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Portola welcomes new city manager

Portola City Council welcomes the new city manager, Lauren Knox, as she serves at her first meeting of city council on Wednesday, Sept. 11. Photo by Ian Hoffmann

The Portola City Council held a regularly scheduled meeting on the evening of Wednesday, Sept. 11, welcoming new City Manager Lauren Knox.

The meeting began with a moment of silence and remembrance of the 9/11 attacks in 2001, followed by the pledge of allegiance and public comment.

Richard Johnson addressed the council, initially commenting on the work that had been completed thus far near his home on Ponderosa Street to address drainage issues. He then went on to state that he felt that the technique being used to clear snow from streets in the city needed improvement.

“There needs to be a lot of improvement. Plows are breaking all of the concrete in places the operators shouldn’t be,” Johnson said. “Another thing that needs to be addressed is visibility, because piling up snow is a hazard — winter is getting closer.”

City council communications

Councilmember Pat Morton reported that she had attended the most recent Portola Firewise meeting, as well as an ad-hoc regional meeting with various Eastern Plumas fire departments and Cal Fire.

Councilmember Bill Powers reported that he had attended a meeting of the Transportation Commission with City Finance Officer Susan Scarlett, as well as attending a meeting in Sacramento regarding student mental health policy changes.

Mayor Tom Cooley attended the most recent Firewise meeting, saying, “As a result of that, my wife and I have been doing fuel reductions work at the West End Park and at Memorial Hall, and the Mortons have joined us on a couple of occasions with Dave Rudolph as well, so we hope that we are improving things there.”

Cooley went on to report that he had also attended the ad-hoc fire committee meeting Aug. 16, and he attended a Vehicle Abatement Committee meeting in Quincy on Aug. 20, noting that some progress is being made in that area, with some obstacles to clear to make the program accessible and operational for the city.

Cooley had attended the large meeting of Eastern Plumas fire departments to discuss the possibility of consolidation or reorganization, with Cal Fire Unit Chief Scott Packwood in attendance to answer questions.

Cooley met with the AWI district manager, a company that manages the Portola senior apartment complex with Chief Bob Frank of Eastern Plumas Rural Fire Protection District, Interim City Manager Leslie Chrysler and city Code Compliance Officer Kevin Sankey on Aug. 27 after numerous complaints about the management of the complex.

“I feel like the meeting gave me a lot of clarity,” Cooley said. “This company is very experienced in what they do, and they manage at least 180 facilities like this. These are being managed under the terms prescribed by the USDA, due to the financing for the project coming from the USDA, as well as the money for the renovations occurring there now.”

Cooley went on to state that the former management had possibly become a little lax, and that the current management is aggressively trying to return to an observance of all of the rules. “I think that was a successful meeting,” Cooley said.

Cooley attended a webinar on the topic of cannabis procedures and updates, both regulatory and legislative, and attended a board meeting of Eastern Plumas Rural Fire Protection District.

Staff communications

Cooley invited all to welcome new city manager Lauren Knox, and after applause, Chief Bob Frank of EPRFPD, reported that during the month of August, the department had responded to 29 medical calls, one fire alarm, one vehicle accident, and multiple smoke checks, largely due to ongoing smoke from the Walker Fire.

Frank also noted that they had participated in an evacuation event in Gold Mountain and reassured the community that it would take “a major act of God’ for the fire to turn and affect Portola with more than smoke.

Frank went on to report that Eastern Plumas would be covering the local football games at the high school for the season, and also stated that Eastern Plumas’ call volume, year to date, was currently the highest in the county at 475; Quincy is currently at 387 calls year to date.

“We’ve definitely been staying busy,” Frank said. “Progress has definitely been made at the Portola Senior Apartments as well — they’ve done exactly what they said they were going to do.”

City manager report and consent calendar

New City Manager Lauren Knox spoke briefly about starting that Monday, Sept. 9, and was working to get up to speed. “I’ve been meeting with members of staff and look forward to also reaching out to all council members as well,” Knox said with a smile.

Knox noted that she had received information on a potential proposed monopine cell tower and told council that there is no application in place currently. “This is the stage of inquiry,” Knox said. “We don’t have anything on file.”

Former Interim City Manager Leslie Chrysler, currently serving in the capacity of Deputy City Clerk, added to the report as well.

