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Council approves $17 million budget for 2019-20 fiscal year

By Ralph Echtinaw

St. Louis City Council voted unanimously June 4 to adopt a budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year that tops $17 million.

Capital improvement projects in the budget include:

Preventative maintenance on Michigan Avenue, Olive and Hubbard streets: $130,000. (Crack-sealing, chip/seal and fog coating.)

“Mill and fill” repaving for various streets: $95,000. (Street segment candidates for this work include the remainder of East Essex, part of Devon and York from the 2018 overlay to East Essex.)

Preservation treatment for newer portions of streets in Westgate: $75,000.

Penny Park play structure replacement: $26,500.

Municipal bond debt for water/wastewater improvement: $900,000.

A new electrical circuit on Prospect Street: $200,000. (The cost for that is actually $400,000, but the city hopes

the EPA will pay the balance because it will benefit when the time comes to decontaminate the Velsicol burn pit.)

Purchase of a “bucket truck” for the Electric Department: $275,000.

Trading in the DPW’s Caterpillar backhoe/loader with a net cost of $61,000.

A new police patrol vehicle: $50,000.

Fuel line replacement for electricity generating units one and seven: $94,000.

Hiring of a supervisor for the city’s water/wastewater group, which has gone without one for more than a year. The salary has yet to be determined.

A new well for the Alma/St. Louis water system: $750,000.

City Manager Kurt Giles said property has not yet been acquired, but he hopes to have the new well on line before June 30, 2020.

“The completion of the project includes the well-house building, a pump and controls, a service drive, a stand-by generator, some site piping and electric service to the facility,” Giles said via email. “The other part of that is the raw water transmission main to connect the new well to the Water Treatment Plant or to a previously constructed main. Land acquisition costs and engineering services are also a part of the overall costs.”

Five groundwater wells are currently in service on the Gratiot Area Water Authority system that serves Alma and St. Louis.

With this new well St. Louis will be done adding capacity to the water system, Giles said.

The new budget anticipates collecting:

$754,000 from property taxes.

$2,471,000 from state and federal and county governments.

$10,183,000 in payment for services (such as sewer, water, electricity and trash pickup).

$105,000 from a 2 mill special assessment for public safety.

The 2 mill special assessment was first approved by council two years ago and renewed twice. Councilman Tom Reed suggested that perhaps voters should be asked to approve this tax in permanent form.

See how much the special assessment costs each property owner HERE.

Chief Financial Officer Bobbie Marr said the city could also ask voters for restoration of general fund millage of 15, as it has been rolled back to 13.1376 in accordance with the Headlee Amendment to the state constitution. St. Louis Public Schools have already done this.

Here are a few areas where money will be spent in the next 12 months.

The cost of pay and benefits for city employees: $3,601,000. (Includes 4.2 percent increase in health insurance cost and wage increases averaging 2.5 percent.)

Capital projects such as water, sewer and road improvements: $3,590,000.

The cost of utilities, dues, fees, communications and contracted services: $6,625,000.

For a more complete look at the budget, click HERE.

Readers who are a bit confused when it comes to the city’s budget have company in Mayor Pro-Tem Melissa Allen, who said this at the May 29 budget workshop. “This whole process just dumbfounds me sometimes. It’s overwhelming.”

Councilman George Kubin added, “Maybe it’s my age, but seeing the increases lately and all those utilities going up, the tax burden going up, and knowing people on fixed incomes, their money is not going up like that. Those are the kind of things that disturb me, and I don’t know if there’s any solution for that. I didn’t want to vote for those monthly charges to be increased on utilities for people who aren’t using more (but will now be) paying more per month. Then I look at the other side, and how you to fix that infrastructure if we don’t (raise rates)? And I don’t think the average person understands that.”

Leaving the budget behind, let’s see what happened at the June 4 city council meeting.

Jer Den Expansion

Jer Den Plastics, a resident of the industrial park south of town and west of South Main, has completed an expansion and expressed interest in acquiring a vacant lot for additional expansion.

Fireworks

The Independence Day fireworks display is set for Saturday, July 6. The pyrotechnics will be launched from the Velsicol site, same as last year. Council is considering opening the Mill Street bridge to pedestrians to watch the display. Cost of the fireworks is $7,000 and paid for by Middle of the Mitten, a sub-group of the Gratiot Area Chamber of Commerce. Money was raised throughout the year with annual Swiss steak dinner, comedy night and golf outing.

Radiators

Council agreed to spend $125,000 to replace leaking radiators in the city’s electrical plant.

This was good news, as the expected cost was $179,000.

Three pre-owned but not used radiators will be installed by Farabee Mechanical of Hickman, Nebraska.

Giles explained the purpose of the generators that the radiators serve via email:

“Generator sets 8 and 9 are for electrical generation onto our city’s distribution system. For the most part, they are peaking units that supplement incoming power if there is a shortage of generating facilities available and/or when prices from the MISO (Mid-continent Independent System Operator) market are extremely high.”

Pool

The re-opening of the remodeled pool and pool house has been pushed back to Saturday, June 22. “It won’t all be done but it should be in a lot better shape,” Giles said.

One of the vendors for the job is St. Louis-based Americast, which will provide countertop sink basins for $1,400.

Overall, the cost of pool house renovations is $45,000 to $50,000 more than originally estimated, Giles said.

The good news is that the majority of pool renovation funds come from elsewhere.

Gratiot County Community Foundation: $50,000

Hoffmeyer Trust and other private donors: $39,000

DeShano Companies: $20,000

“Current projections have us in a range between $145,000 and $150,000 to complete the project,” Giles said via email. So St. Louis property owners are on the hook for about $36,000 to cover the cost of pool renovations.

Cost overruns are “mostly a result of refining the scope of what is needed,” Giles said. “A couple of minor items were not anticipated until there was consultation with inspectors, and I believe construction costs have generally been rising.”

Plus, as Giles told council last month, “It’s been 60 plus years of doing very little in that building.”

Who’s running?

Four St. Louis residents have turned in petitions with a sufficient number of signatures to be on the ballot in November for election to city council.

They are Bill Leonard, 73, Don Dean, 70, Roger Collison, 69, and this reporter, 60.

The four of us will compete to fill two city council seats that are open because council members Jerry Church and Melissa Allen are not seeking re-election.

Mayor James C. Kelly is on the ballot, too, but running unopposed.

All candidates are invited to write an article for the Sentinel to introduce themselves to voters.

Attendance

Councilman Jerry Church was absent. Council candidates Leonard, Collison and this reporter were present. Donald Dean was not.

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