Council approves sewage funds, city help for clinic and manager pay raise

City Finance Director Kris Erchinger addresses City Council on CHC Monday, Feb 10th, 2014. Heidi Zemach photo

City Finance Director Kris Erchinger addresses City Council on Community Health Clinic  Monday, Feb 10th, 2014. Heidi Zemach photo

Heidi Zemach for SCN – 

The Seward City Council took the first step toward addressing the many deferred-maintenance problems at the city’s aging sewage lagoon at Lowell Point by transferring 500 thousand dollars from its Water Enterprise Fund to the Wastewater Enterprise fund, and appropriating those funds toward future mitigation efforts yet to be named. At Monday night’s Feb 10th council meeting City Manager Jim Hunt said they are still exploring what projects to fund, but the Public Works Department has not yet found a place to dispose of the more than 20 years’ worth of accumulated sludge. It might be used to deploy a remotely operated vehicle to remove a small percentage of the sludge that has concentrated in some and that may be hindering the operation of certain machinery, he said. “There are some chemical options,” he added.

Councilwoman Ristine Casagranda, who recently met with administrators, public works and concerned Lowell Point residents, repeatedly urged administration to schedule a council work session dedicated to the issue. She fears time is running short for the city to accomplish much work before the upcoming tourist season. But no one supported her idea. The administration and mayor are headed to Anchorage and Juneau soon to lobby lawmakers and business leaders for city priorities.

CHC interim director Sharon Montagnino (red vest) with Providence administrator John Thomas. CHC Board Chair Patty Beals behind them at Feb 10th 2014 council meeting. Heidi Zemach photo

CHC Interim Executive Director Sharon Montagnino (red vest) with Consultant John Thomas. CHC Board Chair Patty Beals sat behind them at Feb 10th 2014 council meeting. Heidi Zemach photo

A good deal of time was spent at the meeting going over the details of agreements drafted between the City of Seward and the Community Health Center Board over the new CHC clinic, which is required to open in about two weeks at the local hospital, replacing the outpatient clinic currently provided by Seward Providence Medical & Care Center.

The city is a co-applicant with the CHC Board in the agreement setting up the new federally-funded clinic to meet the needs of the uninsured, under-insured, and all residents and visitors. The CHC received $774,000 (actually about $650 thousand for each of three years) in a grant from the federal government’s Affordable Care Act.

The CHC Board has hired an interim executive director to help Seward set it up in the 120-day time-frame allotted in the federal grant, but she is the only one hired thus far. The city’s finance department, and administration have been working to help accomplish this start-up.

The first resolution that was approved Monday authorizes the city to provide administrative and support services (including advertising, accounting, financial reporting, collecting applications, drug-testing and background checks, legal support, computer assistance) on behalf of the CHC for the next three years. All services provided by the city would be accounted for, and would be considered a deferred bill to the CHC, that it would eventually repay when it had the resources.

Council members approved the resolution, but said they hoped the city’s support would last for less time. In the haste to meet FQHC application deadlines, and the short start-up window required to open the facility, it appeared that council members may not have fully understood the implications of what this would mean. It depends on how well the new clinic gets up and running, and how many clients it receives, said City Finance Director Kristin Erchinger. Everyone knew going into this arrangement that the clinic would not be able to fully support itself for its first two or three years, she said.



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But after questioning by Casagranda, the finance director admitted that helping the start-up CHC would put additional burden on her staff who are already spread thin, and that certain employees already require overtime to get their jobs done.  It wouldn’t be an insurmountable amount of work however, she said, and she and her staff would be able to do it without having to hire additional workers. The council amended the agreement to make that clear.

The second agreement passed by resolution concerned new employees of the CHC being a sort of hybrid city employee, minus the PERS retirement benefits for up to the first three years, but preferably fewer. They would be entitled to receive the city worker’s health insurance policy. This was primarily done to attract physicians, nurses, and others to the center. CHC employees typically also receive malpractice insurance coverage, and student loan forgiveness.

Although the city council receives and approves CHC’s annual budget each year, the Seward CHC Board’s executive director will be responsible for clinic operations, and duties such as managing, hiring, firing and disciplining employees.

Casagranda asked whether the CHC Board’s meetings would be noticed, and open to the public in the future, as she and council member Marianna Keil felt it should.  She does not believe that it was an FQHC requirement, Erchinger said. That would be up to the CHC Board to decide. CHC Board Chair Patty Beals was present, but could not promise that meetings would be open.

Addressing council member concerns with the responsibility that the city was assuming, Erchinger assured them that the agreements could be revisited, and changed in the next CHC grant application/funding cycle, less than three-years away.

In other business:

Council unanimously approved a three-percent pay increase for City Manager Hunt, raising his salary by $4,252 per year to $108 thousand effective Monday.  Hunt’s justification in asking for the pay raise was that the he does not participate in the standard employee step increases, or Cost of Living Allowance, or annual leave accrual. There was no discussion prior to the vote.

Council also authorized the city manager to purchase a Ford 4X4 truck for the harbor department for up to $28,500 to replace the department’s flatbed, is 13 years old, has more than 108 thousand miles, and requires frequent maintenance. The purchase was exempted from the competitive procurement requirement, as allowed by city code. It will replace a vehicle with a crane, which is used to service the used oil collection and disposal program. That truck will be sold in the next surplus sale.

Council also accepted a 2 million dollar grant via the Alaska Energy Authority to continue to upgrade and update the diesel-power electrical backup generation facilities at Fort Raymond. The payment comes from AEA realizing that there would shortfalls for the $6 million project as the single bid that the city received for the work in its 2012 Request for Proposals, came in higher than the available grant funds. Electric Department head John Foutz said his employees would do some of the work, and would bill the grant.

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