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Vote near on city administrator issue

The Mitchell City Council is ready to vote on whether to add a city administrator to the city’s government.

For months, city officials have discussed the idea of adding a city administrator, who would oversee the city’s department heads on a dayto-day basis and essentially act as an aide to the mayor. After a discussion Monday night at City Hall, the council decided to put a vote on the proposal on the agenda for its next meeting, which is scheduled for Dec. 16.

0 Talk about it
Should Mitchell add a city administrator?

“I think we’ve got to at least give it a try,” said Council President Jeff Smith.

The proposal to add a city administrator is different from one put forward to add a city manager to the city’s government that was rejected by Mitchell voters in 2011.

Unlike city managers, city administrators are not the chief executives of the cities they serve, and instead are accountable to the mayor; they have little, if any, authority to hire or fire city employees or prepare a city budget; and only have the authorities granted to them by a mayor or by ordinance, according to Matthew Fairholm, a political science professor at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion. Fairholm met with the council at its last meeting Nov. 18.

Roger Musick, CEO of Innovative Systems, addressed the council Monday and spoke in favor of the proposal. Musick said a city administrator in the city’s government could help reduce the city’s property tax rates, which are among the highest in the state for similar-sized cities.

“I think it’s time for a change,” he said. “We’ve tried it for 100-plus years this way, and the result is taxes that are too high.”

There are 20 cities in South Dakota with city administrators, according to information presented at the Oct. 7 council meeting.

LaMoine Torgerson, a retired banker and Mitchell resident, also spoke in favor of the proposal.

“We need to look to curb these taxes,” he said.

Councilman Mel Olson, who opposes the proposal, said if the city does hire a city administrator, it should also set guidelines to evaluate that person’s performance.

“I think we have to have something that says this person was actually a success,” he said.

Mayor Ken Tracy questioned whether it would be wise to evaluate a city administrator simply by how much money, on paper, appears to have been saved.

“If we have money, we’re going to find a way to spend it,” Tracy said.

Olson suggested that, if the proposal is approved, that the city wait until its annual budget hearings in August before hiring a city administrator.

Council Vice President Dan Allen, who supports the proposal, said a city administrator should be hired as soon as possible.’

“It’s time and it’s time now. Right after the first of the year, get this guy on board,” he said. “Give him time, and he is going to save this town money.”

Wellness Center

The council had more questions than answers during a discussion Monday night of whether to hire a consultant to research the city’s options for developing a new wellness center.

At the Oct. 7 council meeting, Tom Clark, regional president and CEO of Avera Queen of Peace Hospital, approached city officials to discuss the possibility of forming a partnership to build a recreation/wellness center in Mitchell.

Clark said Avera is willing to split the cost with the city for a consultant, who could identify various options and give recommendations for such a project. He estimated a consultant would cost approximately $25,000.

Clark was not in attendance at Monday night’s meeting.

Olson said it’s unclear exactly what the city would get if it were to partner with Avera and hire a consultant.

“I’m not opposed to a study per se,” Olson said, during a discussion at Monday night’s meeting. “But, I’m opposed to a study that tells me what I already know.”

Smith said a consultant could give the city a place to begin planning, and make it aware of every possible option for the project.

“Right now, we’re pretty much all over the place,” Smith said.

After the discussion, the council agreed to ask Clark to attend the next council meeting Dec. 16 to answer remaining questions about the possibility of hiring a consultant.

According to Tracy, Dakota Wesleyan University has already started fundraising to build a recreational facility and has approached the city to discuss a possible threeway partnership on such a project.

“Three entities joining together probably could do something much sooner than if we tried to do it on our own,” Tracy said.

Consent agenda

Council members approved the following items as part of a consent agenda:

  • The meeting agenda, council minutes from the prior meeting and minutes from various committee meetings.
  • An automatic supplement of $3,460 to the Parks and Recreation Special Revenue Fund from a reimbursement for Bella’s Butterfly Garden.
  • A raffle request from John Paul II Elementary, with the drawing to be held Jan. 27.
  • A Dec. 13 date to receive and consider bids for the city’s recycling contract, to be held at 1:30 p.m. in Council Chambers at City Hall.
  • A Jan. 6 date to receive and consider bids for concrete pipe supply, to be held at 1:30 p.m. in Council Chambers at City Hall.
  • Change orders for the Mitchell Activities Center project to Palace Builders Inc., including a $22,857.95 increase to insulate sewer and water lines, a $1,030.73 increase to raise a fire hydrant, a $1,189 decrease for the city to supply materials, a $2,040 increase to change the interior paint, a $550 increase to revise waterlines, and a $511.11 decrease for city to paint the parking lot, for a total adjusted contract amount of $1,351,776.82.
  • A change order increasing the cost of the Norway Lift Station project by $2,311.71, for a total contract amount of $461,752.31, to First Rate Excavating.
  • A change order decreasing the cost of the Capital Street project by $195, for a total contract amount of $733,485.91 to H&W Contracting.
  • Bills, payroll salary adjustments and new employee hires, and authorization for the payment of recurring and other expenses in advance as approved by the finance officer.
  • A list of pay estimates.
  • Gas and diesel fuel bids.

