Eighth Street

While the city of Abilene has shut down all nonessential business works some work, still continues like the Eighth Street project pictured here. The city is paving Eighth Street from Washington Street to Van Buren Street.

Both the Abilene mayor and city manager warned that the COVID-19 pandemic will have lasting impact on the city of Abilene at a special meeting Friday morning via Youtube.

While the future of the city finances wasn’t on the agenda, is was an important item of discussion.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly issued a state-wide stay at home order for nonessential personnel through April 29 which the city commission also adopted.

City Manager Jane Foltz said department heads are working on budgets.

“Things will change,” she said. “We may not have as many capital improvement projects. We are still going to plan for those.”

She said projections for sales tax are down as much as 25 percent and property tax down 15 percent.

“Just recently we hear that franchise fees, because some manufacturing is shutting down, not so much locally but state and nationwide, there may be some changes there,” Foltz said. “I have had Marcus (Rothchild, finance director) busy working at those fees.

“Even though the office is closed, the leadership is working everyday,” she said.

“With uncertainty with this pandemic, we will be adjusting our current budget,” she said.

“We’re in uncharted waters. From what I am hearing from other cities and municipalities is we are not going to have the revenue to continue our current operations in the city,” said Mayor Chris Ostermann.

The commission vote 4-0, with Commissioner Tim Shafer absent, to:

• Continue to follow the city commission schedule of holding regular meetings at 4 p.m. the second and fourth Monday of each month;

• Continue to follow the city commission schedule of holding study sessions at 4 p.m. on the Mondays prior to regular meetings;

• Not allow members of the public to be present;

• Broadcast both regular meetings and study sessions live on Youtube;

• Publish an agenda on Friday before all meetings;

• Allow public comments only on agenda items up until noon on the Monday before each meeting;

• Call special meetings as needed.

Expanding authority

City Attorney Aaron Martin said he prepared an emergency declaration which was modeled by the League of Kansas Municipalities to give more authority to the city manager.

The commission failed to vote on the resolution as there was no motion.

The resolution said in part:

“Section 1. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the City Manager is hereby vested, temporarily, with the authority to make all decisions in regard to personnel and city operations without the need for Governing Body approval for said action.

“This grant includes the authority and discretion to:

“(a) close city facilities;

“(b) suspend city operations;

“(c) temporarily amend, extend, or suspend policies and procedures, including purchasing and personnel policies, of the city in response to the emergency;

“(d) make decisions concerning the grant of additional leave or benefits to city employees;

“(e) make decisions regarding cancellation of affected meetings of the City’s subordinate boards, committees and commissions;

“(f) make decisions and purchases exceeding previously established purchasing authority granted by the Governing Body; and

“(g) make other decisions deemed necessary to continue city operations and secure the wellbeing and safety of city employees and the public-at-large in response to the emergency

“while potentially if three of the five commissioners are unable to attend a meeting for any reasons, the commission could not vote.”

“This is a temporary resolution during this emergency so that we can continue city business,” Foltz said.

“You are the city manager. You do have authority. Why do you want unlimited authority?” asked commissioner Dee Marshall.

Martin said the resolution is completely at the discretion of the city commission as is any resolution.

“It’s difficult to anticipate what things can occur during this emergency,” Martin said.

At the last meeting, the commission approved expanding the authority of the city manager on expenditures.

“Some things need to be amended in personnel policy. That is a big, big factor for people,” Ostermann said.

“Relying on one person to make those decisions, I’m not comfortable with. I feel that this has to be charted through the city commission and the city manager,” she said. “We don’t know the expectations of how long this will last but it will affect our city operations and financials.”

“There are things on this list that really do bother me and I do think it puts a lot of burden on one person,” said Commissioner Dee Marshall. “That is what we were elected to do, is guide the city manager.”

Commissioner Trevor Witt agreed with some of the expanded authority but wanted to take out sections c, d and f.

Commissioner Brandon Rein said parts of the resolution are “vague.”

“Suspending city operations and closing city facilities, taxpayer funded buildings and taxpayer funded services should be a decision coming from a commission elected by the taxpayers. I have a problem with those two,” he said.

Unique meeting

The emergency meeting Friday was held in the Abilene Public Library and was seen live by as many as 27 viewers on Youtube. A replay of the 1 hour and 11 minute video is available at Youtube.com by searching Abilene Ks city commission.

The meeting was held in accordance with an emergency declaration by Attorney General Derek Schmidt that the commission could meet without the public being present if audio or video recording of the meeting is available on its website or internet location.

“You need to state your name and each time they begin speaking,” City Attorney told the commission. “Also, each time you vote, remember to state your name.”

Foltz reported the city is continuing to provide essential services through the stay-at-home order.

She reported on three items. The purchase of the former Webb Home Lumber is complete. Discussion continues with Rural Water District No. 2 for a rate increase. Work on the northeast drainage project continues as does the Eighth Street project.

Bids were received on street repairs of Elm and Rogers streets with funds coming from the 2019 budget. Those bids came in 33 percent under the estimate.

“I think there are people out there looking for work,” she said.

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

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