Littleton City Council Meeting Minutes December 11, 2007

Littleton City Council Study Session – Televised on Channel 8 (Let’s hear it for Open Government!)

December 11, 2007

 

There were three topics for discussion:

 

            Police Radio System

            Xcel Franchise Renewal

            Sewer Billing and Sewer Penalty for late payment

 Police Radio SystemWhat follows is the narrative from the 2008 proposed budget document to support a 5 year special project at a cost of $705,000 over the 5 year period for a 700 MHz radio replacement project.  The following is the discussion about the proposed request.  I have included it in hopes that the council discussion of the topic will make more sense. “In 1997 the statewide radio network was established which used the 800 MHz frequency.  This was the primary frequency for public safety responders.  In 2004 the 700 MHz frequency was introduced into the statewide network due to over crowding of the 800 MHz frequency.  The FCC and Congress has enacted legislation that clears the 700 MHz frequency for public safety only.  All other users of that frequency must be moved by February 2009.  Littleton Fire started their change over to 700 MHz in 2005.”  

Chief Heather Coogan said the change of equipment would include the dispatch consoles, a mobile radio that is hard-wired into a police car (or cars – I am not sure) and the portable radio units.  Littleton currently uses the 800 MHz system and would like to upgrade to a system that would allow them to use both 700 MHz and 800MHz.  (The Littleton Fire Department is on the 700 system.)  The discussion was about purchasing new radio equipment for LPD that operates on the 700 MHz and 800 MHz.  The dispatch equipment is in year 10 of an expected life of 10 to 12 years.  The current equipment is so old that parts are no longer available for the repair of the consolettes used in dispatch.

 

Arapahoe County owns and operates the system that allows the radios that the LPD uses to operate.  This upgrade would allow the LPD to communicate with all other agencies if there were to be a large scale emergency or public safety situation.Agencies nationwide are going to the 700 system which will allow all the agencies to communicate with each other. 

 

Peggy Cole has had a conversation with someone with experience in this area and brought up the concern that we may buy something that Homeland Security would not support.  Chief Coogan said Littleton uses the Motorola system.  There is an Erickson system and equipment exists that will allow the two systems to crossover.

 

Cole wanted to know about a replacement cycle if the purchase was made.  That has not been determined at this point.

 

Doug Clark was interested in the number of channels and wondered with Littleton staying relatively the same size and being land locked why do we need to make the change which is very costly.  In other words, 10 years ago the 800MHz was good enough – why isn’t it good enough now.

 

The new system will allow the dispatchers to have contact with all agencies – it will provide more resources and opportunities.

 

The Council took a tour of the dispatch area.

 

Clark said we have been encouraged to go to a system for more operability and this same system is sold to other agencies.  When it is over subscribed we will be asked to spend another ¾ to 1 million to upgrade because the 700 system is full.  I don’t know if the citizens are getting any benefit for our police to talk to Boulder.  We aren’t causing the overload of the 800 system – if we were still on VHF we wouldn’t have problems.

 

Chief Coogan said it was critical to the citizens for public safety.  There is a risk in a large emergency that we couldn’t communicate.  The consoles are 10 to 12 years old and they have to be replaced.

 

Jim Woods said the drive since 911 and Columbine has been to get the agencies so they can talk to each other.  We can’t be our own little island. 

 

Jim Taylor wanted to know what frequency the ambulance services use – he was told 800.

 Xcel Franchaise Renewal

Just what it sounds like – the current 20 year agreement will expire in February of 2008 and it is time to renew.

 Sewer Penalty and Late Payment Policy

Doug Farmen, Director of Finance, explained that the penalty for not paying the sewer bill was 25% of the sewer fees and the storm drainage fee combined.

 

This past Fall the City received 2,500 to 3,000 phone calls from citizens complaining that the bill did not outline the penalty.  Farmen said there was a disclosure notice included with each bill but apparently people were not reading it.  Farmen gave the council an example of what he thinks will be a clearer billing for the next year.

 

Another complaint was the 25% penalty which has been in the code for 22 years.  Farmen gave the Council a few facts.

 

  • If the penalty was reduced to 15% it would reduce the revenues for the City by $133,000
  • If the penalty was reduced to 10% it would reduce the revenues for the City by $199,500
  • In 2006 the billing system for the City couldn’t calculate the late penalty so there were many citizens got a pass from their late payment.  That “pass” may have contributed to the large number of people who paid late this time.
  • There were 12% of the accounts that were late with their payment – 5,750 different accounts.

 

Peggy Cole wanted to know how much it cost the staff to process late payments.  Farmen thought it was about $30,000.  Cole then asked if another bill was mailed.

 

Farmen said they send out bills in June, July and the final bill October 2.  If the bill remains unpaid the staff takes the bill to the County so a lien can be placed on the property. 

