The Helper City Council meeting May 9 started with a resident raising an issue regarding a comment made at the last public gathering by Mayor Joe Bonacci.
According to the resident, Helper was referred to as living in the 18th century. The comment was made by Bonacci when the mayor was explaining that the Helper is behind the times when it comes to keeping the city streets clean. Many cities across the state use the technology of a street sweeping machine, while Helper uses only brooms and shovels.
The citizen disagreed.
Bonacci explained that when the comment was made, the thought behind it was only figuratively speaking. By purchasing a street sweeping machine, the city will only become "more efficient. We can always improve our technology. It is impossible to manually sweep all the streets in the city," stated Bonacci.
Councilmen Tony Gonzales indicated that the city currently employs three workers to maintain the streets in Helper. The machine would make the streets cleaner and be much more efficient for the workers.
Gonzales also explained that the workers are not required to clean the sidewalks and gutters in front of private residences. This responsibility falls in the hands of the citizens.
The resident responded by arguing that the gutters are the city's responsibility to clean.
Contrary to popular belief, the officials stressed that the curbs and gutters are the responsibility of the citizens. Helper intends on improving the appearance of the city streets, however, by using a sweeping machine.
The council voted to purchase one machine to aid in the maintenance of the city streets. The equipment will cost $65,000 during a three or four year period, depending on the lease agreement selected by the city.
The council reviewed several lease agreements from local banks and decided to approve the contract with the least amount of interest. The council will check with the banks to ensure that the quotes received by the city are correct, then the final ratification of the documents will take place at the next public meeting. However, the machine is expected to be delivered this week.
"The purchase of this machine will benefit this council and the next, and especially the city. This will be one less piece of equipment that will need to be purchased by the city later on," explained Councilman Robert Welch.
"The city operates on a small amount of equipment. One thing that this city is definitely not guilty of is buying a lot of equipment," stated Bonacci.
The money for the machine will be provided by the road fund. The money is designated for road improvement and maintenance and is state funded. Allocations are determined by the amount of paved road in the city. The money is saved in a state fund to help cities finance for necessary street improvement projects.
Because the sweeper is being purchased by state funds, residents will not be required to contribute financially.
"We have the lowest water rates in the county. We do so by conserving water, not raising money. We also have the lowest property tax in the state next to Scofield. Our citizens will only benefit from this equipment purchase which will also help out our street department," concluded Bonacci.
The council also discussed the issue of purchasing a new backhoe for the city's water department. The decision was made to purchase a machine, but the council will wait until its next meeting to decide on which machine will be bought.
"I have got several more quotes and would like to look over the possibilities before deciding upon one machine. I want to purchase a machine that the workers will be comfortable using," explained Welch. The issue will be resolved at the next council meeting.
With water expected to be in short demand soon, Helper residents are currently on a restricted water schedule. Because of this fact, a complaint was made in regards to employees at Swifts Stop and Shop wasting water by hosing off the stores surrounding sidewalks. This is a practice that has become a part of daily tasks at the store in order to provide customers with clean facilities. The practice must now be stopped however.
Chris Gray attended the city council meeting to receive suggestions from the members as to how the clean up must be done. "Because we serve food and drinks at Swifts, we find that our sidewalks and driveway becomes filthy. Soda is spilled along with ketchup that makes for a dirty, sticky mess. We don't want to lose business because our facilities are dirty," explained Gray.
Since being cited for the incident of misusing water, the store employees have came up with creative ways to clean the sidewalks.
The used mop water has become the most popular way of cleaning the area, but the spraying down of the hose seems to still be the most effective method.
"We understand the problem, but if we allow on business to be unrestricted, then we have to let everyone else use water freely. There can not be any exceptions," explained Welch.
Although the council sympathizes with the situation, the decision was unanimous, there has to be a way to clean the area without wasting water. Therefore, council members provided several suggestions including using waste water from the stores ice machines, cleaning water, and even the water located in the windshield washer buckets.
"The use of a hydro-clean company is also an option," suggested Gonzales. "We wouldn't have a problem with that because the water comes from some where else, not Helper."
The question was also made as to what should become of the RV dump site also located at the store. "We have turned off the water to the rv dump until we find out what we can do with it," explained Gray.
The council felt that the rv dump was part of the services that the store supplies travelers. "We allow the car wash to continue operating, therefore, we will allow the dump to remain in use," Bonacci ruled.
The feeling was unanimous throughout the room, if there is a water restriction, there will be a fair amount of complaints. "I had someone honk at me when I was fertilizing my flowers with a watering can. I didn't even have water in the can, but I was looked at as wasting water," laughed Bonacci.
The council member concluded by thanking Gray for approaching the council asking for suggestions. Although complying with the restriction is difficult for the Helper business, all efforts have been made to abide by the rules.
The council moved on to approve a five cent increase in garbage service. According to the contract Helper city has with City Sanitation, every six months, the garbage company is reviewed by the council for its service to the city. If the service has been acceptable, the company will receive the five cent raise.
The contract will remain through the year 2005. If the company continues to receive the five cent increase every six months through this time period, the garbage fees will be $6.55 for Helper residents.
"I was not aware that such a contract existed, but I know that I'll be watching carefully to ensure service is excellent before the next raise rolls around," stated Gonzales.
With the approval of a five cent increase for garbage service, Helper residents will see a raise on the next bill from $6.25 to $6.30 a month.
The council also addressed the difficult issue of approving a tentative budget. According to the cities revenues and the expenditures, the city faces the dilemma of cutting costs to make up for the $200,000 that is currently above the budget limits. This issue of making up much needed money is a serious issue that is bound to plague the council for the next several weeks.
After reviewing the tentative budget, the council agreed that there is almost no cuts that can be made. Most of what is reported on the budget is necessary expenditures.
The few suggestions that arose at the meeting included raising the sales tax from 6 percent to 6.25 percent, which is what the current state tax rate is. "We are one of the only cities in the state that still carries the 6 percent sales tax. By law, we could raise this tax without notice," explained Bonacci.
The council agreed to look at each individual department first to find out what cuts can be made with the least amount of impact to both the Helper citizens and the city employees.
"The main thing that we need to do is increase the cities revenues. How, we will do that, will require us to explore all the options," explained Bonacci.
The council agreed to adopt the tentative budget, until it can be looked over again and any changes that are possible, will be made.
Finally, the police department was approved to upgrade the law enforcement office's copy machine. The city's law enforcement agency will lease a copier from the state purchasing department. By leasing the machine, the police station machine will be furnished with paper, toner, and maintenance at the cost of $0.03 per copy. After the copier becomes unusable, the state will furnish the police station with a second machine. The option is the most cost effective solution to purchasing a new machine, according to Helper officials.