The Glasgow Courier - Serving Proudly As The Voice Of Valley County Since 1913

By Patrick Burr
The Courier 

City Government Tables Talks on Fire Truck Funding, Hires New Attorney

Quint Truck Purchase on Hold; Kimberley Deschene to Assume Legal Role in Glasgow

 


Fifty-plus Glasgow citizens packed into the city chamber room at the Recreation Department on Sept. 8, eager to speak their mind at the City Council meeting at which they knew the summer’s landmark issue would be decided.

For months, the councilpersons had debated Resolution No. 1986, the motion to provide funding for the purchase of a used Quint fire truck. For months, Firefighter/EMT Brandon Brunelle had presented the reasoning behind his department’s need, outlining in detail the declining state of its old truck and spelling out the procedural necessities of the proposed investment. For months, this downscaled Damoclean dagger had hung over taxpayers’ homes.

The council wasted no time in addressing the matter, pausing only over the pledge of allegiance before opening the floor to public comment. Though only 26 percent of the city’s residents opposed the some-$25 tax increase which would have resulted had the movement passed, short of the 51 percent required for the issue to be discarded without discussion, the council agreed that, due to the overwhelming dissent by the dense crowd in attendance, the fire truck tribulations were best left for future discussion.

“Most of the people who spoke up weren’t happy with the method that played out,” said  Ward 1 councilman Stan Ozark, referring to the mail balloting system which called for a reply only in the event of disagreement.

“The council could have gone forward,” said Mayor Becky Erickson, “but due to public concerns, we tabled the issue indefinitely.”

Brunelle made his points clear — that the city needs to replace a semi-functional rust-bucket of a vehicle, that it will only get more expensive if left for a later date, that the monetary burden on the average citizen would be minuscule to say the least — but the council’s say was final.

“They all seemed to support it,” Brunelle said of the townspeople with whom he spoke. “I understand the concerns of the community, [but] I didn’t think it’d [be tabled].”

Erickson calls attention to the City’s new website, cityofglasgowmt.com, as a reliable means for the public to familiarize itself with future issues of similar ilk to the truck purchase on which it feels uncomfortable. “We want to make it easier for locals to get in touch with local government,” she said, “so we’re bringing city government to them.” Aside from providing the minutes and agendas of both city council and board meetings, the site supplies a “Contact Us” page. Erickson claims one of her main goals as mayor is to promote transparency of government, and she believes lending citizens the means to opening an informed discourse with the councilmembers directly serves this aim.

“This is disappointing for the Fire Department,” said Erickson. “They’ve gone out and raised $150,000 on their own. They’re already risking their lives for the safety of the city; they shouldn’t be saddled with the fundraising. Hopefully in a year or two we can take another look at it. But what the council heard in the meeting was that some perceived the [decision-making] process as unfair, and this was never our intent.”

Erickson notes that the city applied for a grant from Keystone XL to fund the purchase of a used fire truck, and that it has also filed a request for a resiliency grant. The former was declined; the latter, yet to be decided. Erickson marks that, in absence of certainty, it would be unwise to rely on the mere possibility of an influx which would allow the council to take action on the matter without raising taxes.

“A lot of it was timing,” said Ozark. "With the taxable value of housing’s recent doubling and the Irle School bonds issue, the truck came third. You can only saddle the public with so much debt.”

Brunelle agrees, but wishes his fellow Glaswegians had been more informed on the matter before nixing it. “Glasgow’s a great place to live, a safe place to live. All I can say is, you receive the services you pay for. We’ll keep serving the community to the best of our ability with the equipment we have, but there are important things which we can’t get done with our old truck.”

The meeting proceeded after the vote was finalized. 

Perhaps dwarfed in the Council’s agenda by the looming fire safety decision, the debate over whom to to hire as the city attorney for the 2015-16 fiscal year was tensive in its own right.

In a letter to the Courier which was later posted on her Facebook page, Sarah Partridge railed against the potential “outsourcing” of the role “to a telecommuter from White Sulphur Springs [in order] to save $500 a month.

“Establishing brick and mortar facilities in our community has value,” she wrote. “Hiring, training, and promoting local employees has value. I believe this [would be] a mistake.”

Ozark, head of the Attorney Committee, eschewed confrontation and in clear words, broke down the matter:

“The city attorney is a contracted position. The council made the decision to bid out the position. Mr. Helland [the city’s attorney in 2014-15] was on $4,000 a month doing civil and criminal legal work on the city’s behalf. We received five initial bids in which we asked that a yearly fee be proposed, and decided upon bidding it out again on a month-by-month pay basis.

“We received two bids — one from Mr. Helland, and one from Kimberly Deschene of White Sulphur Springs. Ms. Deschene’s bid was for $3,500 a month, including travel; Mr. Helland requested the same rate he’d been getting, $4,000.”

The council voted 3-2 in favor of hiring Ms. Deschene. 

“To me,” said Ozark, “it was a money issue. In a small city such as Glasgow, $6,000 a year is a significant amount. No one’s more local than me, but any chance to save money is important to take.”

Ozark notes that the council asked all city departments to decrease spending by 10 percent in the  2015-16 fiscal year, and that in this vein, Ms. Deschene’s offer had to be accepted.

Erickson confirms Ozark’s fiscal line of thinking: “The decision was purely financial. We asked for bids, and we accepted the lowest one.”

Ozark also rejects the claim that changing from Mr. Helland, a Glasgow resident, to Ms. Deschene, constitutes “outsourcing”:

“She’ll be spending a lot of time here, and is looking to set up an office in town. I look forward to working with her.”

The contract spans eight months, through to the end of the fiscal year. Either party withholds the right to terminate the agreement with sixty days’ notice.

In the commotion was lost the finalization of bidding for the Glasgow Police Department’s 2002 Ford Mustang. Four offers were received. The winning bid of $3653 was made by Cheryl and Betty Uphaus.

 

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