City commission talks about the future amid the COVID-19 crisis

Friday, April 3, 2020

Fort Scott City Commissioners discussed some policies for moving the city forward during the COVID-19 crisis during their regular Tuesday meeting.

Commissioners considered a resolution that would declare a local state of emergency and would temporarily expand the authority of the city manager “to act on behalf of the city; and ratifying previous decisions regarding the COVID-19 emergency,” the resolution states. The resolution would also allow for city leaders to move to conducting meetings once a month instead of twice a month.

Director of Finance Susan Bancroft asked commissioners to consider the resolution before considering a separate ordinance that would appropriate the amounts set up in each fund in the city’s budget for the remainder of 2020,” the ordinance states.

Bancroft said the resolution would give authority to City Manager Dave Martin “to make decisions based on behalf of the governing body due to COVID-19.

“At times, if we go to once a month meetings, that’s in the resolution,” Bancroft said.

The resolution states that the city manager is “herby vested, temporarily, with the authority to make all decisions in regard to personnel and city operations without the need to obtain commission approval for said action. This grant includes the authority to close city facilities or suspend city operations; to tempoarily amend, extend or suspend policies and procedures, including purchasing and personnel policies, of the city in response to the emergency; the authority and discretion to make decisions concerning the grant of additional leave and/or benefits to city employees; the authority to make decisions and purchases exceeding previously established purchase authority granted by the commission; and the authority to make other decisions deemed necessary to continue city operations and secure the well-being and safety of city employees and the public at large in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The resolution also states the commission “shall meet once per month on the first Tuesday of the month until the executive order by the governor has been suspended. All citizens will be able to view or listen to meetings to follow KOMA laws … the city manager shall keep the governing body informed of the actions taken pursuant to this grant of authority by reporting them to the governing body at the next meeting after the action was taken.”

“Is this standard for cities?” Kevin Allen asked. “I don’t see the state of emergency where we can’t just call an emergency meeting if something needs to happen. It seems like a good way to get in trouble.”

Martin said many cities are putting similar resolutions in place during the COVID-19 crisis.

Bancroft said this is an “opportunity” for the city manager to make a critical decision.

“I trust Dave to do what he says he’s going to do and let us all know,” Nichols said prior to making a motion to approve the resolution. Commissioner Lindsey Watts seconded, but withdrew her second after more discussion took place on the matter.

Several commissioners talked about being available to attend meetings and there was not a need for the resolution.

“I don’t see the need for limiting it to one meeting a month,” Pete Allen said.

“Can that be amended?” Watts asked. “Are we adopting this 100 percent by agreeing to this? Or if there were further steps, we could enact it?”

“I always thought we needed more meetings,” Kevin Allen said. “I’m not for meeting once a month.”

“Commissioners cannot be eliminated from making decisions,” Pete Allen said. “That’s putting too much power in one person’s hands. The commissioners can help. I don’t understand the need for a resolution. Maybe there’s a need later down the line if we’re all quarantined and can’t get out.”

“We’re kind of in that state,” Watts said, referencing Gov. Laura Kelly’s recent “stay at home” order due to the pandemic. Watts said she thinks commissioners could conduct two meetings per month, “even if it’s call in.”

“I think we can conduct business at this point in time,” Kevin Allen said. “I’ve seen more people out in the last three weeks than I have in my life.”

Martin said the resolution would be in place “if I need to make a critical decision, only because of COVID-19.”

Nichols’ motion died for lack of a second.

Commissioners also elected to table an ordinance that would appropriate the amounts for each fund in the budget for the remainder of 2020. Bancroft said the ordinance can be removed from the agenda. It would allow for the city’s bills to be paid if the commission isn’t able to meet. Bancroft said wording in the ordinance can be changed from “for the remainder of 2020” to “whenever the governor rescinds” the executive order due to COVID-19.

The ordinance will be brought back before the commission April 7 with the changed wording.

Commissioners passed by a vote of 3-1-1 a motion to approve the Fort Scott CDBG Small Business Relief Loan Fund Program. Economic Development Director Rachel Pruitt informed commissioners of the new grant opportunity and also updated them on state and federal activity related to COVID-19. Pruitt said Gov. Kelly issued a new executive order Tuesay regarding unemployment benefits.

“The waiting period to qualify for unemployment benefits has been temporarily lifted,” Pruitt said. “Also, the requirement to be actively looking for work has been lifted.”

According to city information, the Kansas Department of Commerce’s CDBG program has “drastically changed the requirements” of its Revolving Loan Fund Program. The city is encouraging use of the fund to support the working capital needs of businesses in Fort Scott. The fund has up to $260,000 directed toward small businesses with “the highest risk of closing and/or laying off workers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Pruitt said the purpose of the loan program is to retain existing jobs. If the program is approved, there is a notice to publish a public notice announcing the availability of funds. Once the city receives applications, Pruitt said she will send those to the state for authorization in a 48 to 72-hour timeframe. There is a maximum of $10,000 available per business. It it designed to help with staff salaries and wages, purchase of inventory, utilities, rent, insurance payments, and other items. Loans will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Loans are to stimulate job retention, not new hires. The business must have at least one full-time equivalent low-moderate income employee. The loans do not require collateral or matching funds, according to city information.

