City commission agenda jam-packed with back to back meetings Wednesday Featured

Emporia Police Department IT Technician Scott Price leads discussions on the 800 mhz radio project with city commissioners Wednesday. Emporia Police Department IT Technician Scott Price leads discussions on the 800 mhz radio project with city commissioners Wednesday. Tagan Trahoon/KVOE News

Emporia City Commissioners had plenty to talk about during a jam-packed study session Wednesday morning.

One highlight was the discussion of recently proposed rate increases as a part of the city's 2020 budget. The original proposal was for an eight percent increase in water, 10 percent increase in wastewater and a three percent increase in stormwater fees.

City Treasurer Janet Harouff presented an opportunity for the city to decrease the proposed water rate to 5 percent. Harouff says the smaller increase would provide a saving of roughly $1 for average customers, however, it could also lead to a three to four percent decrease on the city's reserve level.

Harouff says it is a "darned if you do, darned if you don't" situation. Commissioners gave guidance for Harouff to gather more information which will be presented during the commission's Oct. 23 meeting.

Additionally, commissioners discussed the 800 mhz radio project which has been in the works over the past year. Original plans were for the project to be considered a temporary note of debt for 2020 with the cost to be spread out over 2-4 years. However, due to recent significant issues, notably a shutdown of the system after a lightning strike during severe storms in late August, the timetable for action has been pushed up considerably.

The Lyon County Commission is now planning to have the project's contract finalized near the end of October, meaning the city would have to decide whether or not to have the cost of their radios included in the contract by that time. The current purchase would include 229 new radios, however, the city is currently discussing whether or not that number is needed.

Commissioner's proposed reevaluating the need for an abundance of radios for non-emergency departments. Assistant Emporia Fire Chief Brandon Beck says he understands this approach, however, when it comes to an emergency situation it is often a "all hands on deck" scenario.

Commissioner Becky Smith says with the original timeline the city had more "breathing room" to do research and come to the best fiscally responsible decision. However; with the project cost not being factored into the current budget, and the timeline now being escalated, Smith says the commission feels they may have their backs against a wall.

If the city and county were to approve the project's contract by Nov. 8 it could result in around half a million dollars in cost savings from Motorolla. Commissioners plan to continue discussions on the project and reach a decision within the coming weeks.

Following their study session, commissioners then convened with County Commissioners and staff for the fourth quarterly joint commission meeting of the year. During this time county commission chair Rollie Martin proposed the renewal of the countywide sales tax to be placed on next year's election ballot.

According to Martin, the sales tax is a percent tax applied to all purchases within the county which apply. The tax has helped fund capital improvements for the county including the purchase of sheriff's vehicles and road bridge equipment.

The tax was reapproved for a span of 10 years back in 2013. With roughly four years remaining, Martin says the renewal will help both the city and county plan ahead for capital improvements in the coming years.

Discussions will continue and a proposal was made to formulate a committee to reach a formal decision on whether or not to place the item on next year's ballot.

In other business, commissioners received an update on the zoning regulation updates which have been ongoing for the past several months. The second draft of the regulations is set to be released on Oct. 22, 2019, followed by a 2 week time period for review before the first of three public workshops on Nov. 7.

Three additional workshops to follow on Nov. 14, 21 and Dec. 5. Residents are highly encouraged to attend those meetings.

The Emporia City Commission will reconvene for an action session next Wednesday at 7 pm inside the Municipal Courtroom at White Auditorium.

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