Ice storm clean-up totaled $667,665

Friday, May 8, 2009

BERRYVILLE -- The City of Berryville spent nearly three-quarters of a million dollars on limb cleanup following January's devastating ice storm.

The city billed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) a grand total of $667,655 for the work that was done, Mayor Tim McKinney reported at Tuesday's city council meeting.

Of that, the city is responsible for $83,456, representing its 12.5 percent share, he said.

Everyone, including the contractors involved in the cleanup process, have been paid using city reserve funds, McKinney said.

He complimented all involved in the process, those documenting the work and the monitors and city workers.

McKinney extended a special thanks to the city council for running a fiscally sound ship, which made it possible for the city to pay out more than half a million dollars, saying not many cities are in a position to do that.

He went on to say that although he met with FEMA officials a number of times and they agreed with the figures, it was not a done deal.

"This does not guarantee 100 percent payment," he cautioned. "But, we're well documented. Everyone did a really good job with that."

Moving on to other matters, McKinney suggested the city consider refinancing its Berryville Community Center bond, saying the city would save $80,957 over the life of the bond without extending the payback period.

A $62,000 savings would be realized the first year in the form of "accelerated reduction savings," he said, which would come in handy considering the unexpected ice storm expenses and loss in revenue because of the economic downturn.

According to Administrative Assistant Jay Lee, the current bond rate is set at 3.35 percent for 2009. The interest rate increases in increments until the payoff in 2017, when the rate will be at 4.40 percent.

If restructured, he said, the interest rate would fall to 1.25 percent for 2009, and increase each year, up to a rate of 3.20 percent in 2017.

Lee confirmed there are state usury laws limiting what lenders can charge, making it difficult for bond holders to profit at today's low interest rates.

McKinney confirmed that the refinancing may not be possible -- but said it was "something worth looking at."

In other business, the council approved, on its first reading, an ordinance changing the distribution of sales tax revenues, as McKinney proposed at a previous meeting.

The only change, Alderman Cindy George pointed out, is 10 percent will go to the city's water system fund, instead of to the sewer fund.

McKinney had requested the change to pay for upcoming water line improvement projects, saying he believed there would be enough money remaining from the voter- approved sewer plant bond to pay for sewer rehab work. The ordinance requires two more readings.

The council approved the 2007 audit report, as recommended by Alderman George, who worked with auditors to get the job done.

McKinney said it was a "good audit." He thanked George and Lee for working with the auditors, and said the next audit would be completed in a more "timely manner."

A review period was possible, he said, but urged the council to accept it as presented, explaining that bonding agencies and others were anxiously awaiting the long overdue document.

George explained some of the audit findings, making suggestions for further "segregation" of duties, a situation faced by all cities with small staffs. She said the city's software program, which closes out each year and doesn't allow re-entry for adjustments, could be improved, but concluded her assessment by saying, "I feel good about going ahead and approving it." She made a motion to do so and the audit was accepted without further discussion.

A service agreement contact for computer and network repair and maintenance services was approved as presented by McKinney.

It is with Customer Computer Services (CCS), an offshoot of First National Bank of Berryville, that serves only its banking customers.

McKinney said the issue of a contract was raised after there were repeated computer problems at the Berryville Community Center and director Emma Hamilton suggested they have something in writing for the services provided by CCS.

He said Hamilton was happy with their work and he was "very pleased" with the work they had done at city hall.

The agreement sets prices for various services, such as those done in-house, remotely, or those involving travel.

Before adjourning, McKinney said he expected to have an ordinance ready for the council's consideration at an upcoming meeting that would allow city water hookups beyond city limits, in certain situations where a new city line crosses the property.

He said it is all part of the new water planning district -- a work-in-progress to extend city water to areas where the city is expected to grow. The west end of Berryville, out to the Outpost, is first in the process.

On a final note of the night, George referenced her regular Monday meetings with the unsightly conditions "trash" team, and said citizens were given some leeway because of the ice storm and abundant rains.

"People are having a hard time mowing between rains," she said. "But, this is a warning to get with it. Everyone needs to get their nest cleaned up."

The council's next meeting is set for 6 p.m., Tuesday, May 19, at city hall.

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