Commissioners and staff discussed the amount of applications the city could receive, reducing the loan amount awarded so more could apply, and whether commissioners should approve the applications first.

“This is an opportunity locally to disperse state funds that have been sitting idle,” Pruitt said, adding KDOC lifted restrictions on funds for release. “The point of the program is to release funds as rapidly as possible. The money will go to local businesses.”

Pruitt said the city’s program follows other state programs and awards funds on a “first come, first-served basis.” The program uses state funds “controlled by the city.”

“We would help more than 25 businesses with the funding we have,” she said.

“Businesses have an equal opportunity to apply and it’s through the state,” Nichols said. “Businesses are notified on an equal basis. The income level of employees is how they would qualify.”

Kevin Allen said 50 businesses could be helped by awarding them $5,000 each.

“I think we should figure out the best possible solution to help more businesses,” he said.

Pete Allen said he thinks commissioners “should pick which businesses should get” funding.

“I think that’s a big mistake,” Nichols said. “The state would decide and see who meets the criteria based on if they qualify. The first 25 would get the money. I’m very uncomfortable picking which business gets it and which ones don’t.”

Watts said she agreed with Nichols and suggested changing the maximum dollar amount of the loans.

Pruitt said businesses must also provide a letter about how COVID-19 affected the business and cash flow. She said the state has authority to approve these applications, not the city.

Nichols made a motion to approve the loan program as presented. Nichols, Watts and Mitchell voted in favor. Kevin Allen abstained and Pete Allen voted no.

Other business:

• Pete Allen made a motion to have an invoice for Charlesworth and Associates pulled from the consent agenda. All commissioners voted in favor.

The consent agenda also included an appropriation ordinance totaling $726,100, a pay request of $177,321 from Crossland Construction for the river intake structure project, a pay request from Struckel Electrick of $8,814 for an electric vault project at the airport, a pay request of $353,530 from Schneider Electric for the energy audit project, a certificate of pay request of $22,599 for a housing grant, a quit claim deed from the city of Fort Scott to Margaret P. Cummings for 3 1/2 feet of alley, and February 2020 financials.

After approval, Commissioner Randy Nichols made a motion to approve the consent agenda as modified. Commissioner Lindsey Watts seconded and Commissioners Nichols, Watts and Jolynne Mitchell voted in favor. Commissioners Kevin Allen and Pete Allen voted no.

City Manager Dave Martin said Charlesworth and Associates is an insurance consulting firm that seeks the best coverage and price for the city’s automobile, property and casualty insurance. The city started using the firm three or four years ago.

“It takes us out of the equation when we’re bidding for insurances,” Martin said. “He handles all of it. It gets to all insurance companies it’s available to. We have to renw our property and casualty insurance in a couple of years. He makes a presentation to the commission about insurance costs.”

Charlesworth is paid $6,00 per year to perform this service. Martin said he could have Charlesworth appear before the commission at a future meeting.

Kevin Allen said he would like to invite all local insurance companies to a meeting with Charlesworth and the commission at City Hall.

“Is this something insurance companies provide for us?” he said. “Can we reach out to them and see if they can handle it? Why do we need a consultant to come in?”

“It makes it easier for a third party to handle it,” Martin said. “It’s more complicated with city government. When we brought Charlesworth on we saved quite a bit of money.”

“I think we should invite local insurance companies to come in and present,” Kevin Allen said.

“We have capabilities here in Fort Scott,” Pete Allen said. “It’s an unneeded expense. That’s their job to work with cities on coverage.”

Nichols said local insurance agents were involved in a discussion on the city’s insurance a couple of years ago. Nichols suggested Charlesworth talk about what he does with commissioners.

“It’s a significant savings to the city doing this,” Nichols said. “Whether it’s right or wrong, maybe we have this guy come and talk and go back through it.”

Director of Finance Susan Bancroft said the city has a contract with Charlesworth and the payment needs to be approved.

“You can opt out of this contract but this invoice needs to be paid,” she said. “There is a process to opt out of this contract and it would need to be followed.”

Kevin Allen suggested paying the $500 for the Charlesworth invoice during the meeting, “but give notice if we want to change.”

All commissioners voted to approve the $500 payment to Charlesworth and Associates.

Pool fees

Commissioners took no action on a proposal to increase some fees at the Fort Scott Aquatic Center. According to city information, children 2 years of age and younger will still be admitted free of charge and the single rates would remain the same as 2019. The single season pass would increase from $65 to $75; the family pass would increase from $150 to $175 and the rate for pool parties would increase from $100 per hour to $150 per hour.

Martin said he realizes “this is probably not a good time to discuss increasing pool fees, but we have been planning on this for some time.” He said city staff are willing to “hold off on this for this year. It is a tough time right now.”

