Department heads make reports to City Council

By : 
DAVID PHILLIPS
SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE

City of Spring Valley department heads, as well as the mayor and city administrator, outlined their roles, changes within their departments and challenges they have faced to City Council members during an annual workshop Wednesday, Jan. 2.

City administrator Deb Zimmer led off the discussion by noting that there have been a lot of changes, much of them mandated by the state. She also noted that job duties of every department head have changed since they started their positions.

Zimmer noted that when she started, five people were in the office. Now, it is her, full-time Parks and Rec director John Fenske and deputy clerk Val Jorgenson, who is there two days a week.

Others have had similar situations mostly due to cuts starting in early 2000 to local government aid (LGA), which the state provides to help fund cities. She noted that when Chad Hindt became streets superintendent, he kept his maintenance worker duties as well, so he doubled up his workload. When Fenske started, the city had cleaning crews, managers of the pool and more rec staff, but they were all eliminated when LGA was cut. Jorgenson started out at City Hall, but now she does ambulance billing, which is why her hours at City Hall were cut. The city at one time had an outside service manage the wastewater treatment plant, but now the two city workers managing the plant also help out with streets.

The ambulance director used to be full time, but now the city has volunteer directors. That is a big savings, said Zimmer, because neighboring communities are paying directors $60,000 to $70,000 in salaries. She also noted that the service had 463 calls in 2018, as Spring Valley typically has a higher volume than neighboring communities.

One concern Zimmer raised is that the members making the most ambulance calls are all over 50 years of age. Even just one of those people leaving may cause issues for the service, leading to the question if the city wants to have paid employees instead of volunteers. That would likely cost the city $200,000 to $300,000, she said.

Zimmer also outlined various administrative policies and city procedures during her report.

Library

Library director Jenny Simon noted that the library has also faced some changes as the staff in 2014 when she started numbered five, but is now down to three. Also, it let go of the cleaning crew as that is done in-house now.

The biggest issue is fixing the exterior of the building as there is deterioration in the covering, which has been a challenge in finding someone wanting to deal with that type of material, reported Simon.

Overall, things are going well, she said, with a goal of bringing in more community programs.

Parks and Rec

Fenske noted that only three cities in the area — Kasson, St. Charles and Spring Valley — have full-time parks and rec directors. However, most other cities take care of the same duties as a director, but divide those duties up in a different way. He works with the parks, takes care of all youth programs, hires summer staff, handles the community center and pool, and lately he has been covering City Hall due to fewer staff members there.

In 2001, streets employee John Snyder worked 40 percent of his time at the parks, he noted. Also, there was a cleaning service at the Community Center, the city had pool and summer rec managers and the school did all the bussing. Fenske takes care of those things now.

He also pointed out that in 2000, the budget for the pool was $56,000. This year it was $39,000. Other areas also saw reductions, leading to a total reduction in Parks and Rec from the $163,000 levy in 2000 to $126,000 this year.

Streets

Hindt promised the new council members they would hear feedback from the public about snow removal at some point this year. Prior to the meeting, he decided to put together some figures to find out what the cost is for the city to remove snow during an average snowfall. He came up with 15 hours of time at a total cost of  $19,361, an amount that surprised him.

He added that they are looking at some options for salt because there is a certified trout stream in town and the state is looking at possible mandates.

He also put together some other figures for the council to consider. He said the city has:

• 16.3 miles of sewer main in town that needs to be maintained;

• 318 sanitary sewer manholes that need to be inspected and repaired when needed;

• 10.5 miles of storm sewer pipe;

• 145 storm sewer manholes;

• 480 catch basins to maintain;

• 23 miles of streets to inspect, maintain and plow.

The number two complaint after plowing is pot holes, said Hindt. Taking care of them now doesn’t help because snowplows take the material out, he added, so a temporary solution during winter is to fill them with rock.

Ambulance service

Volunteer co-director Sue Puffer also presented some numbers, starting with the 463 calls in 2018. About 140 to 160 of those were lift assists, she pointed out, which will always be common because of the aging population. Since there is no transport, the service doesn’t get reimbursement for those calls.

The service is pretty well equipped, but could use more help, she explained. The vast majority of calls are handled by just six or seven people.

Mike Zimmer, another co-director, said they are looking at holding an open house to get more staff. He pointed out that things are getting done with the people they have as they haven’t had to call the state to take the ambulance out of service due to lack of volunteers, something that wasn’t always the case before the volunteer directors took over.

“We have been very fortunate and I think that by giving us the opportunity to do that, our staff has stepped up and accepted some ownership, too,” said Zimmer. “Our staff has done a good job. There are a few that have taken a lot of call time,” but he feels an open house may create some more interest to help distribute the workload more evenly.

Puffer added that the service is working on bringing back the Explorer program by next fall to get young people interested.

Fire Department

New Fire Chief Brian Danielson said the department has 25 members, although one person with 48 years of experience will be retiring at the end of the month. The department is looking to add three members in the first quarter since two members also left last year.

The number of calls in 2018 was 39, which is well below the upper 40s and 50s during the several years prior to 2018, said Danielson.

Mayor

New Mayor Tony Archer said he wants to put an emphasis on everyone working together as a team.

“I appreciate everybody helping each other out and that’s what we’ll probably have to continue to do in order to stay afloat,” said Archer. “And I think the other thing we need to do is start promoting ourselves as far as a city.”

He’d like to see people getting the city’s name out to prospective residents and businesses. Although housing is important, the figures presented earlier in the meeting showed the importance of new business and industry, he added.

He’d also like seeing promoting within the town, too, such as holding an event where city departments are on display for residents to come in and talk to city officials, perhaps leading to more volunteers.

Archer said all of the department heads present at the meeting need to keep doing what they are doing, working more efficiently, “doing a great job keeping the budget down.”

Council

The council members had few words to say, but the two newest members — Chris Danielson and Luan Ruesink — said they look forward to the challenges while John Dols, who was appointed recently, congratulated the department heads and administrator, saying “you have done a great job, doing the best you can with little to nothing and hopefully we can do whatever we can to make your lives easier.”

 

Comments

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