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Council hears public comment about budgetTell North Platte what you think

One person showed up at public hearings Tuesday to talk about the city budget and property tax rate.

The council held public hearings on the 2013-14 budget so anyone could comment on the new budget.

Bill McCormick, 1220 East D St., had questions about items in the Municipal Light and Water budget.

McCormick wanted to know why more than $550,000 for accounting software was on last year’s budget and also the new budget. He thought the money was being collected both years.

City Administrator Jim Hawks said the amount is carried over into 2013-14 from last year because it was not used in 2012-13, and it is not a double collection.

Hawks said the 2013-14 electric rates do not increase because more money is carried over from the previous year, but the carryover amount has to be shown in this year’s budget to make it available when the city needs to use it, in the case of a bad storm or catastrophe.

McCormick also asked the same question about the emergency electric reserve fund -- why if money is carried over each year, the balance of the emergency reserve ($3.2 million) isn’t higher this year than last. Again, Hawks said the balance is simply carried forward into the new budget. It is not collected again.

“It’s just like your personal checking account,” Hawks said. “If you have money left in the checking account when you balance the ledger, you carry it over to the next one and that shows as money in the account. It doesn’t mean you get that money twice.”

That was the extent of the public discussion.

Limited discussion

After the public hearing closed, council members Brook Baker and Larry Campbell tried to discuss some of the budget items, but Hawks told them to wait two days until the special budget meeting Thursday. He said the Tuesday meeting was just for public comments.

The council is expected to vote to approve the budget Thursday, but can make adjustments before the vote by majority agreement.

Tax rate

Then, a public hearing opened on the property tax rate for the 2013-14 fiscal year.

No one spoke. It looks like the levy rate will be 0.518, compared to 0.476 a year ago. Nearly all the increase is for city debt service, which is expected to peak in the coming fiscal year.

In total, the city plans to collect nearly $1 million more in property taxes in 2013-14 than a year ago.

No action was taken on the tax rate, either. That too will come Thursday when the council meets to finalize the budget. The meeting starts at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

Livestock auction zone

Another public hearing was opened to take comments on amendments to city zoning ordinances in A-1 agricultural districts and I-1 industrial districts; putting conditions on a livestock sale barn should one be proposed.

Zoning administrator Judy Clark was the only person who spoke.

Clark told the council that a phone call to her office prompted her to bring the amendments forward, and it was not based on any plans to build a sale barn. She said it is just one of those things that is noticed in ordinances once in a while, and it is unclear, and this is a housekeeping measure to set standards if something of that sort is built.

With the amendment, the zoning ordinances now say that a sale barn can be built in an agricultural or light industrial zone if the planning commission and city council approve, but such a barn could not be closer than a quarter-mile to a residential dwelling whether it is occupied or not, and the barn could not house animals for longer than 30 days.

Both amendments passed unanimously.

Public TV

The council also approved an agreement with Cynthia Gutschenritter to operate the Government Access Channel for another year. The channel carries council meetings and notices of events throughout the community.

Gutschenritter will be paid $1,461 a month.

City website

Voted unanimously to authorize the mayor to enter into an agreement with Maly Marketing to develop the new city website in the amount of $14,860.

City Information Services Director Les Green said the old web site is outdated and only shows the public what the city basically offers. Green said the new site will be interactive for department heads and employees to allow posting new and updated information on what is happening in the city, and it will present a better image of the city on the web.

It will take about 150 days to get the new website up and running, Green said. After that, Maly will charge $120 a month to host and maintain the site.

Also, the council:

• Sent an application from RJA Enterprises/Dave’s Place for beer, wine and distilled spirits both on and off sale to the Liquor Control Commission with no recommendation.

• Accepted the report from Dave Bertram for volunteer firefighters qualifying for the 2012-13 service award program and authorized $10,800 in incentive funds to be placed in a trust fund at First National Bank of North Platte.

Retirement shortfalls

The council also accepted, without comment, two 16-page valuation reports – one for the city firefighters retirement plan and another for the city police retirement plan.

According to the reports, the average police officer retires at age 60. Officers who were hired before 1984 receive no less than 50 percent of their average work-pay after they retire.

The report foresees a $370,000 shortfall in retirement funds for North Platte police hired before 1984.

Firefighters retire at 55 years old, the report says. They also receive 50 percent of their work pay if they were hired before 1984.

The report predicts a $2.1 million shortfall retirement benefits for firefighters hired before 1984.

Bulletin editor George Lauby contributed to this report.

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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 9/3/2013
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