incurred in abating nuisances to justify the new fees and keep the city in compliance with the Hancock Amendment.
“To make it legal, he has to be prepared to itemize hours and time,” Seay said. That’s true for both the $75 and $100 fees. The board voted to have changes in the ordinance drafted for approval, including the new section.
Airport advisory board chairman Harold Tubbs addressed aldermen about establishing written policies and procedures for hangar rental, hangar usage and fuel prices. He presented policies drafted by the airport board for consideration.
He also thanked the city for improvements made to the airport and pointed the economic impact it has, like allowing Salem Wood Products to fly in buyers, mining companies to bring in engineering firms and easier access for Montauk State Park visitors. Salem Wood Products uses the airport two or three times a week from April to October, he said.
Recommended policies included a seniority-based hangar rental system, a refund policy on vacated hangars, an “airworthy” clause in hangar leases and setting airplane fuel prices at 25 cents per gallon above cost or the average of prices at the Houston, Cuba and Sullivan airports, whichever is less.
Tubbs said there are two or three pilots on a waiting list for hangars. One hangar is occupied by a plane that hasn’t flown in three to five years. “It’s being used for storage,” he said. “When we have a waiting list for a hangar, we need to do something about that.”
Seay said he hadn’t reviewed the policies yet and recommended any action be postponed until the next meeting. “I have suggestions I’ll get to Ray (Walden) for the next meeting on some things I have issues with, maybe tightening some of these things up even more,” he told the board.
Later in the meeting, when the resolution adopting the policies came up for consideration, Alderman Haydn Powell asked the board to vote on it. “I look at it as a living document and starting place,” he said.
Powell offered a motion and Heithold seconded it for discussion. Seay said his concerns included the lack of a definition of “airworthy” and the idea of basing fuel prices on those charged by other airports. “I would be more than happy to meet with the (airport) board and hash things out,” he said.
After more discussion, aldermen voted 3-1 against the motion, with Powell voting yes.
In other action, the board:
• Approved a recommendation to hold the annual Spring Cleanup the weeks of May 6 and 13, the two weeks following the city-wide Saturday yard sale.
• Heard a report from Walden that no development bids were received on the old middle school property by the March 29 deadline. Five demolition bids were submitted (see related story).
• Heard a recommendation that a request by Black A-1 Septic to dump portable toilet waste at the city treatment plant be postponed until the next meeting pending a determination by Archer Elgin, the city’s engineering firm.