By Will McClure
The Stamford City Council called a public hearing last Monday, August 1, to discuss the upcoming budget adoption and hear concerns from Stamford citizens as well as discuss and possibly take action on the continued issue of illegal dumping around the area. The question of raises and how they would affect the people of Stamford was discussed at length, with Mayor Johnny Anders expressing his concerns over the amount of pay that city employees receive versus the cost of living. The meeting was called to order at 5:15 pm with an invocation led by Anders followed by the Pledge of Allegiance led by Leldon Clifton. All members were present for the meeting as the council began to look at the draft for the annual budget for the 2017 fiscal year.
City Manager Alan Plumlee started the hearing by stating that the budget saw an increase in hotel/motel tax, but had been reduced by $70,000 from the last draft as the money would have been used to purchase a new dump truck for the city. Now, the city is looking into repairing their current truck which, if successful, will save the city money. The hearing then moved to what would be the main topic of discussion which would be the rate of pay for the city employees. It was asked about the item titled "longevity" in the report, which equates to the pay for city employees based on their years of service, with employees pay being based on each year that they are employed by the city after starting at a base salary. Anders voiced his concerns that the starting pay ($10 a hour) would not allow an individual to make a living in today's economy, suggesting at least a $2 raise across the board rather than a percentage raise as in the past while both council members Melinda Smith and Pam Reither asked if it were possible to see if the higher city offices could instead forgo their raise to allow new employees to get a bigger raise. This would not only help their cost of living, but would allow the city to keep the employees on board as, in the past, newer employees would start the job, get used to it, and then take the same position in another city for a higher pay rate. Plumlee did note that if this was done, a newer employee could, in essence, get paid more than a longer tenured employee who had worked their way up to their current pay rate, implying that the option of a pay cut could do more harm than good. The board continued to discuss raises, with Plumlee also suggesting that the board could do the $2 raise this year and return to percentages the next year while also supplying figures for each method. He stated that if the city stuck to a 5% raise, it would cost an additional $42,246 to the city which would include the raise along with retirement and FICA while a $2 raise would amount to $119,135. Neither figure was included in the budget report until a decision was made.
While still on the budget, the council briefly discussed the city's deficit, which stands at around $415,000 without the raises factored in, with the majority of the deficit coming from payment for water facilities. This led to a discussion on the potential increase in customer's water bills. Stamford resident Wes Horn asked the council if the bill increase would go to the water payment. Plumlee assured him that it would as the payment would have to be paid, with bills possibly increasing by as much as $15. After discussing the increases for a short time and with no other discussion on the budget, the public hearing portion of the meeting closed at 6:01 pm. The council then moved to approve the minutes of the July 18th meeting before discussing and possibly taking action on illegal dumping in Stamford as well as the Convenience Station.
Council Member James Decker brought the issue of illegal dumping to the council's attention that evening after seeing repeated offenses of items dumped around the College Lake area. He noted that while the Reclaiming Stamford project has helped eliminate other areas that were known for illegal dumping, it still continues to be a problem for the city. Currently, the Convenience Station located in Stamford, which is the area to unload these larger items, is only open Thursday through Saturday, leaving an open gap for people who do not want to wait for the station to be opened and resort to illegal dumping or, as mentioned by museum director Sandra Rhea, be dropped off at Pink Ladies after hours while concealing the deed from cameras placed in the area.
"Some people are not going to wait three days for the station to open to unload a couch and those that are inclined to do some illegal dumping are going to do so. So, my thought is to make the station as convenient as possible...we're not making it convenient for them," Decker said. "So, two thoughts here: go to an alternating system like Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday so that's there is always a tomorrow...the other thought is to have it open Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5 pm and not have it manned and have things clearly marked."
The council discussed the issue at length, ultimately deciding to go against having an unmanned station due to liability issues and creating more problems. Plumlee did state that the city has recently posted a phone number for people to call at the station where they can have someone open the station to dump items. Residents can call 773-2723 during work hours to have someone come and open the gate. Decker pointed out that those that choose to illegally dump will not call the number, but moving to a staggered system along with the number could help eliminate the excuses to illegally dump. The council decided that the station would need to remain open on Saturday no matter what and that an alternating day system would work best, but Plumlee would have to look at scheduling hours as to when the change could take place, so no final decision could be made at the time until the matter was looked at further. However, the council did agree that something would need to be done to make the station more convenient and help reduce the instances of illegal dumping. Until then, residents can call 773-2723 during work hours to have the station opened when it is closed during the week.
The council then moved to approve the usage of the square for the Chamber of Commerce for a fall festival scheduled to be held on September 24. After that, the council approved all but one item on the consent agenda, which is a bid for a house on Vanderbilt St. pending further investigation on the part of council member Decker, who requested that the item be tabled for now. After finishing with the consent agenda, City Manager Plumlee gave his brief report to the council, reporting on the new phone system installed by the city after researching new methods and especially after the old system was rendered useless after the city-wide power outage on July 26. The new system would allow calls to be rerouted, in particular water emergencies which, when calling 773-2723 after hours, would automatically call a supervisor to help resolve the issue. Plumlee also went further into the repair of the dump truck which needed a complete engine overhaul with all new parts except for the engine block. but the end result is optimistic. After the completion of Plumlee's report and with no other business to attend to, the meeting was adjourned at 6:31 pm.