The Lamar City Council dealt with several financial issues during their February 27 meeting…compensation for city employees who furthered their education for increased job performance, funding to help maintain an Amtrak route through southeast Colorado, a home winterization project for qualified citizens and the purchase of a replacement bookmobile for the Lamar Library.
The evening work session dealt with how to qualify incentives for continued education for city employees. As outlined by Lamar Fire Chief Marshall Cook, he, and several other city employees, were promised pay raises between 1% and 5% by former City Administrator Ron Stock when they completed additional educational goals or levels of certification for their jobs. The city council is now dealing with the fact that these were mostly verbal promises and there are no clearly defined or written guidelines on the progression of compensation. Current City Administrator Bill Pfeilsticker said a few qualified employees have received raises for their certification goals, but some of those are several percentage points higher than are normally given. On the average, Pfeilsticker explained, the city pays up to $250 a year to cover tuition costs for certification levels, but not for books, and the employee must study on their own time. If you do not pass the course with a C grade, there is no compensation given. Councilman PJ Wilson said, “Let’s give out raises first to our employees who haven’t had any increase for the past several years.” Councilman Kirk Crespin voiced a similar sentiment stating that the city hasn’t the funds to pay for all certifications. Chief Cook explained that within the fire department, about one course for certification takes a full year, with compensation at only 2% of salary. He stated that the La Junta fire department has a higher pay scale than Lamar for almost identical positions, and he’d rather train from within his department, than hire from without. City Leisure Services Director, Rick Akers said he and other department heads would like to see some clear cut policies for this matter. “These employees have gone ahead and on a verbal promise from a city administrator, paid for tuition to help improve their job performance, are we not going to honor that agreement?” The council was informed that about eight student loans have been enacted, but no dollar figure was attached to the tuition. The issue will be studied by the council. Pfeilsticker said he’d like the council to budget for a professional competitive salary survey for city employees for next year, in the neighborhood of $35,000. “It’s something we really need to do,” he remarked.
As compensation for an enviromental hazard created by contamination last year at the city’s six million gallon water tank, the state health department issued a $15,000 penalty against the city. Administrator Pfeilsticker told the council that cost could be increased to $22,500 that would be paid to the Governor’s Energy Office pending a decision from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment. The penalty would be paid off in the form of a weatherization project in Lamar for low income citizens. The council authorized Pfeilsticker to issue the project for approval, pending the amount does not exceed the $22,500 level and that local contractors be given first preference for the project, according to the city’s purchase policy.
The city council discussed, but took no action on funding for a Washington, DC lobbying firm, which would campaign to raise $112 million dollars in federal funding for repairs to help upgrade the BNSF/Amtrak rail line used by the Southwest Chief railroad route. Cities along the impacted route in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico are invited to join the Kansas Southwest Coalition to hire Alston & Bird, LLP for lobbying services to promote funding to upgrade the track. The total cost is estimated at $300 million. Garden City, KS has pledged $20,000 for the first year. La Junta City Manager Rick Klein said he’d try to fund an equal amount to pay for the estimated $12,000 a month needed to secure the lobbying firm. City Treasurer Linda Rohlman said the city had about $10,000 that could be used, but the council decided to wait to see how many other cities would weigh in with how much funding before they decided to commit any money. City Councilman Skip Ruedeman attended some preliminary meetings on the matter and stated that Amtrak could alter the route to bypass Colorado by January 2014. Lamar has just under 2,000 passengers using Amtrak each year and La Junta has close to 8,000 riders, plus some 17 Amtrak employees in their city.
The council authorized $15,000 in budgeted funds for the purchase of a replacement bookmobile for the Lamar Library. The county is contributing $12,500 to buy a 2012 Dodge Grand Caravan which will be put into service, replacing the 1996 bookmobile. A smaller vehicle, the Outreach Services Caravan was purchased in a state bid for $20,786. In other library news, the council approved Judy Arnold for a five year term on the Lamar LIbrary Advisory Board. Deano Scranton was also approved for a renewed five year term on the Planning and Zoning Commission, marking his fourth term in that position.
No specific dollar figure was available, but the council approved donating material and services to the upcoming state high school championship rodeo scheduled for later this spring in Lamar. The rodeo will be held at the Prowers County Fairgrounds, with several hundred participants and families expected. The city will supply an ambulance standby, drive-thru police security, picnic tables and extra dumpsters and will contribute about 400 free passes to the municipal swimming pool for contestants.
2012 is the Year of the Girl, so designated in a proclamation highlighting the 100th year of Girl Scouts in America, and read by councilmember Anne-Marie Crampton and Mayor Roger Stagner. Several scouts joined councilmembers at their seats while the proclamation was being read. In other action, Stagner read the oath of office to Michael Harris, the city’s latest police officer. Harris was pinned by his wife Roxanne. Administrator Pfeilsticker updated the council on calendar events including their monthly informal breakfast set for Daylight Donut on March 7 at 7am, Lamar Partnership Incorporated’s annual board meeting on February 29, Daylight Savings Time resumes on March 11, a city council retreat will be held at LCC on March 16, the city-wide spring clean up day will be April 21 and several council members will attend the 90th annual Colorado Municipal League conference in Breckinridge in mid June.
The city council adjourned from the regular meeting to conduct two executive sessions, one dealing with personnel matters and the other to discuss a potential legal action against the city.
by Russ Baldwin
Filed under: Business, community, Economy, Education, Employment, Lamar, Politics, Tourism, Transportation, Utilities · Tags: Administrator Pfeilsticker, ambulance, Amtrak, BNSF/Amtrak, championship rodeo, City Leisure Services Director, Colorado Department of Health and Environment, education, Girl Scouts of America, Governor's Energy Office, incentives, job performance, Kirk Cespin, Lamar Fire Chief-Marshall, Lamar Library, lobby, PJ Wilson, Rick Akers, route