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City agenda discusses patrol cars, energy funding, amongst others

Ashley Hunter

Greene Publishing, Inc.

On Tuesday, Oct. 11, the Madison City Commissioners met for their regular monthly meeting at City Hall.

It was a lengthy agenda, so the commissioners got started with a pledge, prayer and opened for citizen participation.

One citizen, a local woman, came to the commissioners to request information on why the investigation on the murder of her brother had not yet been completed.  According to the woman, she believed that if the case involved the murder of any other person, the investigation would have been finished before now.  The murder apparently took place on June 14 of this year. “I'm tired, I'm not getting answers as to when an arrest is gonna be made,” the citizen said. “I need some answers.”

Further, the citizen said she felt let down by the Madison Police Department (MPD).

In response, Mayor Jim Catron allowed the MPD's new chief, Reggie Alexander to address the accusations and the concerns brought up by the woman.

Chief Alexander said that it is still an ongoing investigation, where the information that can be provided is limited. “We cannot tell what time an arrest is going to be made, because while the case was under investigation, the subject also left the area,” said Chief Alexander. At this point, the case's paperwork has been provided to the office of the State Attorney, meaning the MPD is no longer the main authority over the case.

Mayor Catron thanked the woman for attending the meeting, but said that there was nothing the city or the police department could do to prod the State Attorney's office.

The consent agenda was adopted, and the commissioners moved forward to receive a fiscal sustainability plan analysis and an asset management plan from analyst Troy Cassidy. The analysis and plan will help pave the way for the city to receive government funds to repair or replace lift stations and other water/wastewater equipment.

According to Cassidy's inspection of 23 lift stations, two were in immediate fail, six would need replacing in the next five years, and four would need replacing in the next 10 years.

Cassidy also inspected manholes, and found many that were in disrepair as well.

While this isn't good news for Madison, Cassidy assured the council that they aren't alone in having these types of issues. Many cities focus on their roads, law enforcement, fire rescue and their parks and forget to keep tabs on their water and wastewater needs.

According to City Manager Tim Bennett, the issues that Cassidy addressed has long been a problem in Madison. “It is hard to be proactive when you are being reactive all the time,” said Bennett. “We are taking positive steps to do what we can do.”

Cassidy advised that through his company's planning service, the city could save money and keep updated equipment at the same time.

At present, the commissioners were not required to cast a vote on whether or not to accept Cassidy's service, but Bennett was advised to put together a contract in order to bring it before the commissioners at their next monthly meeting.

“Our eyes are opened,” said Mayor Catron regarding the condition of their wastewater equipment.

Also presenting services to the city was Terry Stark, who is a Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program provider. PACE is a private funding company that helps home and business owners get financing for repairs or upgrades to their residence or business, as long as the upgrades are energy related.

“[The PACE program] could help as another alternative for our citizens through financing energy related upgrades to their homes,” said Commissioner Ina Thompson, who introduced Stark and had invited him to come present his program.

A good credit score is not required by PACE, which makes it easier to get than a bank loan, but only as long as the project that the loan will be funding is energy related, such as roofing lighting, solar, insulation lining, etc. Further, Stark attested that PACE prefers working for local contractors, which helps local business; it helps improve building or home property value; and financing can be passed onto future owners of the home without a change to the loan's fixed rate.

However, as Stark informed the commissioners about the details of the PACE program, which offers financing to home owners with payments to PACE being sent out via their property tax bill and therefore needs the approval of local government, some of the commissioners and City Attorney Clay Schnitker expressed concerns.

Schnitker especially felt that financing through PACE might undermine the existing loans a home or business owner has with a bank, as a PACE loan could be added despite the presence of homeowner's loan or mortgage.

Approximately 77 cities or towns and eight counties have signed an agreement with PACE financing, and Stark did admit that many of the banks within those regions were not pleased with PACE entering into their territory. Stark said that after a while, the banks tend to realize that PACE only helps them by taking on high-risk people who do not have the credit score to take out a loan to upgrade their home.  Before entering a county or city, Stark said that representatives meet with the local banks to try and educate them on what PACE is, so they do not feel threatened.

