At its Tuesday evening meeting, City Council gave its approval to moving forward with two significant ongoing projects: the purchase of a new city hall and the installation of traffic light monitors to detect red-light runners.
Given his new position and the new members of the council, interim city manager Mark Schiefer requested direction on the pursuit of the former Church of Latter-day Saints for the future home of city hall. Schiefer said that he and others (including Realtors involved in the transaction) had joined a conference call during the past week with representatives of the church. The church has expressed interest in the city's letter of intent to buy the property.
Council president Debra Jones initiated the discussion by reiterating her opinion that the building is by far the best option for a new city hall available. Its location recommends it, as it keeps city offices near the core of the city, simply at the other end of the Linear Park. It also has many of the amenities required by the city.
The church has had an ongoing concern about having sufficient parking spaces available as the congregation grows. Their initial intention was to add parking on the south side of the new church, almost immediately abutting the building that would become city hall. The caused concern in the city, as the space on the north side is needed to allow traffic to flow all the way around the building and provide room for a drive-through facility.
One of the options that had been considered in the past was to do a "land-swap," in which the city would cede a piece of land on the west side of the church in exchange for the land immediately abutting the intended city hall building. This would allow the church to expand its parking to the west, while leaving the city sufficient land to accommodate drive-through traffic.
Newly-elected councilman Brooks Holloway asked the inevitable question: How are we going to pay for it? This had, of course, been discussed at length in many previous council meetings and the likeliest options were briefly described and discussed. The most popular option involves acquiring short-term financing to purchase the property and paying it off when the existing city hall property is sold. The ins and outs of that approach were scrutinized.
A suggestion that the council look into USDA loans was met with skepticism by Councilman Holloway; he recommended that the city not even go through the application, so slim was the chance of acceptance. On the other hand, City Attorney Fugate said that he was aware that last year the USDA was actively seeking applicants for its low-interest-rate loans.
Schiefer had asked for guidance - and he came away with it. Continue the negotiations to purchase the property, including the land swap - and find a way to finance the purchase, USDA loans included.
Police chief Dan Davis presented council with a proposed contract with Traffipax, the firm that has been lobbying to install red-light violation equipment and systems in Williston. He explained that the contract was a basic one and that specifics, including the placement of the cameras, would be added later.
Davis also said that proposed legislation specifically legalizing the use of photo equipment for detection of red-light violations had not been enacted during the recently-ended legislative session. In the past attorney Fugate has advised against this system because, though not specifically prohibited by state statute, such systems are also not specifically permitted.
The city, however, has decided to go ahead. Jones said that she felt that it was an ideal time to acquire the system because, once enabling legislation is finally passed, cities much larger than Williston would be clamoring for Traffipax's services.
Council gave its approval to the base contract, to be amended as appropriate.
City attorney Fugate asked that it be made part of the record that he, awaiting action by the legislature, had not reviewed the contract. He said that he would do so promptly, and, on Wednesday morning sent a memo to council members listing 14 areas of concern with the contract which he recommends they review.
Councilman Cal Byrd asked that Ordinance 582, which would abolish the Airport Committee, be reintroduced, as it had been tabled. Once the ordinance was available for discussion, Byrd made a motion to deny the ordinance (thus leaving the airport committee intact.) Council accepted the motion on a 4-1 vote, councilman Shoemaker dissenting.
The franchise agreement with Central Florida Electric Co-op expired at the beginning of March, but the old agreement remains in effect. That agreement contains a franchise fee, paid by the co-op to the city, of 6 percent. In 1997, council passed an ordinance mandating that all franchise fees must be 13 percent. City attorney Fugate and former city manager Jim Coleman met with the Co-op manager to discuss renewal of the franchise agreement with a higher fee included.
The Co-op manager told them quite frankly, according to Fugate, that the Co-op wished to extend the current agreement for as long as possible at the present rate. They further showed no interest in negotiating the sale of their facilities to the city, which provides electric service in some of the same areas. Finally, according to Fugate, "They pointed out that any increase in the franchise fee would be passed along to the customer." It would be the city, Fugate pointed out, that would be the recipient of the complaints should that happen.
After extensive discussion, including the issue of the city expanding its service offering in the territory currently served by CFEC, council asked attorney Fugate to negotiate a short-term (e.g. five-year) lease with an increased franchise fee.
In other business:
Permission to construct public water systems and wastewater collection/transmission systems was given for the Meadow Oaks and Stonewall subdivisions.
Council approved Cost Solutions Inc. to provide an audit of the city's workers' compensation insurance. Schiefer had briefly explained the methodology to be used and the timing of the audit.
Resident Jack Kearney asked about the lime in the city's water. He said that a problem with his dishwasher had led to his realization of the high concentrations of lime in the local water supply. He asked whether the city or the individual could take any steps, short of installing a water softening system, to decrease lime content. Without any attempt to be facetious, Public Works Director James Arrington said simply, "Boil it." He said he'd been aware of the problem over the years but had found no magic cure for it. Kearney thanked the council for its time.
Joe Delfino, president of the Williston Animal Group, gave council a brief update on WAG's progress at the airport property. He indicated that the cement will be poured early next week for two kennel buildings, each of which will comfortably house 12 dogs. The twin buildings are separated by and surrounded by extensive dog runs.
The closing of Northwest Main Street was discussed briefly. Several members of the council had expressed dismay about the appearance of the current barriers. Troy Burrell told the council that the remodeling of the first block of North Main Street, a Community Redevelopment Agency project, was set to begin in the very near future, and it took into account that portion of the street that is currently so unsightly. Council decided to leave the intersection as is and allow the modifications to be made according to CRA plans.
The 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 public is encouraged to attend and to participate.