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Monett City Council drops lawsuit over county 911

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Monett City Council agreed to drop a lawsuit over Barry County's 911 system and keep options open as participants in a class-action lawsuit over telephone taxes.

The lawsuit filed by the city with the Barry County Emergency Services Board over 911 service is on the dismissal docket in Barry County Circuit Court. Karl Blanchard, the Joplin attorney hired to represent the city in the matter, recommended allowing the case to be dismissed.

The suit was initially filed to protect the city system from the county board. The possibility existed that the county board could go to the telephone companies and order all 911 services to be turned over to the county system, contrary to the city's wishes.

City Administrator Dennis Pyle said the city has since received letters from Bill Shiveley, chairman of the Barry County Emergency Services Board, and David Cole, the board's attorney, stating the county board has no plans to interfere with the city's 911 system.

With reassurances in writing, Blanchard advised the lawsuit could be dropped "without prejudice." The city could refile the suit later if conditions warrant, Pyle said.

Council members agreed to drop the suit. Pyle said the city's difference of opinion with the Emergency Services Board over 911 funding is a separate ongoing issue.

Alltel settlement

A settlement is near with the Alltel cellular phone company over unpaid taxes. Pyle said the class action suit in which Monett is a participant has advanced to where actual dollars are being discussed. The problem, Pyle said, is that there is about a $100,000 difference in the settlement proposed by Alltel and his calculations of back taxes owed by Alltel over the last four years.

The city's 1951 ordinance that defined the franchise tax for telephone companies specified a 5 percent tax on "telephones and telephonic service." Pyle said few cities have such all-encompassing language in their ordinances. Monett could make a strong case on its own outside of the class action suit if necessary.

Council members weighed the flexibility of options open to the city and directed Pyle to continue negotiations toward a settlement.

Cost-saving measure

As a way to limit costs for the current fiscal year while sales tax revenues remain down, council members discussed offering compensatory time-off to employees in lieu of paying overtime. Pyle said that employees that work overtime during the summer months could be compensated with time-off during the slower winter months.

Utilities Superintendent Pete Rauch said when he started working for the city in 1989, comp time was cumulative and unlimited. He had an electric department employee retire with 300 hours of comp time to his credit, built up from the December 1987, ice storm. After that, Rauch instituted a 24-hour cap on accumulated comp time. His department policy ultimately became city policy.

Allowing overtime to be taken as comp time could work well for public works employees, Pyle said, but perhaps not so well for police. Mayor Jim Orr said overtime becomes a serious expense for police and firemen in particular.

The mayor asked about using up accumulated comp time within the current fiscal year. Pyle said workers might find that if they had not used the time up by Feb. 1, 2010l they may prefer to be paid with only two months left in the year. Rauch suggested a number of people might want to take all their comp time at once at the end of the year, which would not be good for those left on duty. Pyle suggested allowing the comp time to be used through June 30, 2010.

Orr asked Pyle to put a formal proposal in writing for the council to consider.

In other business, council members complimented Park Superintendent Russ Balmas for preparing the city facilities for the July 4 crowds. Balmas was pleased at the attendance seen at the Water Thrashers tournament at the municipal swimming pool and the Babe Ruth tournament at North Park.

Attendance has also been up at the skate park. Balmas said park promoter Kevin Eaton has used lumber purchased by the city to improve the facility and has done a good job.

Balmas reported the street department will begin chip and seal work around the city on July 13.



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