Harrisburg City Council voted to consolidate the Public Properties and Street and Alley Departments as a cost savings measure during Thursday night’s meeting.
Each department is down two employees. Typically each year after mowing season at the city cemetery is over Public Properties workers do work for Street and Alley anyway, Street and Alley Commissioner Ron Fearheiley said.
With the workers always available it eliminates a need for temporary hires and there is a possibility either high school kids could be hired for summer mowing or mowing could be contracted out, he said.
“Nobody would lose their job, it would just be one department,” Fearheiley said.
Public Properties Superintendent Gerald Mahan would remain at the Public Properties Office near the cemetery.
“The expenses are killing us,” Fearheiley said.
Council is mulling another possible savings regarding employee insurance. Steve Williams of Williams and Associates spelled out a bleak outlook on the current insurance plan and said there is a possible solution.
“In the past you have had your Blue Cross premiums and they have gone up another 34 percent for next year, but along with that on a side note you have this section 105 through Shawnee Administrative Services. The figure I’m looking at is $172,000 in addition to Blue Cross premiums and I think there is a way of eliminating all of that and actually cutting some premiums down on health insurance, too, and still maintain the contract you have with the employees,” Steve Williams said.
He introduce consultant Jack Abbott who explained a plan of partial self-insurance.
The current Blue Cross policy that took effect Dec. 1, 2011, involves premiums of $474,441. The Shawnee Administrative Systems has paid out all claims under $5,000 which from May 1, 2011 to April 30, 2012, has amounted to a cost of $167,000 to the city plus paying a $1,000 administrate Fee to Shawnee Administrative Systems. Those fees amount to $179,000 in addition to the $474,441 paid to BC. The ballpark amount for the year paid by the city for insurance is $653,825, Abbot said.
If that policy is renewed with the 34 percent premium increase and the claims remain the same next year, the city could be faced with paying $817,403, Abbott said.
“That’s a pretty hefty increase,” he said.
Abbott said he looked at the issue and shared it with underwriters. One called him saying he would like the business and would waive the $5,000 deductible issue that Shawnee Administrative Systems has in place. Under the self-insurance plan the city would pay in $25,000 per plan member, building up a pool of money over time and the maximum cost per year would be $588,958 with an expected cost of $521,758.
As the December premiums have been paid, council intends to take action on the insurance proposal at one of the two December meetings and have a new plan in place by January.
Joe Jackson, volunteer for Harrisburg STORM tornado recovery group addressed the board regarding a partnership with the city for dirt to be used in yards. Under the council’s understanding the dirt donated by the city was to be used to fill holes left by toppled trees.
The STORM group was also using the dirt to fill ruts in yards left by excavators and other heavy machinery and the city put an end to that practice.
Jackson said the work was a legitimate storm recovery action, but council members said they have issues. They don’t want to provide yard improvements to properties that are insured and don’t want to compete with local landscaping companies. Commissioner Bart Schiff said he has received a complaint from one resident upset that her neighbor’s yard is now higher than hers and rainwater flows into her yard.
Jackson appeared frustrated by the questions.
“I’m not going to fight through a whole bunch of red tape. You do it,” he said.
Commissioners agreed that City Superintendent Kelly Hefner and Jackson examine the properties in question and make a determination on how to proceed.
During the meeting:
Council approved a loan of $250,000 from the city’s revolving loan fund to Scott Stout, Beth Moore and Chris Moore who intend to open a high-end sports bar and grill on Poplar Street where the Blankenship auto parts building used to be. They intend to employ at least 16 full-time employees and other part-time employees.
Council approved an ordinance requiring all future employees live within the city limits so they pay their share of property taxes to the city. Current employees will be grandfathered from the agreed, but if they choose to move into another location it would have to be within city limits.
Schiff expressed sorrow for the loss by fire of Wallace Auto Parts and Services in the Saline County Industrial Park and suggested council look for possibilities of enticing owner Rod Wallace consider rebuilding in Harrisburg.
“We don’t need to lose business for the city or our county,” Mayor Eric Gregg said.
Fearheiley said and council agreed the permit for contractors doing work within the city be lowered from $250 a year to $50 effective Jan. 1 and that the permit would be renewed on an annual basis rather than every 30 days. The city instituted the program to help weed out the legitimate contractors from “storm chasing” opportunists.
Fearheiley also mentioned a need to adjust the ordinance council adopted earlier this year requiring contractors adhere to the International Building Codes for business and residences. The current code requires ceiling sprinklers be installed in residences, a measure council did not intend to require.
Finance Commissioner Ron Crank expressed remorse at a threat to fire employees who did not fill out a health survey pursuant to future health insurance costs.
“I would like to apologize to the city employees for threatening to fire them. And I would like to thank them for filling them out correctly,” Crank said.
All employees complied.
McPeek updated the council on the renovation of the Harris-Pruett Building. The roof and floor have been replaced and countertops soon will be.
McPeek also praised Roy Adams, administrator of the federal grant for tornado home rebuilding or repairing. He said two homes have been rebuilt from the ground up and possibly three more will be rebuilt.
“At this present time there is $598,000 in projects going on,” McPeek said.