Mitchell said with the COVID-19 outbreak and schools being closed and weather permitting, “maybe we open it up early. There are lots of different variables. I don’t think it will destruct our budget for a year, to see how this affects everybody. If we can sit tight on it this year so everybody can get a handle on things. I’m not sure if we can open the pool.”

Watts said she has heard concerns from citizens that “with the current climate, and what we might be facing with our community, maybe it’s not the best time to look at raising rates on a city service.”

Nichols said the pool is a “great resource,” and he wants to “make sure everyone is treated fairly.”

Kevin Allen said citizens “feel that’s something that’s taken away. I’m gonna be a standstill on the money. I’m going to stand strong on leaving it alone. This is a year that’s kind of a special year and maybe it’s the only thing these kids get to do this year.”

Nichols asked by raising fees for pool parties, “do we exclude people from the pool?”

Bancroft said the pool is used for pool parties every weekend during the pool season. She said the city subsidizes about $80 for every pool party held at the pool. She said pool revenues were down last year, likely due to a “very wet summer.”

Commissioners and staff discussed times, hours and the length of the pool season.

Mitchell said she is not in favor of “raising single and family rates, but on pool party rates, does it have to be as much of an increase?”

Painting/resurfacing at the pool

Commissioners elected to table the proposed work until the commission’s April 7 meeting to allow Community Development Director Robert Uhler to contact the low bidder.

Uhler informed commissioners bids were taken for the project and four bids were received. The low bidder was Fort Dem Enterprises of Wichita, $23,041. Other bidders were Insco Industries of Shawnee, $31,140; Red Leaf Corporation of Fort Scott, $32,349, and H2 Painting of Fort Scott, $69,750. Uhler asked for approval of the low bid.

Commissioners discussed whether this is currently a necessary project.

“Why is there such a variance in bids?” Pete Allen said.

Uhler said the city out a “very detailed spec list.” Regarding the bids, Uhler said “different prices, different people.”

Pete Allen asked if anyone had talked to the two Fort Scott bidders “about why they’re so much higher than the low bid? I’m all for local people if they’re capable of doing the job. I think we should talk to the local bidders.”

“Is this a necessity or need?” Kevin Allen said.

Uhler said the work would be preventative maintenance that has been “put off a couple years.

“It’s on its sixth or seventh year now,” he said. “It’s starting to show wear and tear.”

Roof replacement at wastewater treatment plant

Commissioners approved a proposal from Zingre and Associates for $5,950 for the firm to draw up specifications for roof replacement at the wastewater treatment plant.

Public Utilities Director Michael Mix said the roof is 30 years old.

“We’re going to replace it anyway,” he said. “It’s been in our capital improvement plans. It’s leaking and getting worse so I’d like to replace it. It’s a flat roof.”

Mix asked for approval for Zingre and Associates to make specifications and write up plans for the work so it can go out to bid.

“Tonight, it’s only those services so we can bid it,” Mix said.

“Why do we need someone to look at it when we can have roofers look at it for free?” Kevin Allen asked.

“In order to be truly fair, you need a written set of plans and specifications from an engineer or architect,” Mix said.

Kevin Allen asked Mix if other bids were obtained.

“No,” Mix said. “This is not something we normally get bids on. We could do a request for proposal or request for qualifications and interview several engineers or architects. That would take a long time. Rick Zingre is the only local architect I know of, and he’s qualified.”

Repairs to the water treatment plant

Commissioners approved low bids on four items for restoration work at the water treatment plant.

Mix informed commissioners that bids were taken for restoration work at the plant’s maintenance shop, which was damaged in a 2019 fire. The work will be paid for using insurance funds. The work was broken out into four separate bids.

The first part was Contract for Cleaning work and two bids were received; Home Center Construction of Pittsburg, $28,405, and Insco Industries of Shawnee, $62,850. The second part was for masonry restoration and coatings and two bids were received; Home Center Construction, $31,160 and Insco Industries, $38,010. The third part is for mechanical, electrical and plumbing work and two bids were received; Home Center Construction, $32,315 and CDL Electric of Fort Scott, $43,310. The fourth part is for window and door replacement and two bids were received; Buildet LLC of Nevada, Mo., $45,000, and Home Center Construction, $51,250.

Mix asked for approved of the low bid for each item as recommended by Zingre and Associates.

“We have taken bids to restore that building and make it functional,” Mix said, adding Zingre has been involved “through the entire process.”

Commission comments

Pete Allen asked if a decision had been made about scheduling a meeting with the county regarding sharing resources.

“I think this commission should go to the county commission and see what we can do to help each other,” he said.

Martin said he could contact Bourbon County Commission Chairman Lynne Oharah and set up a meeting.

Kevin Allen said city commissioners should also meet each quarter with the USD 234 Board of Education and Fort Scott Community College Board of Trustees. He said he would also talk to Oharah about setting up a meeting.

Nichols asked that an agenda be made for the meetings so “we stay on topic.”