Other business

In other scheduled business, council members:

  • Approved the minutes of a Nov. 18 Traffic Committee meeting, which were removed from the consent agenda and amended to correct a typographical error.
  • Sat as the board of adjustment and set a Dec. 16 date for a hearing on the application of Mike and Elaine Rieck for a side yard setback variance of 3 feet versus the required 8 feet, to construct an addition to their attached garage located at 2901 Dailey Drive.
  • Discussed, during a 7 p.m. Sidewalk Committee meeting, sidewalk projects for 2014, which will include the installation of sidewalk on Kynette Place, from Miller Avenue to University Avenue; Williams Street, from Edgerton Street to Anderson Street; Williams Street, from Miller Street to University Avenue; Hurst Street, from Edgerton Street to Anderson Street; the south side of Williams Street, from Anderson Street to Miller Street; Kittridge Street, from Sixth Avenue to Seventh Avenue; in the South Edwards Street and Dry Run Creek area; in addition to various repairs done to hazardous sidewalks in the city.
  • Approved, during a 7:20 p.m. Finance Committee meeting, writing off $19,358.51 in delinquent utility accounts for 2012, which represents less than 1 percent of the $5.09 million in total utility billings collected.
  • Adopted a resolution to use $12,000 from the general fund to provide interim financing for the tax increment financing district at Mitchell Technical Institute’s south campus.
  • Approved the installation of flashing yellow lights and 15 mph speed limit signs on Capital Street, in front of Mitchell High School.
  • Held the second reading and approved an ordinance to supplement the traffic, fire, public works, street and sidewalk, cemetery, health and welfare, and animal control portions of the general fund from the general fund cash balance; the parks portion of the Parks and Recreation special revenue fund from the parks fund cash balance; the Palace Transit and Sanborn County Transit portions of the Senior Services special revenue fund from the Senior Services cash balance; the nutrition portion of the Senior Services special revenue fund from the nutrition fund cash balance; the Iverson TIF, Vantage Point TIF, MADC Business Park TIF and ProBuild TIF portions of the debt service fund from property tax receipts; and various enterprise funds.
  • Held the second reading and approved an ordinance to supplement the wastewater portion of the enterprise fund with $24,500 from the sewer fund cash balance for pump repairs.
  • Approved, on the first of two required readings, an ordinance to supplement the City Council portion of the general fund with $2,500 for legal publications, the municipal buildings portion of the general fund with $7,000 for building repair at the James Valley Community Center, the police portion of the general fund with $2,000 for utilities, the traffic portion of the general fund with $2,500 for light maintenance and $7,000 for street light utilities, all from the general fund cash balance; the culture and recreation portion of the general fund with $40,000 for sports authority promotion from business improvement district tax collections; the ProBuild TIF portion of the debt service fund with $10,500 for bond interest from property tax revenue; the sports complexes portion of the special revenue fund with $2,500 for part-time salaries, $2,000 for repair and maintenance and $1,000 for fuel, all from the park fund cash balance; the parks portion of the special revenue fund with $1,700 for repair and maintenance and $3,000 for fuel, both from the park fund cash balance; and the landfill portion of the enterprise fund with $5,000 for state garbage tax and $4,000 for sales tax, both from the sanitation fund cash balance.
  • Approved applications for the renewal of liquor and wine licenses, with the exception of the liquor license for the Moonlight Bar & Lounge, which was tabled until the next meeting Dec. 18 to allow owner Shannon Foster, who pleaded guilty to petty theft for stealing money while working for the cityowned James Valley Community Center, to explain why she has yet to pay all her restitution to the city.
  • Approved the appointment of Melanie Mullenmeister to the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Board and the appointment of Tom Patzer to the Lake Mitchell Advisory Committee.
  • Conducted an executive session for the purpose of consulting with legal counsel or reviewing communications from legal counsel about proposed or pending litigation or contractual matters, specifically, regarding union negotiations with the city’s employees, who recently approved contracts, according to Human Resources Director Billie Kelly.