City will fund but not employ Main St/Chamber director

Jefferson Matters: Main Street and the Jefferson Area Chamber of Commerce are merging, with one shared paid director, but the person won’t be a city employee like the groups proposed during the winter.

The Jefferson city council at its April 28 city administrator Mike Palmer said COVID-19 “changed some things,” and that the boards of the two groups and the city had gone “back to the drawing board.”

The result was a recommendation that the city provide a flat amount to the merged organization, “and they can hire and provide the benefits as they see fit,” Palmer said.

The city currently provides $30,000 to the Chamber from hotel/motel tax revenue and $20,000 to Jefferson Matters: Main Street from the general fund. Palmer suggested funding between $50-$70,000 as a flat amount to the merged group.

The earlier proposal called for $70,000 to come from hotel/motel tax revenue. Palmer said that fund was “taking a hit” from COVID-19 “at least for a little while,” but there’s a $50,000 reserve in the fund.

Council member Harry Ahrenholtz is on the committee that worked on the proposal. He said clarified that of the $70,000 total, $50,000 would come from hotel/motel tax revenue. “I think we need to commit to that additional $20,000 so the Chamber and Main Street can move ahead,” he said.

The Chamber has been without a director for longer than a year. Main Street director Peg Raney is retiring in the near future.

The funds will be paid quarterly in advance, just as what’s done for Greene County Development Corporation.

Mayor Matt Gordon asked where funds would come from if hotel/motel tax revenue doesn’t recover enough after COVID-19. City attorney Bob Schwarzkopf answered that some commitments from hotel/motel fund are limited to what’s available. The $30,000 to the Chamber ($20,000 for loan payments on the Welcome Center and $10,000 for staffing) isn’t a general obligation to the city, he said. “If it’s there, it’s there,” Schwarzkopf said. “That’s their risk.”

Palmer said that should be an incentive to the groups. “The more they can generate, the more they’ll have available in Tier 3 (of the h/m fund) for other projects,” he said.
No official action was required, but the council gave it an unofficial “thumbs up.” The item was not on the council agenda as an action item. The proposal will be on the May 12 agenda for approval of the additional $20,000.

Also at the April 28 meeting, council member Darren Jackson provided an update on discussions of the committee looking for a solution to the issue of unowned (feral) cats. He and Dave Sloan are on the committee, along with representative of PAWS (People for Animal Welfare Society) and the Jefferson police department.

The committee suggests holding a trap-neuter-release event.

Jackson said he knows some people disagree with TNR. He said he doesn’t see TNR as a “cure-all.” “I think we need to educate people. But I just feel it can’t hurt, and we had promised to try something in the spring or summer,” he said.

He suggested moving altered cats to farms or adopting them out after the TNR event.
“This is by far not a perfect solution, but it’s something I’d like us to consider trying… It’s better than what we’re doing right now, which isn’t anything,” Jackson said.

Some cat food companies have grant funds available for such an event, and that there may be veterinarians willing to volunteer their services.

Jackson said it would be “a good idea” for the city to host TNR events, “but I don’t know what the legs are on that… If we get this organized, or at least ‘green light’ the people who might organize it and do things.”

He’d like to see PAWS volunteers talk with residents who are feeding large numbers of outdoor cats and recruit their help to trap the cats for a planned TNR event. He also suggests educating people about not feeding the cats.

Jackson acknowledged that Linn Price of Animal Protection and Education (APE) charity has expertise in TNR, “but she wasn’t at the meetings we had.”

There was a bit of humor the council didn’t pick up after Jackson was asked if cats would be altered and then released the next day. “I’ve had cats and I’ve had them fixed. They were running and jumping around the next day. They didn’t seem to feel they were missing anything,” he said.

If a cat that had been altered continued to be a nuisance, the cat could be abated from the community, Jackson said.

No action was taken. Mayor Gordon asked Jackson and the committee to “continue to work on it.”

The council held a public hearing on the plans, specifications, form of contract and estimated of costs for four shared use path projects. The total project consists of a 10-ft wide path on S. Elm St from the current high school to Greenewood Road at a cost of $197,700; an 8-ft wide path on W. Central Ave from N. Elm St to just west of N. Walnut St at a cost of $158,372; an 8-ft wide path on the south side of E. Lincoln Way from the Milwaukee depot east to the municipal cemetery, and green spaces on the north side of the road, at a cost of $256,661; and replacement of the existing trail at Daubendiek Park with a 10-foot wide patch at a cost of $351,445.

The estimated cost for the entire project, as provided by Bolton & Menk, was $1,040,530.
During the public hearing, mayor Gordon said he wasn’t “trying to be difficult,” but noted there have been changes in the last few months, creating a need “to look at budgets all the way around, and we’re trying to decide if over $1 million in bike paths is still a priority.”

Bonds for the project were sold in 2019. Gordon said he recalls the bonds for each project were supposed to be voted on individually, but “at the last minute” the council voted on the four separate trails as a whole. He was looking for an opportunity to chose which trails are still a priority and perhaps not fund all four.

Attorney Schwarzkopf said the direction of the project has been set. The council had entered into a contract with Bolton & Menk to draw up plans, and that when the council set a public hearing, that gave tentative approval to the plans and specs city engineer Jim Leiding (of Bolton & Menk) provided.

The projects had gone out to bidders and people had invested time and submitted bids in its current scope. “I want to make sure you’re aware of that,” Schwarzkopf said.
Gordon said there was misunderstanding at the time the public hearing was set. Council member Dave Sloan said his recollection was the council understood all four parts of the project would be completed.

The public hearing continued for 35 minutes, but the council voted unanimously to approve the plans, specifications, form of contract and estimated costs for the project as presented for the public hearing.

The council meeting was held via Zoom, with council members, the media, and the public attending and participating from the safety of their homes.

Jefferson city council members observed social distancing by accessing their meeting remotely. Mayor Matt Gordon (left) and city staff opted for closeness.
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