Council approves new hire, tables disputed newsletter contract

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Even though he only asked for an additional building inspector position, Development Services Director Richard Secrist stands to gain more than that after the Mesquite City Council approved an amendment to his hiring request at its Tuesday, Feb. 28, meeting.

Secrist cited a workload that’s steadily grown over the last few years in his department stemming from an increase in new building permits and subsequent inspections. Currently he only has one building inspector.

The city issued 246 permits for single-family residences in 2016, the highest number since 2007 and a 21.78 percent over the 202 permits issued in 2015. Residential modification permits had a 46.2 percent increase in 2016.

“All this construction activity means an increased work load in the Building Division. Building Plan Reviews remained pretty consistent in 2016 over 2015 (1,017 vs. 1,106). This is about 84.75 plan reviews per month and approximately 3.85 per day. Field inspections have increased 16.65 percent, from 8,032 in 2015 to 9,369 in 2016. That is 780.75 inspections per month, or approximately 35.48 per day,” Secrist said.

The total valuation of all permits Secrist’s department issued in 2016 rose 46.04 percent.

In addition to the increased workload, Secrist pointed out the current inspector is eligible to retire in a couple years and he was concerned about succession planning. Secrist said the low end of the salary range would be approximately $47,000 a year plus benefits.

Councilman Brian Wursten questioned if there was enough work for a full-time building inspector and if a stronger position could be created that would serve as a training ground for future management.

Gina Mendez, Human Resources manager, advised the council that the position could be strengthen by combining the requirements for a building inspector and an assistant planner in the department. She recommended increasing the starting grade and salary to $57,000 if the councilors chose to go that route.

And they did.

Councilman George Rapson said he was willing to spend the extra money for the new employee to wear more than one hat. Citing his involvement in the local building and real estate industry, Rapson said, “Inspections are being held up. This is a critical need. Anytime you hold up inspections or do a sloppy inspection, that could be a bad thing for the city, the homeowner, and the builder.”

He quickly clarified that there is no evidence the current inspector is not doing a complete and thorough job.

Councilman Dave Ballweg noted the increased income to the city from building permit fees would cover the costs of the new position.

The council unanimously approved the new position at the higher grade and salary.

The council received pushback from local media outlets, which opposed a publishing agreement between the city and Liturgical Publications Inc. who would assume partial responsibility for the recreation and senior center monthly newsletters.

The agreement calls for a five-year contract and gives the city the option to cancel it with a one year written notice. The proposal gives all rights to any advertising revenue to Liturgical Publications with the city providing the Wisconsin-based company “a copy of their member list by occupation and a vendor list only for solicitation of advertising.” The city would also make available “a telephone, Internet connection and work space for the publisher’s representative during scheduled sponsorship campaign(s). The [city] further agrees to insert a timely pre-sell message into their publication.”

The publisher would pay the city “30 percent of paid advertising revenue in the Senior Center newsletter in excess of $13,000 per year.”

The city would continue actual distribution of the publication and presumably provide content for the newsletter to be used exclusively by the publisher. Currently the newsletter is created and distributed by city staff. Nick Montoya, director of Athletics and Leisure Services, says the agreement will free up staff time in creating the news and event notifications as well as savings in printing and paper supplies.

Montoya noted that background material, including a cost savings analysis, was sent to the council members, however it was not included in the agenda material made available to the public. He also said no local businesses had been canvassed to determine their interest.

Both Ballweg and Rapson expressed concern that the city had not offered the agreement to any local businesses primarily by not issuing a Request for Proposal.

Ballweg said the contract stipulations put a lot of pressure on local businesses who sell advertising. “I’d like to see this pulled from the agenda for 30 days and canvass local businesses,” he said. He added there was no urgency in the agreement and it could wait.

Rapson pointed to a similar situation that occurred in January when the city awarded a billboard contract to a local business without accepting other bids. In that situation, an RFP was issued but later pulled back by the city. “We’re in the position again where the horse has already left the barn on this one. We should have offered it to local businesses. Now everyone knows what the contract terms are,” Rapson said. “We should have done it differently.”

“I think we’re ready to go on this,” Councilman Rich Green said, adding that he didn’t see the need to discuss the issue any further. “There’s no fee involved here. This is a service they are going to do for us.”

In addition to other local media outlets who expressed concern, Kathy Lee, owner and publisher of the View On magazine, said she has paid license fees and taxes to the city for 10 years while the proposed company has only recently paid for a city license and has no established ties to Mesquite.

She said she has worked hard for 10 years to establish an advertising base and “now you’re just going to give them everything we have worked so hard for. You haven’t asked any business who actually works in your city, lives in your city or pay taxes in your city.”

She further expressed concern over the exclusivity clause for content and requirements that would have the city continue distribution work.

Referencing the requirements for providing office space, telephone, and Internet, Lee said no one ever offered her those things in return for promoting the city.

The council voted unanimously to table the item for 30 days.

Comments

  1. Michael Stilley says:

    Very disappointing that the current City Council would award a contract without issuing a RFP to allow local businesses a chance to provide this service. Kathy Lee made some excellent comments as to the preferential treatment given to a Wisconsin based company while excluding a local business. She was right on. In my opinion, this current City Council has done a good job but this is a huge black eye that they have self-inflicted. Let’s hope they come to a fair conclusion in 30 days.

  2. Dennis Cournoyer says:

    We recently had to REPLACE a water softener due to the appliance having reached the end of it’s useful life. I was informed by the contractor there would be a fee of $35.00 for a PERMIT issued by the city of Mesquite. He said not to worry that they (the contractor) would take care of this Permit. That was very helpful as I know getting anything done with any government agency was time consuming and usually unnecessary. The cost of course was my responsibility and would be added to my bill. Oh well so what, I thought to myself no big deal. Then the contractor said I had to call the city to have them complete an inspection of my REPLACEMENT water softener. Still no big deal. Then when the inspector came to my home she had questions regarding the drain level etc…etc. I told her all we did was replace a dead appliance. There was no contractor around to answer her questions. She accepted my explanation that this was only a replacement and left.

    Fast forward to Tuesdays city council meeting.

    So the city increases their revenue by fleecing its citizens out of $35.00 minimum, for every little home improvement or replacement of worn out appliances. The building inspector becomes overwhelmed by the increase of water softener replacement inspections and Richard Secrist gets his wish for an additional employee at an annual salary of $57,000 with more likely than not an additional $15,000 to $20,000 annually in benefits. The math being just a little fuzzy it was stated that there was a need for 38+ inspections per day. With one person working a 10 hour day 4 days a week, someone please explain to the citizens of Mesquite just how the city development services director is going to accomplish this described herculean task.

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