 

This year the City Manager granted a 2 day grace period.  There were big issues with on-line payments – the lock box does not know what to do with payments not accompanied by a customer payment stub.

 

Cole wanted to know what happens if someone just doesn’t pay – Farmen said it would show up on the property tax statement.

 

Cole thought the mail service is not too reliable these days which could account for some of the problem.  She favored a grace period that was not advertised.

 

Debbie Brinkman wondered if the “pass” year could have created a bigger problem than usual.  Farmen said they usually have 10% that do not pay on time.  Calls always come in but maybe not for three weeks.

 

Brinkman asked Farmen to rank the top complaint received from the citizens.

 

Farmen said 30% to 40% of the calls were about how high the penalty was and the second issue was how the bill needed to be clearer.

 

Brinkman wanted to know if it could be paid in 2 separate checks – it can – but they were surprised at how few used that method.

 

Taylor said he was not interested in doing anything different other than be clearer on the bill.  Brinkman asked him if he favored a grace period – he said he did not.

 

Clark wanted to know how many bills are filed with the County each year – 2,700 or 5% was the response.

 

Clark favored a 5 to 7 day hidden grace period and a $30 late fee, then an increase of the penalty to 25% and if the bill has to go to the County increase the penalty to 35%.  A person who is 5 or 7 days late deserves a different penalty than those that have to go to the County he said.

 

Brinkman asked if the City is financing the sewer costs for those that do not pay.  Farmen said the City was and they hope that the 25% covers the lost interest on the money.  Additionally, a grace period would cover a lot of customers too.

 

Woods asked that a hidden grace period not be put in an Ordinance.  An institutional grace period would work better.

 

Brad Bailey suggested that bills postmarked by the 15th could be the grace period. 

 

John Ostermiller said he liked things the way they are – clean up the bill and let’s track it to see if the 15% holds or drops.  It is the only stick we have since we can’t shut anything off.

 

Farmen said he would like to stay away from a postmark – it will slow down the process.

 

Clark was concerned with the bills that are taken to the County – the City will not get the money for a year and if we have to wait a year 25% is not enough but for someone who just forgets 25% is too much.  He prefers an administrative grace period and an escalating penalty.

 

Tom Mulvey said most people complained about the 25% which sounds too high to him; $30 which is 13% is too low.

 

Jose Trujillo thinks the penalty is too high but there should be a definite date set for receiving the money.

 

Clark moved to direct staff to prepare an ordinance that would establish a 7 day grace period, a $30 penalty  imposed between the 15th and 30th, a 25% penalty September 1st up to the point it goes to the County and a 40% penalty if it goes to the County.  Ostermiller seconded.

 

Woods thought it was too much to have to explain on a bill for the customers.

 

Brinkman suggested a grace period – if people are a day late it isn’t friendly to impose a stiff penalty – that’s not the purpose of a penalty.  Late fees are for someone who wants to game the system.  A 25% penalty is a motivator to get it paid on time.

 

Taylor asked how much grace they got from Sears and Visa – he doesn’t get any.

 

Clark said he has a grace of 15 days on his mortgage.  But the penalty is huge said Taylor.  Clark said it was low as measured by a percentage.

 

Brinkman said you can call a credit card company and ask for a waiver and if you are in good standing they will waive the penalty.

 

Clark’s motion failed on a 2/5 vote with Clark and Ostermiller supporting the motion.

 

Taylor moved to enhance the bill and maintain the 25% penalty with no grace period printed on the bill.  The City Manager would be the only one to authorize a grace period based on circumstances.  If we want to increase the penalty for those bills that have to go to the County we can do it another year.  Cole seconded.

 

Mulvey said it was too high and Trujillo wants the penalty reduced.

 

Ostermiller said people have the bill for 60 days and a 25% penalty will get them to act.

 

Motion passed 5/2 with Mulvey and Trujillo dissenting.

 

Cole expressed her concern about reading the October report from the departments.  The Planning Department mentioned that they were talking to the Littleton Leadership group about implementing the 2030 Complan.  She said it is premature – the 2030 Complan has not hasn’t been finished, there hasn’t been a public hearing nor has it been adopted.

 

Woods said he would look into it – he missed that in the report and it is a valid point.

 

Cole also asked when the Council would be hearing something about executive sessions and Brzeczek’s complaint.  Bailey said there would be a memo in their packet on Thursday.

 

Taylor asked Clark when is the appropriate time to respond to questions brought up during unscheduled appearances – during reports.

 

Clark said if they were asked a simple question they could answer right then.  If we can’t we should get back to them after the meeting.  The Report part of the meeting should be for reports only.  If a council member wants to make a motion it should occur at the end of General Business; although, on occasion, a report will generate a motion.

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