There were a couple of items on last nights agenda that I wanted to comment on.
As a council we approved the union contract between the city and a couple of the unions representing employees in the city. I had some concerns that we were approving this when the state is freezing wages. In addition to that the federal government has frozen wages for 5 years and eliminated STEP performance raises. The only saving detail is that this is for only two years, without a cost of living wage increase for 2011. But it did include a 1% increase for 2012 and a STEP increase for both years. Even Medicare has eliminated its cost of living raise this year. Is there something the federal government knows that the City of Columbia Heights doesn’t know?
I firmly believe in performance raises. As long as someone is showing an improvement and showing initiative that should be rewarded. But I am extremely concerned that we may be putting our city in financial difficulties if we plan on continuing on in this trend of offering raises in two years. I would have preferred keeping it at the level of 2011, which included performance raises but without the 1% across the board raise. At this point the negotiations have already happened, the closed door information has already been given and this is now just for the council to approve.
My question to staff, asking what would happen if the unthinkable should happen to our economy, didn’t seem to be answered.
With the prediction of $5 per gallon in gas coming within the year, I am concerned that whatever was budgeted for 2011 will be lost and reserves may need to be raided before the end of this year or at the very latest, by 2012 we will be dipping into reserves for basic needs.
As someone who was not part of the closed door discussions, I should have probably abstained from a vote. If this had been a normal weekend, I would have been able to realize that I was missing items in my packet that would have helped me decide on a vote. (I was at a conference for newly elected officials Friday and Saturday so I didn’t get to look at the packet until Sunday.)
This was a tough vote, partly because I was missing some information but also because you want to do the best for those people that are working hard to keep our city running. In this incident, I had to rely on the information from the staff because I didn’t have time to research numbers on my own. It was with some trepidation that I voted yes.
Another item that was up for discussion was the authorization of the city to seek bids for park improvements for Ramsdell Park. There are some important things to note on this vote. This was not a vote to approve going ahead to start construction, this was merely a vote to seek bids for construction. If after looking at those bids, all of those bids could be rejected because it still could be determined that this would be too costly or not the appropriate time to do the improvements.
Another thing to note is that improvements on this park will directly impact the school because the school does use this park because it is directly across the street from the high school and Valley View Elementary. What that means to me is that this park not only is an improvement to the neighborhood but it also will be beneficial to students that use the park for activities and it will also be utilized by the rec department for their sponsored activities. When something is widely used by many different groups this is something that should be kept up and maintained.
The plans that the park commission came up with are some basic items that look like they will include fixing a drainage problem that I have noticed in this park. It will also do improvements to a ballfield that would be beneficial to not just the rec department but would help school activities and could also be utilized by adult leagues.
This is also one of the few parks in the city that has a wading pool. This is something that parents with small children have utilized over the years. I used to bring my children there and enjoyed it very much. I have also noticed over the past couple of years that it is still being widely used by neighbors. The improvements would allow for more space for parents to set up chairs beside the pool so they can watch their children play in the wading pool.
The last thing to note is that the city is given park dedication funds when there are certain improvements done on properties. The key is that these are dedicated funds. Funds that are not supposed to be used for the general fund. At this point there is $300,000 in this fund. I did question Kevin’s statement that the cost for this project was going to be $300,000 but when I asked for a breakdown the totals he gave ended up being $345,000. My hope is that they do limit improvements to the funds on hand.
I see nothing wrong with getting bids. The plans that the park commission came up with had input from the school and from neighbors. Some of the items on the plans are part of a ‘wish’ list so some of those items will be the first to be dropped if the price tag ends up being too much. My caution is that they need to make sure that they choose a legitimate bid because neighbors had complaints about the choice of contractor that the city made for a recent park improvement.