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Council discuss costs facing city

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

Lewisburg councilmen last week took steps toward replacing a climate control system at the recreation center, buying a mulch machine and demolishing the old red brick school on First Avenue.

All councilmen were present Tuesday evening, Jan. 31, when another financial issue was considered. Ordinances are drafted to warn and, if necessary, fine building owners whose fire and burglar alarm system malfunctions cause unnecessary city expenses, according to Councilman Ronald McRady.

The council's next session is 6 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall where, according to Councilman Steve Thomas, the city treasurer, Donna Park, is gathering information for additional consideration on whether Lewisburg should switch from an insurance broker in Hohenwald to one in Lewisburg.

Recreation Director Jimmy Stitt discussed the Rec Center's indoor pool dehumidification system, an HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system made by Dectron Internationale Inc., a company that describes itself as a global provider of highly-engineered custom and semi-custom indoor air quality and HVAC products and services. City officials have struggled with allegations that the Rec-Center's Dectron system was improperly installed.

"This is the kind of thing they don't build until you buy," Thomas said. "We've applied for a TVA grant for this since it will be an energy savings for the city on power bills."

The unit's cost, contract, and complexities surrounding the unit have been discussed at length and Thomas said he anticipates more regarding the Dectron unit.

Meanwhile, Public Works Director Kenny Ring has asked the council to approve purchase of a wood chipper, Thomas said.

City crews collect yard brush and now it's "got quite a backlog of brush" at the city garage site along 5th Avenue, Thomas said. Disposal costs are postponed by not taking the waste to a landfill, but it's not a long-term solution.

The chipper recommended by Ring costs approximately $247,000, the councilman said.

"It's a great big machine with at least four tires for the trailer," Thomas said of the chipper. "It chews up whole tree trunks. It has a conveyor belt and there are knives on a drum to grind the trees into mulch or shred."

Buying the chipper "would allow us to create mulch for use at the park," he said.

Another topic discussed during the non-voting workshop was the issue of false alarms. Fire Chief Larry Williams sought council support for an ordinance to deal with false alarms caused by mechanical systems and Police Chief Chuck Forbis has said his officers face similar problems with burglar alarms. The proposed ordinances were also discussed during a council retreat at Henry Horton State Park last year.

Drafts of both ordinances were reviewed Jan. 31 and are likely topics for the council's regular monthly meeting on Tuesday next week.

False alarms create more expenses for the Fire Department than the Police Department, Thomas said.

An increasing schedule of responses to false alarms is proposed, he said. Nothing is done as a result of the first false alarm, other than a recording of the city's response. After a second false alarm, the building's owner, or plant manager, is sent a letter with a copy of the ordinance. After a third false alarm prompts the city to send a warning letter. The fourth false alarm generates another notice and a $50 penalty.

It can't be a fine," Thomas said, describing what the fire department may do. "It has to be a reimbursement for the actual cost for that response. "The letter goes on to say we'll take it to city court," if necessary.

A separate false alarm ordinance was drafted for city police and it's also set for consideration on Tuesday.

There's a two-story red brick building on First Avenue North near Old Farmington Road. It was a school decades ago. A woman owned the building, but it was acquired by the city and Marshall County at a delinquent property tax sale. The front porch and balcony have deteriorated and fallen down. Kudzu flourishes around the building in the summer.

Demolition has been contemplated by city officials for more than a year, but legalities, measured against public safety have prompted city leaders to proceed slowly.

"We've given David (Orr, the city manager,) permission to prepare what must be prepared" for demolition, Thomas said.

A recurring subject of concern has been the prospect that the building may contain asbestos, a carcinogen if tiny particles are inhaled.

But now, with patient and deliberate examination, Thomas said, "Perhaps there's not as much asbestos there as feared... We know it will take a crane to knock it down."

The rubble must go to a (demolition) landfill at Columbia," he said.

"None of these items are funded in the budget, so the question is whether to dip into the reserves, or not," Thomas said.

"We did ask the city treasurer and manager to prepare a capital improvement budget" for the next several years, the councilman said.

Such spending plans are developed to avoid the prospect of suddenly facing "things that have a six-figure need for fix," Thomas said. The University of Tennessee's Municipal Technical Advisory Service "recommends capital budgets. It's not rocket science."

Another spending issue considered by councilmen included health insurance for city employees.

Representatives of Collins & Miller Insurance attended the meeting "asking that we move our insurance," Thomas said. "They're also Blue Cross-Blue Shield" agents, the same underwriter used by the city now. The pitch to councilmen was that the city should buy locally. The city treasurer is also to have information on insurance when the council meets on Feb. 14.

The non-voting workshop was 4-6 p.m.