Seward City Council

Seward City Council members (from left) Jessica Kolterman, John Singleton, Alyssa Hendrix, mayor Josh Eickmeier, Karl Miller, Chris Schmitt and Jonathan Miller attend their first in-person city council meeting since March. The July 7 meeting happened in the civic center basement to better practice social distancing.

Nearly all of the 119 minutes from Seward Mayor Josh Eickmeier's call to order until the gavel bang of adjournment at the Sept. 1 Seward City Council meeting was spent dissecting the city's budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

Overall, because of new property tax assessments and influx of sales tax revenue brought forth by the new local tax on online sales, the city's revenue should increase by 6.6%. City Administrator Greg Butcher said they wanted to keep that figure conservative because the onset of the pandemic may have forced some to order online when they wouldn't otherwise, so officials didn't want to commit a larger increase to the budget without a full calendar year of online sales tax revenue.

There was no levy increase from the previous year (stayed at 0.353) but total valuation rose to $546 million from $512 million the previous year.

Zoning budgets stayed similar from year-to-year except for the addition of $15,000 for demolition. As Finance Director and Treasurer Nick Wolf went through the budgetary items, Butcher underlined the rationale. On this item, Butcher said there's a strong likelihood a demolition will need to occur in the upcoming fiscal year.

The new budget also outlines a continuation of the Downtown Revitalization project with the same standards.

An increase of $22,000 was listed for cemeteries as buying new mowers is less expansive than continually fixing existing ones.

The Civic Center was discussed but won't likely see any significant changes unless a grant is approved to add chairlifts to staircases. The Debt Service line outlined the bonds used to pay for Columbia Avenue and Waverly Road projects, which should be paid for using $695,000 from sales tax.

Dowding Municipal Pool came in under budget because of the shortened season brought on by coronavirus. The pool typically operates at a loss so a shortened season meant less strain on the finances. The pool does need a building for its new heating unit that will finish in the next fiscal year. Contacts with contractors fell through because of the pandemic, much like the final building piece at Armory Park. The city awaits a toy Jeep before the final play mating can be installed at that site.

A 3% increase was recommended for electric rates. Rates were previously only increased 1.5% but while looking at operating income over revenue, this increase would offset losses from the latest water audit. Those numbers didn't include electrical revenue the city will collect from the new Petsource plant. Butcher said they didn't want to account for electricity to that building without a full year of electricity rates.

Fire and rescue budget saw an increase for the purchase of a new engine. The engineering budget saw no substantial changes.

Seward Country Club brought more revenue than anticipated, partially because of coronavirus, sales of alcohol and maintenance to hole No. 8. More work is scheduled on hole No. 9 this off season. The library is scheduled to upgrade its multimedia in the upstairs conference room, part of which will be subsidized by grants.

With the exception of adding pickle ball courts and resurfacing at Plum Creek Park, the parks and recreation budget went largely unchanged.

A recommendation was made to look at installing a pump house on South 10th Street that would pump excess water into stop gates because flooding in that area could reach Hughes Brothers, which would cause significant damage. Butcher said that eventually they'd look at installing an automated system there but that would take significant investment and multiple grants.

The police budget saw an increase of $30,000 for its annual vehicle replacement and the rail campus also saw an additional $30,000 added to its budget for possible outside engineering projects. Recycling revenue dropped which has brought concerns from the council on how to best move forward with its current budget.

TIF and senior center funding remained the same.

The budget outlines an increase in the streets budget, although a number remains elusive. The city is pursuing a bidder for upcoming projects beyond the Karol Kay Boulevard project. Butcher mentioned a need to find new, creative revenue sources like annexation.

The wastewater systems budget saw a 3% increase, which was recommended through studies. Currently, the outfall goes to Plum Creek but moving it to the Big Blue across the road would mean less dilution because it's a bigger body of water. Butcher then brought up the need for a possible water treatment plant down the road, as the current system isn't sustainable with Seward's residential growth rate. There was no recommended increase in water budget.

The airport's new hangar was paid for through grant money.

The budget also outlined, but didn't finalize, a 3% increase in the city's share of funding the Seward County Chamber and Development Partnership.

Council members, with Alyssa Hendrix not present, unanimously adopted the budget as it was presented with the amendments of adding $2,000 to the cemeteries budget, adding $60,000 to the pool budget for a building for the new heater and moving $11,000 from this year's parks and recreations budget to next fiscal year to fund the jeep at Armory Park.

In other business, Bottle Rocket Brewing Company's request for use of city property and authorization to sell alcohol for its annual Oktoberfest event was approved. The intention is to hold another Oktoberfest event Oct. 2-3 in the street in front of the building stretching to the library.

Co-owner Gerald Homp said they wanted the extra space for social distancing. Patrons would arrive through the front door and then could walk out into a fenced area along Fifth Street. That motion passed unanimously with the amendment of an insurance rider.

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