Changes to the city’s snow and ice removal policy topped the list of new business to be discussed at the Hoisington City Council meeting Monday night. City Manager Jonathan Mitchell proposed an amended policy following the Thanksgiving weekend ice event that the city was late to respond to because it was not adequately prepared.
“Our snow and ice removal efforts did not meet the expectations of our community and the city needs to do better,” Mitchell said.
The main challenge was the city did not have enough sand and salt on hand to deal with the at least half an inch of ice that accumulated over Thursday and Friday, Nov. 26 and 27, followed by below freezing temperatures Saturday and Sunday that turned roads essentially into skating rinks. According to Mitchell, no sand was spread all weekend long.
“Unfortunately, it happened on an extended weekend when there were a lot of friends and family expected in,” he said.
Removal efforts began in earnest as temperatures began to rise on Monday, leading to complaints from all wards, council persons said.
The proposed policy stated, “The City of Hoisington’s Public Works Department will begin sanding intersections throughout the community within 12 hours of an ice event and will attempt to clear roads beginning no later than 4 a.m. on the first business day following a snow/ice event.”
However, heated comments by Councilman Jim Sekavec led to the council determining response within 6 hours was more desirable, and rather than limiting efforts to sanding, the council agreed treating roads better expressed the intent of the policy.
Other comments were directed towards Public Works Director Paul Zecha and the Chief of Police Kenton Doze by Sekavec, demanding police contact public works as soon as ice or snow begin to impede travel on roadways, especially at night. Both spoke up to assure him that this already occurs, and would not have changed the outcome of the recent event. Zecha also pointed out the limitations the department had in the area of funding and equipment.
“What I usually do, is when the snow stops I go out and clean snow,” he said. “I haven’t ever had an event like the ice Thanksgiving weekend.”
As council persons grilled Zecha about sand and salt, the possibilities of brining or using nitrogen, he held his ground. The city does not have expensive brining equipment, nor storage space for vast amounts of sand and salt mix, and nitrogen would do damage to cement, he said. Putting down sand and salt prior to the ice accumulating would not have helped either, he said, as the amount of ice would have simply covered the efforts and cost the city needlessly.
Mitchell suggested the amended policy: The City of Hoisington’s Public Works Department will begin treating intersections throughout the community within 6 hours of an ice event and will attempt to clear roads beginning no later than 4 a.m. on the day following a snow or ice event. The new policy was accepted by consensus of the entire governing body.
Consideration of a proposed revision to the residency requirements of certain public employees led to another heated debate between Sekavec and Brian Wilborn. The current policy, adopted in September, 2014, specifies a three mile radius, and has proven challenging for the city to attract and retain talented personnel. The proposed revision would allow for the public works foreman, police captain and electric distribution personnel to live within five miles of Hoisington.
Mitchell pointed out the proposed amendment would include Barton Hills in the allowable radius, and provides desirable and affordable options in light of the challenges of available housing inside the city. But Wilborn stressed the importance of community ties.
“These people are paid by those who live here, and businesses and schools here, so we need to keep it the radius tight,” he said.
Sekavec, however, considered the needs of the potential and current employees.
“I’m not crazy about it, but we need to work with people,” he said.
With that, Sekavec led the motion to accept the proposed policy change, seconded by Nancy Farmer, and approved by all but Wilborn, who gave a resounding nay.
During discussion of the monthly appropriations submitted, some questions about the monthly bill to Hoisington Veterinary Hospital arose, leading to discussion of the number of cats that have been trapped and undergone services under the city’s newly adopted trap, neuter and release program. Mitchell responded to a concern of Jim Morris’ over the increase in costs paid out in recent months. Morris pointed out that while the bill last year was $311, the city has paid out $1,300 in the past two months. This, Mitchell said, is because the charges are tied to usage, and were expected to go up at first, but will taper off as the problem is brought under control. (See related story.) Other appropriations questions included Karen Van Brimmer’s inquiry about who is responsible for court appointed attorney’s fees, mowing fees, and a bill for troubleshooting a valve at the water plant in September, among others.
Following the city manager’s update, the council went into a five minute Executive Session for the purpose of discussing confidential matters relating to non-elected personnel. Upon returning to open session, no action was taken, and the meeting was adjourned. The next regular meeting will be at 7 p.m., Dec. 28, at the city office.
Other items of discussion and actions taken included:
Discussion of increased design costs associated with the West Side Lift Station project. A delay caused by the discovery of a waterline issue was the cause.
Adopted Resolution 22-2015, concerning Hoisington’s portion of the South Kansas Multi-Hazard, Multi-Jurisdictional Mitigation Plan. The plan must be filed with FEMA in order for the city to be eligible for grants in the event of declared disasters.
Approved a request to give all full-time city staff the entire day off on Christmas Eve, and to provide volunteers with a $25 check. Those who are both full-time and volunteer will only receive the day off.
Began a discussion to be continued at the Dec. 28 meeting concerning potential changes to the City of Hoisington’s election practices. While there are many points to iron out, the council hopes to have a decision on primaries and dates of elections and terms of service decided at the next meeting in time for the consideration of potential candidates for the 2016 April election.
Approved Ordinance 1518, concerning salary increase and the addition of a part-time custodian. A roll call vote was taken and was unanimously approved.
Approved Ordinance 1519, concerning proposed changes to pet licenses. Pets or their owners new to the community will have 30 days to register and license pets or will pay a late registration fee. Unneutered or unspayed pets that have been veterinarian-confirmed too old to undergo the surgery would be treated as neutered or spayed for the purposes of licensure fees, it was also determined. Approved maximum proposed transfers to close out the end of the 2015 budget year.
Approved appropriation ordinances by a unanimous roll call vote.
Mitchell gave an update on city business including status of the HOI project, the Roto-Mix contract extension,