11/08/2010 Town Council Study Session

At a study session, the Council Members talk about, but don’t vote on, agenda items scheduled for action at the following Council Meeting. Staff is there to answer questions, and the public is welcome to observe, but they are not allowed to speak until the Council Meeting. Following are some highlights of the study session. The next Council Meeting is 11/11/2010.

ZINKE LAND DEAL – POST-MORTEM COMING

Town Manager Collin DeWitt said that the timeline for the audit of the Zinke land purchase, and the forensic appraisal of the properties, will be identified Thursday at the Council Meeting. The Town has selected an outside attorney to conduct the audit. Mr. DeWtt decided against using the appraisal services of Marc Barlow, due to citizen concerns about Mr. Barlow’s long term relationship with the Town. Mr. DeWitt has obtained the services of Mr. Dennis Lopez. The final appraisal and audit will be presented 12/31/2010.

CHANGE ORDER TO INCREASE CONTRACT BY $3,865.

Maybe the Town should call their contracts “suggestions,” since they are frequently changed. That way, nobody needs to pretend they are contracts. The Landscape Architect retained by the Town accidentally omitted “rip rap” and wood chips from the bid packages relating to improvements to PKID’s (Parkway Improvement Districts), so this change order will increase each lot’s assessment by $1.36 per month over this year’s budgeted assessment.

CHANGE ORDER TO INCREASE CONTRACT WITH ARCADIS BY $161,275.

This change order appears to be driven by the Town’s need for additional CIP projects, including the acceleration of the Higley and Baseline Road Improvement. The additional money is needed in order to pay for the services of a Program Manager, earning $125 per hour. Council Member John Sentz noticed that another Program Manager was earning $80 per hour. Assistant Engineer Medina explained that the one earning more is “classified” as a Senior Program Manager. John suggested maybe a Program Manager earning $80 per hour was a better choice. Mr. Medina will research for Thursday’s meeting.

GW: At $125 per hour, that’s $258,000 per year. Also, these rates reflect a 20% REDUCTION in hourly rates, because the Town is struggling with budget issues. Otherwise, the Sr. Program Manager would be earning $320,000 per year. (I guess the recession hasn’t affected them too much.)

AN “OPTIONAL” SERVICE UTILITY FEE INCREASE THAT MAKES SENSE.

The Town loses money on after hours service calls that are demanded by customers. The current charge for after hours is $40. Staff proposes $75. In virtually all cases, the customer has the OPTION to obtain the service during normal working hours (beginning at 6 am), but often prefer after hours and are willing to pay the extra fee. These are services like turning on the water; turning it off; and reactivating the service once the customer has paid a delinquent bill. (Most of the time, no one must be at home when these services are performed.)

Council Member Linda Abbott asked if there was a fee for an after hours emergency? Staff advised there would be. Ms. Abbott went on to speak at length about her water main breaking after hours, and she didn’t think it was fair to be charged extra for the service call. She spoke at length about the employees going to flex time, in order to provide after hours services.

Marc Skocypec said that flex time won’t cover 24/7. He reiterated that in most cases, customers choose the after hours rather than regular hours. It’s their option.

Staff will work on this a little more.

STICKING IT TO PROPERTY OWNERS FOR THE BILLS THEIR TENANTS LEAVE BEHIND

The Town gets stuck with unpaid water bills from renters, so they proposed an ordinance requiring both the property owner and renter to sign a utility agreement. Then, if the renter skips, the Town can go after the property owner, going as far as putting a lien on the property. This would be the case for multiple rental properties.

Most Council Members thought this was a bad idea. They suggested various options, including a requirement for a larger deposit, or first and last month’s average water charge, and/or shutting the water off a little sooner.

Staff will tweak the proposed change.

FIREWORKS COMING TO GILBERT AND BLOWING UP SWING SETS

The State recently passed HB 2246 which allows “consumer” fireworks to be in the hands of Arizonans who are age 16 and older, as of Dec. 1. The operative word is “consumer” fireworks. These include ground and handheld sparkling devices, illuminating torches, flitter sparklers and wheels. They are NOT fireworks designed to go into the air and explode, such as bottle rockets, sky rockets, Roman candles, Molotov cocktails (just kidding on that last one), etc.

Gilbert can: 1) Retain their current restriction against fireworks, 2) Allow some fireworks, but limit them in some way, 3) Do nothing and allow the law to take effect.

Dan Dubois, the Fire Marshall, presented a video showing the smoke and noise caused by the consumer-type fireworks, and statistics indicating slightly increased fire calls and injuries nationwide. He advocated Option 1.

Linda Abbott was primarily concerned about damage to public property, such as exploding swing sets.

Most other Council members could see uses on private property, seasonally, as long as it doesn’t infringe on other people. “People need to be responsible for their actions,” said Ben Cooper. Jenn Daniels was in favor of less regulation. I thought the fireworks were cool.

The Fire Marshall wasn’t pleased.

STRATEGIC PLAN.& JOHN SENTZ’S QUOTABLE QUOTE

There was, frankly, an interminable discussion about the timing of the 12/4/2010 “Public Review of the Strategic Plan,” to which about 100 citizens will be invited. Ms. Abbott voiced her concerns about the date coming up so fast. There was much more advance notice for the General Plan, she said, and yet the public barely participated, even with all the marketing, invitations, open houses, etc.

John Sentz said that the Town employees have had this date on their calendars for some time, and they have worked and prepared to meet this deadline. He didn’t think it would be fair to them to change the date at the last minute. “If I’m wrong, I’ll go to Linda and grovel asking for forgiveness. I do that at home all the time, so I’m used to it.”

THE GENERAL PLAN

Speaking of the General Plan, that noisy sucking sound you hear is private sector dollars being vacuumed out of your pockets and the economy and dumped into the hands of Gilbert’s elected officials and bureaucracy to provide more and more services that generate literally no revenue, just cost centers. On one hand, they want to encourage businesses of every size to succeed because they grow the economy and generate tax revenues, and yet on the other, government competes against them, removing money from the economy and destroying its own tax base. The beautiful projects sound good, but do similar projects like these in Arizona have a good track record? How is Phoenix’s light rail system doing? How has Mesa’s rehabilitation of downtown gone? What have these things cost the taxpayers? There is no end in sight. The General Plan contains much, much more.

EXECUTIVE SESSION

The Council closed the Public meeting in order to meet privately to discuss two items: 1) Rodeo Park lease negotiations, and 2) “…discussions with designated representatives of the Town…regarding negotiations with the three Town employee organizations regarding the salaries, salary schedules or compensation paid in the form of fringe benefits of employees of the Town.”

There is no Arizona Statute, no law, that requires the Council to convene into an Executive Session. An Executive Session is a way for the Council to meet and discuss issues away from public view. We have literally no way of knowing what was discussed behind closed doors. Once the Council meets in an Executive Session they “SHALL NOT” discuss with the public anything that is discussed in an Executive Session.

We are solely at the mercy of their "judgment" concerning this.

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