Conagra Foods announcement dominates Trenton City Council meeting

Trenton Community Development Director Ralph Boots, on Monday night,  gave a “general update” to the City Council on continued attempts to meet with corporate officials of ConAgra Foods, hoping to learn what “can be done to keep the plant operating in Trenton”.  He indicated that attempts to meet have been thus far unsuccessful, but efforts for a meeting will continue.

Boots also mentioned an industrial development meeting in which a request was made to raise money for retention and/or attraction purposes.  He also mentioned efforts to work on incentives to update the building infrastructure for ConAgra or any building purchaser.  The State of Missouri, according to Boots, has been “very responsive” to the situation facing the City of Trenton.

Last Wednesday, ConAgra announced plans to close its Trenton plant in approximately two years.  The company anticipates starting to transition production lines around June 2017, with the complete facility closure by Early 2018.  The ConAgra production will move to Archbold, Ohio.  The primary driver for the decision is the “more modern” operational infrastructure of the Ohio plant compared to Trenton, giving it sufficiently capacity to take on additional work.  The decision to close its Trenton plant, according to ConAgra, will eliminate 395 jobs between June 2017 and the Summer of 2018.

The ConAgra situation occurred as the Trenton City Council’s Finance Committee continues its work on a city budget for the fiscal year beginning May 1st.  The committee plans to meet again at 12 noon on Tuesday, March 15th.

Councilman Larry Huffstutter indicated he hopes a proposed budget will be ready after the meting to present to the full City Council.  Huffstutter said there has not yet been a determination regarding employee wages.  Later in Monday night’s meeting, City Administrator Kerry Sampson mentioned that “the budget may need some re-thinking, due to the ConAgra situation”.

Trenton Municipal Utilities Director Chad Davis noted that ConAgra’s planned closure will have big impact on the City of Trenton’s sanitary sewer bypass elimination planning.  The city will be in contact with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the Attorney General’s office regarding that topic, and more specifically, the possibility of seeking a time extension.

Trenton Fire Chief Rick Morris, without specifics, that ConAgra leaving would “have an effect on everyone, including area fire departments”.

In other topics, the City Council defeated a proposed ordinance to amend the charge for having rental housing units inspected.  Inspections are required when there is a change of occupancy.  The inspection fee is currently $35.00, with any re-inspections within the calendar year being charged $10.00.  The proposed amendment would have made the charge $35.00 for inspections and $35.00 for re-inspections.

Code Enforcement Officer and Building Inspector Donnie Vandevender said it originally was proposed, in the past, to have $50.00 for the inspection fee, and $25.00 for re-inspections.  He indications, when the current rates of $35.00 and $10.00 were adopted in 2014, the intention was to raise the charges the next year, but they were not.  He noted the proposal before the council, on Monday night, was a “continuation of the 2014 intentions to increase the charges”.  However, Mayor Nick McHargue, without going into specifics, called this a “bad time to increase fees, when efforts are being made to pass a tax”.

Councilman Travis Elbert said he would like to postpone discussion about an increase, since the city is requiring landlords to put fire extinguishers and new smoke alarms in their rental units.  Several landlords have expressed opposition to increasing the re-inspection charge.  Sampson said it costs the city more than $50.00 to do an inspection of rental units.  Five council members, on Monday night, voted against the proposed ordinance that would have increased the re-inspection charge (Mark Moore, Allan Quilty, Larry Porter, Travis Elbert, and Chuck Elliott).  Voting in favor of the ordinance were Kenneth Ewing, Larry Huffstutter, and Jennifer Hottes.  The inspection charge discussion included landlord complaints that “some apartments do not get inspected, so only the honest landlords, who have their apartments inspected, are hurt by the charges”.  It was noted it makes it more difficult to provide affordable housing.  Concerns were also expressed that the time frame for re-inspections should be a year after the initial inspection, instead of using a January 1 to December 31 basis, which can result in more required inspections.  It was indicated the council will consider a change in the time frame.  Inspections are done for safety precautions, as Chief Morris stated that “70% of structural fires involve rental properties”.

The City Council approved the only bid received for auditing services.  Certified Public Accountant Mark Higgins will be paid $8,500 for Trenton Municipal Utilities and $4,500 for the City of Trenton Audit, both for 2016.  The charges go up $50.00 in 2017 and another $50.00 in 2018.  The bid says fees are $2,000 each year if a single audit is needed.

The council approved the only bid received for asbestos removal and disposal involving a house at 1901 Chestnut.  Forefront Environmental Services of Oak Grove will be paid nearly $3,000.  The property owner, George Ellis, will reimburse the city through payments.  The council approved A-Plus Enterprise to mow six city-owned lots and the city cemetery.  It was the lowest bid among three submitting quotes.  Councilman Ewing abstained from voting on the mowing bids.

The council approved a hay ground big from Bill Zang at $12.76 a bale.  It was the highest among three bids received.  The council also approved an ordinance correcting a typo in the two-hour parking limits, making it effective along Main Street in the downtown area, weekdays from 9 AM to 5 PM.

All of the council votes were unanimous, except for the one involving the re-inspection charge for rental housing units, and the abstention regarding the mowing bids.

Mayor McHargue has asked Community Development Director Ralph Boots to ask Leadership Trenton graduates to help with trash clean-up efforts along streets.  That is the project that the Trenton Police Department is seeking volunteers for the clean-up efforts.  Snow and ice control efforts, from December 28th through the 30th, and January 17th, 19th, and 20th, cost nearly $4,100 for supplies and overtime pay. 

After Monday night’s regular session, the Trenton City Council had a closed session to cover legal and personnel matters.