In the first meeting for the Marion Common Council in 2021, the next stage of Marion Utilities’ Long-Term Control Plan was officially greenlighted, while the potential new and updated ordinances addressing expenditures and the payment of bills that were first deliberated in mid-December were also discussed and debated.
The EPA established the CSO Long-Term Control Plan in the late 1990’s, which required that communities with combined sewer overflow structures, like Marion, put together a plan that would mitigate any overflow or discharge from those structures during wet weather.
Over the last three decades, Marion Utilities, and Executive Director Chuck Binkerd, have worked diligently towards full EPA compliance. With another wave of projects ready to begin, including a better system for disinfecting water as it flows through the system, as well as bigger tanks and a pumping station that would capture large volumes of flow and store them until inclement weather subsides, Marion Utilities was seeking a bond not to exceed 11 million.
The ordinance, General Ordinance No.18-2020, passed unanimously.
“We appreciate your support and your trust in us,” Executive Director Chuck Binkerd said. “We will continue to be good stewards of what you’ve entrusted us with.”
The majority of the meeting was focused on the six new and updated ordinances, which included the establishment of a Cumulative Capital Development Fund, a Cumulative Capital Improvement Fund, an Insurance Fund, and a Rainy Day Fund. Additionally, other ordinances would establish regulations on spending of the Economic Development Income Tax Fund and the General Fund.
The Council believes the establishment of these ordinances will regulate spending, and ensure funds are used for what they are intended for. With the passing of these ordinances, the Common Council would pre-approve anything over $5,000 before the service is acquired. After the product or service is acquired, the invoices would go to the city controller, and then to the Board of Works for payment.
Additionally, any bills under $5,000, and any that address salary, benefits, and demolitions, to name a few, would be processed and paid by the Board of Works, as usual.
“These ordinances are key steps to ensure we provide transparency for the public,” Council President Deborah Cain said. “As a council, we have an opportunity to make sure that all spending is an open book to the public, as it should be. And as both the administration and council have stated multiple times, this is not our money – it’s the taxpayers. We need to take these steps to get to that level of transparency.”
As expected, the potential, new structure was met with criticism and debate, particularly General Ordinance No. 22-2020, which would establish the Cumulative Capital Development Fund, which are funds used to protect the public health, welfare, and safety in emergency situations.
Councilman Mike Cline stated that stripping away one of the Board of Work’s primary duties, one they have performed admirably for over a century, is not good government.
“Improving communications with the Board of Works shouldn’t mean taking over the Board’s job,” Cline said. “I have talked with a bunch of people experienced in municipal government, past and present…and this is a recipe for gridlock. The Board of Works has filled this role for better than 100 years. The system is not broken. This seems to me like a power play that doesn’t, in the long term, make sense.”
Karen Arlend, who attended the meeting at the request of City Attorney Tom Hunt, stated that, legally, the ordinance would not be valid if it were to be adopted.
“There are specific statutory requirements for establishing, re-establishing, or amending a Cumulative Capital Development Fund,” Arlend said. “This ordinance does not follow any of those procedures, and failure to do so means that fund cannot be approved. This ordinance is not a valid ordinance if you adopt it.
Furthermore, all of the other ordinances are an “unlawful attempt to exercise the executive powers of the city.”
Alex Huskey, the new President of the Board of Works, asked the council that any action be delayed so that the Council and the Board of Works have an open and transparent conversation so all parties involved can understand what is going on and who is serving in what roles.
With these concerns in mind, the Council voted 5-3 in favor of tabling General Ordinance No. 22-2020 until further discussion with the Board of Works and legal counsel could be had. Cain stated that a Budget Committee Meeting with the full council, along with the Board of Works, would be established at a later date.
All of the other ordinances, 23-2020, 24-2020, 25-2020, 26-2020, and 27-2020 were passed to a third and final reading by a 5-3 margin.
Before the meetings got underway, Marty Harker was again selected as the Common Council’s attorney, while Brian Cowgill was nominated, and elected, as the Council’s new Vice President. Cain remained in her role as Council President.
The next Common Council meeting will take place on January 19 beginning at 7 pm.