Humboldt City Council discusses auditorium, library, grants, water issues, trash service and more during agenda packed meeting

The Humboldt City Council met on Tuesday, February 7, at Humboldt City Hall.

The Council heard public comments. 

It was questioned by an attendee what the purpose was of using the round-up money totaling $305.38 to purchase a new American flag.

During the January 24 Council meeting, the four-year-old city round-up program was approved by the Council to be canceled. The program was set up as a way for people to round up their water bills as a donation to help other citizens who may not be able to pay their water bills. 

Council member Vicky Lynch said that as people have moved and passed away, the donations have declined each year. 

The Council approved the remaining $305.38 from the program to purchase the flag as a spare to have on hand. The Mayor said the flag will be treated with respect, up every day, 365 days a year, all year long, “So when we need it, it will be replaced immediately.”

Deputy Shiley from the Richardson County Sheriff’s Department gave the Sheriff’s Report. There were 46 calls, 175 hours, eight traffic stops, one runaway, six investigations,  three DHHS intakes, three animal complaints, one suspicious person, two disturbances, three welfare checks, one possible death, two information-only calls, one law enforcement assist, three miscellaneous calls, one VIN inspection, one parking complaint, one theft, one accident, one trespassing, one warrant arrest, one escort and one nuisance call. 

The Council went over the maintenance report. It was noted that the lake park buildings were checked during freezing weather and everything looked good. At the pool, the footboard for the lifeguard chair was still being searched for by the vendor, as they still needed to locate the original successfully and it will need to be replaced prior to the state issuing the permit. The swimming pool buildings were checked for freezing and the pool pump is checked daily to ensure it isn’t freezing. It did freeze during the last week of January, but that was resolved. 

The Seventh and Nemaha water main break was repaired and the road is open. The grass along the street will be filled when the ground thaws. The storm sewer drain on sixth street and Central has been cleared and is draining. The spring line broke the third week of January, but it’s been repaired. The 1978 Chevy Dump Truck is ready for sale/use. The garbage disposal and furnace maintenance have been finished at the Old Fire Hall and City Hall. 

The Library Board gave its annual report. Rachael Hernandez reported that the library received 4,506 visits in 2022, “which is huge considering we only have 223 [library] cards.” The number is up dramatically from the 2,561 visits the year before. Library cards went from 199 to 223, with 149 being Humboldt residents. The average attendance for children’s programs was 71; the average attendance for adult programs was 23 and the total number of books is now 13,332. Revenue this year from non-resident cards was $509; fines $19.08; Equipment usage $368.80; other income $93.85; state aid $846.00; ARPA grant $3973.00 for a total of $5809.00. Material Expenditures were $4,475.66

A recommendation from the Library Board to allow Part-Time Library Staff to make up hours missed during the same pay period for holiday closures with the approval of the Library Director was discussed. 

Mayor Rathbone entertained a motion to approve it, but the motion didn’t receive a second and the matter couldn’t be discussed. It was explained that in order to remove the holiday compensation line from the Library manual/personnel policy, the recommendation had to be discussed. The motion failed. 

Dennis Crispin, Chairman of the Humboldt Auditorium Board, requested approval to apply for the Rural Nebraska Historic Preservation Grant. 

The Mayor approved the request to apply; Councilman Stauffer made a motion. The Mayor asked if it was something to table and discuss later due to the lack of a second motion on the table. Action was needed to meet the deadline of the grant. Council member Dettmer made a motion for it to be discussed.

The Rural Nebraska Historic Preservation (RNHP) program will provide grants to owners of historic properties in rural Nebraska communities. Crispin said the Auditorium Board would be asking for $50,000 to clean the exterior of the Auditorium, paint paintable surfaces and windows before they start to deteriorate and replace curtains on the stage, which are old dirty, tattered and not up to fire code. 

Mayor Rathbone asked if it would affect any money that the city itself may ask for as far as taking care of the water problem. 

Council member Lynch said that several places in town were also applying for the same grant, which gave her hesitations. 

Crispin said he was told that the grants stand on their own merit and the city can apply for more than one. 

Council member Dettmer said she called to look into this grant and a couple of others and was told this wasn’t the case and because the city already has grants out there, they’re very lenient even to allow [us] the city to do anymore.

The Journal contacted Betty Gillespie at History Nebraska and she stated, “A city could apply for more than one grant; they will just all need to be for different properties. One property per application, but applicants can apply for multiple applications.

Crispin said this grant wouldn’t apply to the grants the city is trying to get for the water and sewage issues. Dettmer said this one wouldn’t, but the other one does [our] the city’s hands are tied. She said the city was going to try to go for this grant due to “big issues” in the city park because it’s historical and the city can’t ask for two grants on the same grant. 

Council member Wilhelm said she would like to see what the Auditorium has that needs fixed and more of the current grant money the Auditorium has spent down and some projects finished before they try to apply for another grant. 

