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Red light cameras likely soon

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By Pat Hibbs

For the Williston City Council, it was an evening for celebration and for decisions. The celebrations honored outstanding students in the Williston schools as well as six members of the Williston High School class of 2008 who have joined the U.S. Navy. Two major business items - electronic surveillance of red-light running and efforts to establish a new city hall at the north end of the Linear Park - were resolved after months of consideration and discussion. The council room was full to overflowing with relatives and friends of the honorees. School honors were awarded to Blake Stacey of Joyce Bullock Elementary School, Angela Epps of Williston Elementary, Kelsey Whitehurst of Williston Middle School and Jordan Rivera of Williston High School. The prospective sailors are Jonathan Adams, Mickey Acree, Christina Bell, Thomas Fretts, Martin Freese, and Bradley Seley. Each was given a certificate noting their "honorable decision to serve our great Nation and all her citizens." Mayor Gerald Hethcoat thanked them, on behalf of the council and the citizens, for their courage and patriotism in deciding to serve their country in the Navy. The on-again, off-again camera system to track vehicles that run red lights is on again, as the council voted 4-1 to accept the contract hammered out between the city and Traffipax, the provider of the service. Larry Mathieson, who represented Traffipax, appeared before the council to verify the company's agreement with the contract as presented by city attorney Norm Fugate, who had negotiated several changes to the standard document. The most significant of those changes was the elimination of steep termination fees to be assessed against the city should it end the contract without cause before the expiration date. Fugate said that Traffipax would have normal legal recourse in the event of premature contract termination without sufficient cause. Mathieson hastened to reassure councilman Steve Holcomb that those who turn right on a red signal after a full stop would not be cited for a violation. He said that the camera system's software allows for right turn on red, and added that, in any case, all suspected violations are reviewed by Williston Police Department personnel before citations are issued. Councilman Brooks Holloway, who joined the body only in April and has not been privy to earlier discussions, asked whether the system was seen as a revenue stream or a necessary tool for law enforcement in the city. When council president Debra Jones answered that it was both, Holloway wondered aloud whether it was going to be "too much sugar for a dime," whether the costs to the city (in personnel to review the tapes, for example) would be covered by the revenue generated. Chief Dan Davis said that he planned to absorb the review duties into current staff assignments. With Holloway dissenting, council directed Fugate to prepare the final contract so that it can be executed promptly. After the contract is signed, Traffipax personnel will meet with city officials to finally determine which intersections will be outfitted with the cameras. The city will need to provide signage indicating the use of electronic traffic monitoring devices. In closing, Mathieson commended Fugate to the council for his strong advocacy for the city in the negotiations. Discussion turned to the purchase of the former Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as Williston's new city hall. Jones said that she had been blindsided at the council's previous meeting when city manager Mark Schiefer and councilmen Holloway and Cal Byrd had expressed doubts about the building as appropriate to the city's purpose. Jones said she had been under the impression that everyone was in agreement and that the city was ready to move forward. She said too that the church had acceded to all of the city's requests, including lowering the price of the building and granting easements for utility lines. She said she felt that the building was ideal for the city's use, but agreed with Schiefer that some modifications will be required to adequately address the city's needs. Councilman Mike Shoemaker, who said that he was satisfied with the plans for the new facility, moved that Schiefer proceed with an option contract, the next step in the process. Byrd seconded the motion and then offered comments about his decision, given the qualms he expressed at the last meeting. He said that during his long tenure with the city he had watched the current building deteriorate and the staff outgrow the facilities. He said too that he would ideally like to see a solution other than the church, preferably new construction designed specifically to the city's needs. He conceded, however, that the church building was probably the only practical and cost-effective solution available to the city now, and that "it's time" to move on with the project. That sentiment was echoed by others included in the discussion, though Holloway seemed still not to be convinced. Asked about the funds for the project, Schiefer estimated that it would cost a million dollars after all is said and done. Jones said that any of the other option that had been discussed, however briefly, could run to $ 3 million or more. The motion to proceed with the option contract was approved by Jones, Shoemaker, Byrd and Holcomb, with Holloway abstaining. Council accepted with regret the notice that city clerk Barbara Henson will retire effective June 30, 2009. Jones expressed her thanks for the long notice period. There was discussion about whether to fill the position from the inside or to advertise in outside papers. Schiefer said he planned to follow normal procedure in advertising the position internally and interviewing those who show interest and are qualified. Hiring from outside may also be considered. Henson suggested that the designated replacement be assigned to her for training beginning in September, giving the successor some feeling for the budget process and adequate training in election procedures. Council agreed. Council discussed the latest version of a sample contract for a city manager, making some changes, and asking Henson to incorporate those changes and submit the contract for further consideration. Schiefer brought up a subject that had been discussed at the last meeting: the selection of additional consulting engineers for the Williston airport. Former city manager Jim Coleman had requested bids for that position and ten had been received. Schiefer was one of a panel of four people who were asked to review the bids and rate the firms' suitability for the position. He said at Tuesday's meeting that a thorough review of each application was a time-consuming process and wondered about the need for it. He said that three major projects (taxiway H, the apron and FBO improvements) had already been awarded to Earth Tech, which has, according to Jones, provided excellent service to the city for many years. He concluded that there might not be sufficient work for a new or additional engineer for a couple of years. Jim Kriss, representing Avcon, Inc., one of the firms who had bid on the contract, rose from the audience to say that his company - and probably many of the others who had bid - understood the situation. However, he said, needs may arise suddenly for which the city would need additional help, and his company would like to be waiting in the wings should the need arise. He said that, for example, Avcon has extensive experience in airport lighting, and might be able to design a solar-powered taxiway light system, which would likely be financed by FAA and other government agencies. Kriss urged the council to continue to consider additional consulting engineers and they agreed. In the roundtable that ends every meeting, Fire Chief Lamar Stegall told council that Levy County had temporarily discontinued the services of Medic 7, one of the two units that served Williston. He said that the county will reopen Medic 7, but with reduced capacity, in that it will be only a BLS (Basic Life Support) unit instead of its former status as an ALS (Advanced Life Support). The former includes only EMTs while the latter carries paramedics. Councilman Byrd confirmed that Levy County EMS is having staffing problems and is short seven paramedics at this time. City Council meets on the first and third Tuesdays of the month (unless the first day of the month is Tuesday) at 7 p.m. in the council chambers. The agenda is available online or at city hall on the Friday afternoon preceding the meeting. Public participation is encouraged.