The Salem city administration building will remain closed to foot traffic for at least eight more weeks with interior remodeling work now underway.

City crews were expected to begin demolition of the utility office Monday in preparation for installation of new counters and glass.

At a June 30 special meeting, the board approved two materials bids for a security-enhancing remodel to turn the utility office counter around, install bullet resistant glass and hardened ArmorCore countertops and add a secure door. The bids totaled $46,019 with the cost part of the new budget.

The winning bids were submitted by Total Security Solutions of Fowlerville, Michigan, and Prock Operations, doing business as For Your Convenience, in Rolla. Stack Group designed the project on the city’s behalf.

City administrator Ray Walden told aldermen last week that with the work planned over the next two months, “We expect to continue to service customers as we have been, through the drive-up or by phone,” he said.

“As needed, if people need to get into the building to take care of business, we’ll still make that accommodation.”

That practice will continue after remodel, he said, with entry decided on a case-by-case basis.

“We’ll try to communicate the status of any changes as best we can,” he said. “But as of right now, it’s basically like we’ve been doing the last several weeks.”

Walden apologized at the July 6 meeting for the long lines at the drive-thru and high call volumes at the utility office, resulting in busy signals, and said changes were planned to address those issues.

In a report on utility billing, Walden said the city is continuing to work with Incode, its billing software vendor, on compatibility issues with the AMI electronic meter reading system.

“We are making progress, I’m glad to say,” he told the board.

Two read cycles have been pulled into the billing system since the last board meeting. One has posted to the general ledger but cleanup work is needed on the second one, he said. Payment contracts will be entered for customers who selected Option 3, allowing payment of their actual April bill and carrying February and March over the next 12 months as a payment contract.

Once a third billing cycle is processed, work will begin on Option 2 bills, which involved budget billing plus a payment contract for 12 months to pay February, March and April balances, Walden said.

“With each cycle, it’s getting cleaner, and I’m confident we’ll be able to meet our objective of having our bill for June consumption out this month,” he told aldermen. The city is looking at options for reading a few remaining non-compliant meters and has a shipment of meters and modules to install.

“We’re just waiting for the okay from our billing software vendor to go ahead and do the field installation of these meters,” he said. That will complete meter installations and push the focus back to software, he said. Incode would also like to present some other product options to aldermen, he told the board.

The city is following up with residents to eliminate surprises in using bank drafts and auto-pays, he said. Customers will know the amounts to be withdrawn based on the payment options they selected and when they will be withdrawn.

“But we’ll make sure we’ve got their confirmation before those are processed, so we’re not trying to catch anybody or surprise anybody with that,” Walden said.

Alderman Kevin James noted it was already July 20 and “It feels like we’re probably going to do another bill outside Incode. Walden disagreed. “I really think we’ll be in a good spot to do it through Incode,” he said.

James asked for a target date. “Well it’s on us right now to do this cleanup, so it’s basically how fast we can all do it and get it taken care of,” Walden replied. With more postings coming, “Everything will be set up to pull in the June reads,” he said “Unless there’s problems with reads, that should go relatively quickly.”

In other action, the board approved a request by police chief Joe Chase to increase the midnight differential pay for police officers from 20 cents per hour to $1.15 per hour for shifts between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. He said the new rate could be advertised in job listings.

“It’s been 20 cents per hour for 30 years,” he told the board. “This has given us a disadvantage when it comes to employee retention because other agencies pay a significantly higher amount. A case in point is Rolla, our closest competing agency as far as size. Their differential is $1.50.” St. James and Licking pay 75 cents an hour and Houston pays 85 cents, he said.

After a brief discussion, aldermen awarded the bid for contact painting of two water retention tanks at city wells to Hogan’s Inc. for $54,356 on the recommendation of Archer Elgin, the city’s engineering firm, and city staff. The low bid of $18,400 from Elliott Painting of Ozark was rejected because it did not meet specifications, officials said.

The tanks must be sandblasted and painted periodically, public works director Mark Nash told The Salem News. The tanks hold water for mixing chemicals to kill bacteria.

Aldermen also approved an ordinance authorizing a real estate agreement for land swap with Sherman and Marsha Odom. The city is trading the old city jail property for two tracts owned by the Odoms, a strip of land behind Casey’s that abuts city property at Tower and Condray streets, and a parcel contiguous to Masters Industrial Park.

The board approved a request by Ahleesha Elwood, director of His Place Soup Kitchen, to block off a section of Center Street at Pershing Avenue from 3 to 9 p.m. July 31. The street will be blocked for a fundraiser from 5 to 8 p.m. to raise money for back to school supplies for Dent County schools and to support His Place to provide meal to those who need them.

The board voted to approve an agreement with People Centric Consulting Group for organizational consulting work at a cost of $3,000 per month, plus travel expenses. The agreement can be cancelled at any time, with the cost coming from a departmental special services fund, Walden said. A budget amendment may be required.

Walden said the city has been working with People Centric over the last few months, developing an onboarding process for new city employees and a manager’s process for regular meetings to discuss city wide goals.

He said the group is flexible, takes direction well and had a good track record. “It’s like the benefit of having an additional staff person without the financial commitment of actually hiring somebody,” he said. Walden and mayor Brad Nash hold regular conference calls with People Centric. “So far I’m very impressed with what they’ve done,” Nash said.

Aldermen postponed action on a payment agreement with the R-80 school district for the cost of a pad transformer pending more discussions with school officials.