“Because there’s other people who would like to get things done in this town with monies and you need lots of money to finish your auditorium to spend your money before going for another grant,” said Wilhelm. 

The request for approval for the Auditorium to apply for the grant failed. The city would like to see the Auditorium use their current grant money for renovations before applying for more grants. 

The next item was to approve phase three contract with AHRS for the Auditorium renovation. Dennis Crispin spoke again on behalf of the Auditorium Board. 

Crispin said they have a grant that will pay $400,000 and $100,000 for matching funds. He said he knew they would overshoot that by quite a bit and they would have to cut back funds and in the meantime, the cost of some of the elements of the project went up by 50 percent. They also ran into some added expenses that they hadn’t counted on. 

The engineer said they need to do some underpinning of the footings at the front side of the front side of the building. 

“We thought going in we would have to seal and tile the rear wall and part of the west wall. They couldn’t find a place to stop, so we needed to drain the entire footprint of the building. That got very costly,” said Crispin. 

“The plans we were working on, the old drawing showed the main water at the south side of the street. The water main is actually on the north side of the street. So we have to cross the street,” said Crispin. “It’s going to cost us $1,000 a foot to get those pipes across the street. It ended up the old bid for which we had $500K was now in excess of one million dollars.”

The good news is that the architecture is complete. The Board did make drastic cutbacks to their plans. They eliminated all the work on the lower level of the Auditorium, cut out the elevator plans and the work on the foundation.

The Auditorium Board was still over budget, so the Friends of the Auditorium came up with the other $110,000 to cover those expenses. 

Crispin said that maybe the elevator could get done later on and the floor finished.

Council member Lynch questioned how the Architect and engineers missed the hydrant being on the wrong side and asked if they had thought about not blasting through the building that was the bomb shelter and putting it on the backside of the building. 

Crispin said it was considered, but they never thought they could come up with the money or space to do it. They would have to purchase the property around the Auditorium. Total contract costs with AHRS are $548,368; architecture fees are $54,000 making the total project $602,368, which will be covered with the $610,000 available to spend—leaving a reserve of $7,632.

A question was raised about additional insurance being added and Crispin said it’s required to insure and bond each section of the bond individually and that’s charged back to the customer. 

The motion to approve the Phase three contract with AHRS was carried out.

The first reading of Ordinance No. 664 to Amend to Code of the City of Humboldt to establish compensation for appointed and elected city officials was held. 

It had been held over from the previous Mayor but was tabled because it was during the election and until the new Mayor and Council could discuss the raises. Now that the Mayor and Council have chosen the discussion on the hourly amounts, the ordinance is ready to be revised and have its first reading. 

Someone from the crowd questioned the verbiage of “City Employees” to “Appointed and elected officials.” City Clerk Darla Hulsebus said that is just what the ordinance is called. 

Discussion and action were held regarding the selection of a water engineer to develop a plan to resolve the water issue at Colonial Acres Nursing Home. Mayor Rathbone said he spoke with the City Attorney and he recommended a third-party engineer be considered. The Mayor spoke with Water Engineering of Mead, NE, to take a look. He said he checked them out and they have a great reputation and their work is good. The consultation fee is not to exceed $7,500 and the company would keep the Council informed so they could keep the city up to date on everything being done. 

The Mayor said the Nursing home was glad the Council was taking this “by the horns” and doing something about it.

Council member Lynch said she agreed, “these are our family members; this is a life source for Humboldt. So many people work there.” During the January 24 meeting, it was reported that 72 people are employed at Colonial Acres, making it the biggest employer in town. 

Three water tests were done in the city the week before and all three tests came back negative. One at the entrance of the nursing home and one at the exit of the nursing home, both of which returned negative. One was taken on the south end of town from a business and came back negative. That was done to get a perspective on the south end of town to ensure it’s safe.

Water Engineering can get started as soon as the contract is signed. The motion carried.

A discussion was held regarding incorporating trash service with the water and sewer bill. The discussion started during the January 24 meeting, but misinformation was spread regarding that discussion. 

“People will not be carrying their trash to a dumpster down the block. It was never said by me; it was never said in this room,” said Mayor Rathbone. “I mentioned that we could possibly model our billing service after Auburn. If we can save our constituents $4-$5 a month, have better trash service, and keep it picked up, I think we have to keep talking about it.”

During the January 24 meeting, the Mayor explained that he had spoken to other cities and they like how this is done and thought it would help “clean this town up in spots.” It’s not something being forced on anyone. It’s just an option that’s being looked at right now. 

Council member Stauffer said he checked with the individual who does the service for Auburn and after speaking with him, he thinks the city should check statutes. Notice time may be six months to a year before it can be implemented. 

No action was taken due to it being a discussion. 

Edited: In the previous version of the article stated the Friends of the Auditorium who donated to cover additional expenses to the Auditorium was listed as the Friends of the Library and the Architect fee was listed as $154,000. The correct cost is $54,000.

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