The following represents an unofficial account of the significant items discussed and/or voted upon during the February 8, 2016 City Council Regular Meeting. The complete agenda packet is found here, here and here and a video of the meeting can be viewed here. Draft meeting minutes will be posted on the city website in the March 2016 Regular Meeting Agenda packet.
City Attorney’s Annual Evaluation – Committee Chair Chuck Hope motioned to approve a contract extension of one year until March 1, 2018 and to provide a 2% raise. Motion passed unanimously.
CONSENT AGENDA 4 items passed unanimously
c. Resolution awarding a contract o Ingram Equipment to refurbish the Vac-Con sewer vacuum truck for $80,000.
b. Resolution authorizing transfer of tax equivalents from the electric and waterworks funds to the general fund and distributed between the City of Oak Ridge, Anderson and Roane Counties.
a. Resolution indicating the intent of the city to issue bonds or other obligation of indebtedness not to exceed $500,000 to finance the preliminary activities towards the acquisition, construction and equipping of school facilities for use as a pre-kindergarten (whose total cost has currently been projected at $7.5 Million). Motion passed 6-1 with Baughn voting Nay.
The quality of program is not in question nor is it at risk since Head Start is ultimately responsible for administering the program.
Oak Ridgers are exceedingly generous when it comes to education. 74% of our general fund debt was spent on our schools and 51% of our property taxes go directly to our school system. We are one of the heaviest school systems in the state, yet, our spending has not yielded acceptable results. Per the most recent State of TN report card, roughly 58% of our economically disadvantaged and 63% of our minority population are performing below grade level in math and reading grades 3-8.
We are a poor city who spends taxpayer money like a rich one. We cannot have unlimited debt with an increasingly growing poor population and then use those people as our excuse to spend more money. I maintain my position that the best and highest use of $7.5M is not another nice-to-have, non-necessity capital project.
b. Resolution accepting a $2.9M grant from TVA related to the Extreme Energy Makeover Project; approving a professional services agreement with Gilmartin Engineering Works (GEW) to administer the grant and to authorize the expenditure of the grand funds. Motion passed 5-0-1 with Chinn having recused himself (GEW is a tenant of his father’s) and Baughn abstaining.
I initially motioned to divide the question into three separate parts. The motion failed with only Gooch and Hope supporting my motion. I support accepting and expending the grant funds and think this is a tremendous opportunity for our community. However, I take issue with the fact that council was provided documentation on the issue less than 48 hours prior to our meeting, the public was left completely in the dark until our meeting and it is being awarded to a firm hand picked by the city manager without solicitation of bids. Most of my questions were answered to my satisfaction, however, I could not support awarding a nearly $3M contract without stronger justification for circumventing the competitive process.
PUBLIC HEARINGS AND FIRST READING OF ORDINANCES
An ordinance to amend Title 14 “Zoning and Land Use Control” by replacing Ch 5 “Erosion Control and Stormwater Management” with a new chapter entitled “Stormwater Management” in order to comply with the TDEC MS4 program. Motion passed unanimously.
XIII. SUMMARY OF CURRENT EVENTS
City manager’s report: Update on Waste Connections Contract Extension
Mr. Watson reported that Waste Connections rescinded its request for a five year extension, five years in advance of their contract expiration (read more about it here). Their retraction appears to have occurred subsequent to the city receiving this letter (Santek Solid Waste Letter Oak Ridge TN ) from a potential competitor. Interestingly enough, the documentation overwhelmingly refutes Waste Connections primary argument for a no bid contract extension which was that if forced to bid, their rates would definitely increase. As you will read, in all four examples, their rates decreased, in one case by as much as 42%. That equals $1.3M of our current contract which we are stuck with for five more years. Mr. Watson has yet to answer my question about that contract which is this: How much of the total contract pays for backdoor service? We have repeatedly been given per household data, but not a total sum paid to the contractor. As best as I can discern, $2M of the total $2.8M contract pays for recycling and weekly trash pickup. Since back door service was emphasized by Waste Connections as the most important and most cost-efficient of their services, it is important to know precisely what we are paying.