Palmyra renews Sweetland waste removal contract
By Mike Arnold, Contributing Writer
Palmyra waste removal customers will see $1.70-per-month increases on bills beginning in March, following a vote to renew the town’s pact with Sweetland LLC during its bi-monthly council and utilities board meeting Thursday evening.
Notice of the higher charge will be applied to the town’s regular utility bills although these services are contracted and not classified along with water and sewer services. As such, advertisement and other measures associated with utility rate increases were not necessary.
“It’s billed with utilities,” town attorney Adam Burkhardt said, noting he would double-check just to be sure all were aligned, “But, it’s not a utility.”
In another matter that received significant discussion, the council voted to accept an amended salary ordinance for utility workers for 2023, presented by Clerk-Treasurer Debra Jones. Also under that measure, pay caps will remain unchanged.
Utility clerk Janetta Hopper spoke in favor of the revised ordinance, pointing out the extensive scope of duties undertaken by the employees. The ordinance was finalized by 2-1 vote, with council president Virginia (Jenny) Kirkham and councilwoman Christall Ingle for and councilwoman Debra Atkins against.
“They do a lot more than just water and wastewater,” Hopper added.
From the revised salary ordinance, the conversation shifted to concerns expressed with the town’s time-keeping system, administered by Keystone. After more than a year using the Keystone system, it continues to pose problems with proper logging of clock-ins and clock-outs. The system has likewise not afforded the cloud-based technology to allow workers to clock in and out via their mobile phones.
Currently, employees are scheduled to be paid on the seventh and 22nd of each month. Kirkham manually enters employee time prior to each pay period and corrects any “punch errors.” Jones, as system administrator, then adds benefit time and also must load the annual holiday schedule.
Several employees present at the meeting expressed frustration after they said they were paid late (after the 22nd) for the second pay period in January. It was also suggested that they received delayed notice.
Jones noted part of the issue stemmed from the salary ordinance not being approved until after Dec. 31.
The council resolved to approve that ordinance sooner for 2024.
In addition, since the ordinance was approved earlier in the meeting, Jones said she would work to complete all benefit time entry before 10 a.m. Jan. 30.
Burkhardt said problems with the time-keeping mechanism seemed to be systemic and added that the council’s oversight was limited with payroll operations, which are overseen by the office of the clerk-treasurer.
“At the end of the day, pay is a clerk-treasurer matter,” Burkhardt said.
The council also voted to upgrade its current security system maintained by ADT. Under the proposal, the town hall complex will employ one less camera, but coverage will increase since the new cameras feature increased fields of view. The agreement calls for one town official to act as administrator and supervise access.
Kirkham said the best fit for that role would be Marshal Dennis Lemmel.
“I really think it should be Dennis as admin,” Kirkham said, and the other members agreed as Lemmel was named administrator by a 3-0 vote.
As part of his report, Lemmel mentioned he has been researching options for purchasing a new patrol vehicle but was not quite ready to present his findings. He said he has obtained two quotes for new vehicles.
“I think our best option is to go with a new one,” Lemmel added.
Lemmel also noted some reserve officers will likely attend the Indiana Marshals Association annual conference in April in Indianapolis. A final count was not available, but Lemmel said he would provide additional information at a later meeting.
The council also discussed travel and lodging considerations for the officers who do attend the event.
Lemmel also mentioned he would be looking into an upcoming grant for body cameras.
“I think any education for reserves is great,” Atkins said.
The council, which doubles as the town’s municipal utility board, also heard from two utility customers requesting billing adjustments due to excessive water consumption as a result of broken pipes.
In the first instance, homeowners Gilbert and Marcia Lamb reported usage of more than 150,000 gallons of water at a home they own along Main Street. Total bills are estimated to be more than $4,000 (all billing cycles have not been completed as of the meeting).
“We are just asking you to forgive some of that rate,” Marcia Lamb said.
Kirkham said the Lambs would be responsible for the water charges but the council could forgive the sewer billing fees since that water did not enter the sewer system.
The council voted to grant the adjustment, which totaled $1,225.46 for the bills issued in February. Since the leak spanned two billing cycles, the council’s vote also extended the credit to the March billing, which is yet to be determined.
The Lambs noted the leak had been repaired, and Hopper said they were notified as soon as the town found evidence of the excessive usage.
In a similar situation, an adjustment to waive sewer fees was also granted for Country Trace apartments, amounting to $950.08. A spigot had been turned on and left running, which led to the exorbitant bill. The adjustment was also extended for the March billing as well.
In other business, the council and utility board:
•Moved for Kirkham to remain president for 2023 (Ingle and Kirkham were for and Atkins against);
•Approved purchase orders for parts to repair wastewater valves and a fire hydrant at the firehouse along Bradford Road.
•Announced a public meeting to discuss the town’s proposed comprehensive plan will be Feb. 8 from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at the town’s community center.
•Reviewed a quote from Shireman Construction to repair facia on the community center building. The council tabled action and requested a more detailed summary.
•Signed the town’s updated sewer and water ordinance, which the council voted 2-0 to accept at its Jan. 12 meeting (Atkins had abstained from that vote since the ordinance came together prior to her appointment to the town council effective Jan. 1, 2023).
•Discussed several invoices for parts from Wallers Meters, which Jones said required additional documentation prior to being processed for payment.
•Talked through upcoming enhanced Environment Protection Agency testing requirements which could impact the town’s water testing procedures.