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City of Portola urges residents to prepare for fire and talks budget

The Wednesday, June 8 meeting of the City of Portola city council opened with the pledge of allegiance and then went into public comment.

Public comment was received from resident Ashlee Sims regarding the position opening with the city clerk, with Sims stating that the position vacancy for city clerk and subsequent filling of the position with a deputy clerk “should have appointed by city council.”

Beckwourth Fire report

Beckwourth Fire Department (BFD) Chief Bret Russell was in attendance and reported out on year-to-date calls received by the department in both the City of Portola and Beckwourth. The department responded to 37 calls in Beckwourth and 129 calls in Portola, with a total of 166 calls responded to.

“There’s just a couple of things I would like to bring to the public,” Russell said. “Agencies across the US are struggling with the ever-increasing numbers of calls coming in with the vast majority not being true emergency calls. An example would be catheter pain. I understand that is an event for that individual, but it does not qualify as a true medical emergency.”

REMSA in Reno has requested that people who are not experiencing true medical emergencies not call 911. They don’t have ambulances, personnel, or resources to keep up with the calls.

“Sac Metro Fire also doesn’t have adequate resources to respond to increasing call volume,” he said. “We are not exempt from this issue and are in a worse situation because we are primarily volunteers. Issues like this are happening in our own backyard. Fire departments in Plumas County are not responding or acknowledging calls due to limited staffing and limited resources.”

With that being said, Russell went on to respond to circulating rumors in the community. “There has never been any call that we have missed or had a second page go out,” Russell said. “Currently we have a phenomenal relationship with the local ambulance company.”

Russell then noted that currently we are in fire season, and that after last year, “we should all be concerned about fire.”

“Your local department is prepared, but these fires are doing things that seasoned firefighters have never seen before,” he said. “I really urge everyone to remain vigilant, follow local rules, protocols, and regulations, and to use common sense. Please feel free to call or stop by with any questions – I have an open-door policy.”

City manager report

Interim City Manager Jon Kennedy reported briefly on the continuance of the software conversion at City Hall and noted his enjoyment of the bike race the past weekend. “It was a really good event,” Kennedy said. “I think the event was a little low on the numbers, but I think we’re sort of in a post-covid/non-covid reality in life and folks are still hunkering down a little bit.”

Kennedy also noted that the BFD hosted a pancake breakfast which ‘went great’ despite a bit of rain, enjoyed pancake sausage and eggs, coffee and OJ. Chief Russell added that the bike race went seamlessly on the operations end, with no medical emergencies, thanking the city for their assistance. The breakfast raised about $1,100 to be designated to a firefighter fund.

Public Hearing: 2022-2023 Proposed Operating Budget

City Finance Officer Susan Scarlett opened with a report on updates to the city budget, noting the recent changes made to the line item for the summer concerts in the park. Scarlett asked the public for any comment on the planned budget, and with none, the public hearing was closed.  “June 22 will be the budget adoption,” Scarlett reminded.

“I would like to express my thanks to Susan once again for a fabulous job,” Mayor Pro Tem Tom Cooley said.

Ordinance to comply with SB 1383 Reduction of disposal of organic waste

Kennedy expressed that this agenda item was due to be adopted that day. “We are required to pass an ordinance by a particular time, and today is the day to do this. We are still also working on wording and language to request additional time that will allow us to delay the implementation of the solid waste organic. We don’t anticipate any problems with that,” Kennedy said.

It was noted that the ordinance’s most onerous provision was the requirement of separation and collection of recyclables and organics from commercial and residential properties. The organics collected would result in a fairly significant expense to InterMountain Disposal, and those costs would likely be passed on to the customers.

The regulations provide for a rural exemption that allow small jurisdictions to be exempt from collection requirements for four years.

The city has authorized an application for the exemption which was granted on January 13 of this year. This exempts the city from having to collect recyclables and organic waste until 2026.

In addition to the collection requirements, the regulations will also require the city engage in and provide public education and outreach to the public. The city will work with their solid waste consultant, Tom Valentino.

A motion was made to introduce and waive the first reading, with the ordinance to return to the next meeting, to be effective by July 1. The ordinance passed unanimously by roll call vote.

Manhard contract

Karen Downs of Manhard Consulting spoke with the assistance of CFO Scarlett, with a two-year term for the new contract to replace the contract that had expired between Manhard Consulting and the City of Portola.

“Their expertise is much appreciated, and we asked Manhard Consulting if they would go for a two-year contract. They did have reasonable updates in their fees,” Scarlett said. The rates assigned to the contract are rated at the lowest end of the range charged by the firm.

Without any public comment or council discussion, council moved to approve the agreement unanimously by roll call vote.

City Attorney agreement

The city briefly discussed the renewal of a contract with City Attorney Steve Gross with the Porter Simon Law Offices.

“It’s been a long time since they have requested to raise rates,” Kennedy commented. “It’s been four years since the last rate adjustment.”

Gross has served as the Portola City Attorney since 1997, and compensation is at $225 an hour currently, with a fixed fee of $4,950 per month for most services, such as reviewing contracts and ordinances, answering questions and providing guidance on a daily basis.

Council was asked to adjust the fees up to $250 an hour and $5,540 for the monthly fixed fee. The amounts were stated to be substantially below typical private client rates.

Cooley stated that he very much appreciated the personalized legal service and immediate attention to any needs in a time of crisis. “The expertise we enjoy here at this new rate is very favorable for the city,” Cooley said.

A motion was made and approved by unanimous roll call vote.

Pay Schedules and Job Classifications

The final item on the agenda reviewed the updated step plan and the pay schedule and job classifications for fiscal year 2022-2023.

“We have been working on updating the Step program in order to ensure that the city has the quality of staff necessary to do the business of the City of Portola, and pay scales for our staff, particularly when we have so few full-time employees,” Scarlett said. “This was presented to the city council at the budget workshop on May 18. The new Step program includes the current year COLA adjustment of 4.7 percent.”

Employees get ‘steps’ every two years with this new plan, with the position of office clerk for example, currently at $14 per hour, stepping up to $19.03 per hour.  “We want to give a better wage to our employees during these times,” Scarlett said.

Kennedy added that the research had started in Plumas County, looking for pay scale for comparable positions, and stated the city would actually have to go backward if they followed the county.

“I am hoping that the county will also be able to work out their budget to assist in increasing the wages of other employees in the county that are so useful, and needed in the City of Portola as well,” Kennedy said.

Scarlett noted that the steps would apply to full-time employees with continuous service measured from date of hire. “Todd Roberts and Jon Kennedy both refused to be added to the program, it’s more important for our staff here to be happy,” she added.

A unanimous roll call vote updated the pay schedule and Scarlett thanked council for their approval on behalf of the staff. “Thank you council for setting a good example,” Kennedy said. The meeting was then adjourned.

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