“I attended the fire-related meetings and the meeting with the Portola Senior Apartments and AWI management, but I’d like to also add that Bill Powers, myself and Susan Scarlett all attended the joint mixer with the Quincy and Eastern Plumas Chamber of Commerce and really enjoyed that,” Chrysler said.

With that, the minutes and claims of the consent calendar were approved by roll call vote.

2018/19 finance report updates

City Finance Officer Susan Scarlett spoke about the ongoing year-end procedures to prepare for the audit and close out the books from the last year.

“This is preliminary,” Scarlett said. She moved on to look at the numbers, with sales tax serving as a major revenue source at $277,219 for the 2018/19 fiscal year.

Scarlett also addressed the preliminary cash and receivables balances, noting that the general fund is currently at $2,789,153.99 for the June 30, 2019 budget, and there were pretty hefty negatives from last year related to streets and snow that will need to be accounted for.

“The hospital balance for their loan is being paid down, and funds 207 and 208 will be zeroed out,” Scarlett highlighted. “We got our final payment of $276,000 from the state for the A-15 project, so there are reconciliations to do on that, and our debt service reserve is a little low at $68,362. We also have a cash balance in the solid waste fund for the first time in 20 years,” Scarlett added.

Scarlett looked at property tax apportionment, noting that trends indicate increases. She also touched on other budget amendments, with the lighting costs having doubled.

The topic of road maintenance and repair came up, with Scarlett reporting that RMRA is now its own fund. “We’ll be also looking and putting money aside on the balance sheet for water and sewer,” Scarlett added.

After some further talks on preliminary budgeting, Scarlett also noted that Public Works Director Todd Roberts was looking into watering solutions to cut down on increased water fees for parks and the pool.

This led into an announcement that Scarlett had received a five-page memo that announced future potential increases of 23 percent on water costs from Lake Davis, presented by DWR. “I’ll get more information on that to you soon,” Scarlett said to council.

This led back to talks about the city streets, with $42,000 currently budgeted for street repair. Roberts said, “I’d like to finish one more decent sized project in front of Plumas Bank, a major artery, before the end of the year. I know we’ve done some incredible projects, and I think that this is one we need to do.”

With no budget amendment needed, Scarlett said that she felt it was a good project, and the council unanimously agreed to okay the project.

City council committee appointments

Due to the employment of city manager Knox, the city council needed to make a few changes to their committee, commission and board appointments.

The update replaced former Interim City Manager Leslie Chrysler with new City Manager Lauren Knox on the Airport Land Use Commission and Integrated Waste Management. It also updated the Emergency Services Policy Committee to include Lauren Knox and Mayor Tom Cooley, and Knox replaced former City Clerk Melissa Klundby on the SCORE board.

With the unanimous consensus of council, the changes were approved, and council moved on to the final agenda item.

Public works truck and equipment purchase

Chrysler said,Public Works Director Todd Roberts has been reviewing options for upgrades to the city’s public works vehicle fleet and has spent quite some time looking at the current availability of used vehicles and comparing that to the purchase of new vehicles. Needless to say, it is very hard to find quality used trucks that satisfy the many needs of the city’s public works department.”

After the extensive research, staff recommended to the council that they consider the purchase of four new trucks with plows for the department and two plows for the older trucks made through a government contract.

“The last time the city purchased new trucks for public works was in 2000, and two used trucks were purchased in 2013,” Chrysler said.

Staff also reviewed the past three years of expenses associated with vehicle and equipment repair and maintenance and found that the repair costs of the older vehicles continues to rise with increasing down time for vehicles and equipment.

“I feel that it’s time to upgrade some stuff,” Chrysler said. Roberts went on to expound, saying, “I think our maintenance costs on keeping the old stuff running is ridiculous. We’re running into metal fatigue on every single plow we have — there’s so much steel from repairs that the plows weigh more than the truck. We’ve really got to do something, but we’ve found snow contractors are backing off because of our trucks.”

Roberts noted that he would be meeting with Ford to look at frame thicknesses in the near future. After some discussion about the differences in manufacturers and frames, Mayor Pro Tem Oels commented, “I don’t see any way we can not do this.”

Council then moved to approve a budget amendment not to exceed $375,000 for the purchase of new vehicles and equipment; it passed unanimously.

The city council welcomes all to attend and participate in meetings, which are regularly held on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month at 6 p.m. For more information, call 832-6803 or visit cityofportola.com.

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