Schnitker believed that there needed to be more thorough research into PACE before the commissioners approved it, and suggested that commissioners defer this decision to the County Commission.

The City Commissioners agreed through consensus to not make a decision on the PACE program.

Afterwards, water and wastewater impact fees were on the agenda, and City Manager Tim Bennett was directed, along with the rest of city staff, to bring more information about the current moratorium on the impact fees to another meeting, which the commission agreed to extend the moratorium to early 2017.

For the next order of business, Bennett provided the commissioners with various bids that had been gathered for an assortment of city work, which included tree service, small engine repair, pest control, and electrician service, amongst others. In the future, Bennett plans to have bids for security cameras at the public works, land clearing, website design and garbage collection, etc. Commissioners agreed to review the bids and determine whether the bids should be accepted or rebid.

As a contract for the design of the city's website was one of the bids to be placed, Commissioner Marcus Hawkins suggested that city staff look into possibly hiring local design students to handle the task, which would promote local business and encourage young web designers.

Commissioner Ina Thompson approved, but added that the design needed to be professional, and trusting a younger, less experienced, designer could be risky.

Bennett weighed in as well, saying that the design needs to be both professional, but also easily used and updated by city staff.  Currently, the staff at City Hall has limited access to what can be changed on their current website and the ability to make in-house changes is crucial.

Next, Mayor Catron provided the commissioners with information regarding how other cities, similar in size to Madison, handle 911 Communications, as Sheriff Ben Stewart had approached the commissioners a few meetings previously and requested they help shoulder the cost of operating the 911 Communications Center. According to the information Catron had gathered, Florida cities such as Hawthorne, High Springs, Jasper, Lake Butler, Dunnellon and Cross City all did not have their own dispatch, but that the service was provided by their Sheriff's Office. Only Chiefland had their own dispatch center, which was only open from 7 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. on Monday through Thursday, with their Sheriff's Office filling in the gaps.

Mayor Catron did not request a vote or decision from the commissioners, as they had already decided previously to turn down Sheriff Stewart's request.

Next, Chuck Hitchcock provided an update on various park upgrades that are underway thanks to FRDAP grants.  Commissioner Ina Thompson responded by suggesting that the commission and city staff should look into partnering with other groups instead of being so dependent on FRDAP. “We rely on FRDAP so much,” said Thompson. She suggested that the commission could see if the Madison Kiwanis Club, which focuses on children, would be interested in a park partnership.

Up next, MPD Chief Reggie Alexander provided a price update on patrol cars, as he had discovered that there would be a large price difference if the city purchased unequipped cars rather than purchasing pre-equipped cars that came with radios, scanners and other equipment.  According to Chief Alexander, the city could lease the same number of Ford Sedan Taurus vehicles as they had planned, but have the vehicles equipped by an aftermarket business that the Sheriff's Office uses, and save money.

The city would own the equipment, even if they decided to return and switch out the leased vehicles, which could translate into even more cost savings in the future.

The one problem is that the city will have to pay more upfront for the equipment, rather than evenly making payments for the equipment as they pay for the vehicle.

City Attorney Clay Schnitker recommended that City Clerk Lee Anne Henderson could work with Chief Alexander and contact the various companies mentioned and make sure the numbers were correct and for the commissioners to make the decision at the November meeting.

After that recommendation, City Manager Bennett advised that he believed the MPD did not have time to wait another month before a decision could be made.  “I don't think we have the luxury of waiting another month,” said Bennett. “Getting new cars is critical.” Chief Alexander spoke in agreement.

Commissioner Rayne Cooks asked if the city had funds available to go ahead and purchase the equipment.

Henderson said they would be able to afford it, as long as the first patrol car payment was not due until November.

It was decided that city staff would check the numbers and let the commissioners know to call together a special meeting as soon as they have everything ready for the commissioners to make a decision.

Before drawing their meeting to a close, the commissioners decided to hold their November regular meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 15, so as to not conflict with Election Day.  The council also discussed the need to hold a special meeting to appoint someone to take the seat of Commissioner Marcus Hawkins, who is running for the office of Superintendent of Schools.

That meeting will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 22 and is open to the public.  The meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. in City Hall.

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