City Commission approves pay raises

By Jessica LeDuc
Blade staff writer

 After tabling the issue of raises for city employees earlier this month, the Concordia City Commission approved them Wednesday night, but not without debate.
 Rather than giving all employees an across the board 1.5-percent cost of living raise, as was proposed at the Dec. 4 meeting, the Commission approved raises of 1.6-percent for hourly employees, 1.4-percent for department heads, and 1.2-percent for the city manager. The pay increase was included in the 2014 budget.
 At the last meeting, Commissioner Charles Johnson had asked what raises the employees would get if the 1.5 percent increase was spread out evenly among everyone. Johnson said across the board raises continue to expand the gap between the city's highest and lowest paid employees.
 Last night, the discussion centered around the proposed 1.2-percent raise to be given to City Manager Larry Uri.
 Johnson said he wanted to eliminate his 1.2-percent raise because Uri has already seen a salary increase through the city's insurance benefits. In July, the Commission hired Uri as a full-time city manager and city attorney, making him eligible for city benefits for the first time in five years.
 Uri has already seen a 12-15-percent increase in his salary, Johnson said, now that he is  on the city's insurance and retirement plans.
 "He's already our highest paid employee," Johnson said.
 Commissioner Marsha Wentz said there was a reason Uri was the highest paid employee.
"He also has the most responsibility," she said. "He's the fall guy for everybody."
 Commissioner Christy Hasch said Uri has specialized knowledge - as an attorney - that most other city managers do not have, making him worth his salary.
 On a 4-1 vote, with Johnson voting in opposition, the Commission approved Uri's 1.2-percent cost of living increase. On unanimous votes, the Commission approved the 1.6-percent increase for classified employees, and 1.4-percent increase for non-classified employees.
 On a 3-2 vote, with Commissioners Lyle Pounds and Johnson voting against it, the Commission approved a design agreement with Bowman, Bowman Novick, Inc., (BBN) to revise the design of the park area in the flood control area for a maximum of $7,500.
 The revision to the design is necessary because the Federal Aviation Administration put a halt to the dam permitting process earlier this year. The FAA determined that a proposed pond that came along with the dam would be a hazardous wildlife attractant because of its close proximity to Blosser Municipal Airport.
 Commissioner Johnson asked if city staff had any estimates of maintenance costs for the area, and questioned whether there was a need for recreational aspects.
 Uri said BBN will be working with the dam engineers throughout the process to help with their design. Once a new design is presented, he said, there will be a better idea of maintenance costs.
 Pounds cast his dissenting vote as a "personal protest" to the FAA's decision to nix the pond.
 In other business, the Commission approved the 2014 professional services agreement with CloudCorp.
 CloudCorp Executive Director Ashley McMillan presented the agreement, which is unchanged from 2013.
 The Commission also approved moving forward with the installation of a sprinkler system at the Brown Grand Theatre. Pryor Automatic Sprinkler Inc.'s bid of $71,330 includes installing a sprinkler system above the stage, as well as a water curtain in front of the stage.
 The cost of the system will be added on to the original $100,000 Tax Increment Financing the City approved earlier this year for the Theatre's stage and structural reinforcement work.
 Uri said the City may not end up spending the money because the Brown Grand board is going to try to apply for additional tax credits to fund the project.
  A bid of $83,950 from TKA Construction was also accepted to build an addition to the water department's shop building.
 Water department employees will do the site preparation before construction of the 40'x50' Chief steel building. Construction is scheduled to begin in the spring.
 Two unsafe and dangerous structures were accepted into the city's demolition program: 217 State Street for $4,000; and 123 West 1st Street for $4,675.
 During the study session, the Commission heard about a community assessment project that is in the works.
  Uri said the project is a cooperation between Cloud County Travel and Tourism, CloudCorp and the city. For $22,500, Roger Brooks International will assess the community and provide solutions to make the town a more successful place.
 "He will come in and tell us the things we probably don't want to hear and suggest things we can do to make changes," Uri said. "This might be a catalyst to getting the downtown revitalized."
 Tammy Britt, co-director of Cloud County Travel and Tourism said the company had been used by Decorah, Iowa, and the town saw a 20-percent increase in its downtown foot traffic.
 "He's (Roger Brooks) very good about coming in and telling a community what their strengths and weaknesses are," Britt said. "Who better to tell you what changes need to be made than someone who doesn't have any kind of emotional ties to the community?"
 Britt said she is excited that tourism will be partnering with CloudCorp and the City on the project.
 "We all know tourism is economic development, we know what a huge financial impact it makes to our community, and we know we're missing out on a lot - we need to capture more dollars that are coming through on the highway," she said.
Britt said Brooks will assess the community and hold a public meeting to discuss his findings. He specializes in helping communities find ideas to increase traffic in the downtown business district.
 "He'll look at our whole entire area with new eyes," she said.

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