The Trenton City Council on Monday night voted unanimously to reject the designation of the downtown historic district as currently written, which would have created a new section in the city code. On a split vote, the city council defeated a proposed increase in the electric system base rate. Narrow approval was given on another motion to allow fishing at the water plant reservoir only during business hours.
While three public hearings have been held with minimal public participation, the city council last evening heard from several property owners opposed to creating the downtown historic district while several on the council say citizens had contacted them to express their disapproval. Some of the points made by opponents were the belief the wording of the ordinance was too restrictive and that changes to structures would have to be presented to the historic preservation commission for review.
Former councilwoman Cathie Smith responded to questions and complaints, noting the historic preservation commission will not cause anyone to enact changes unless those owners want to. Having a historic district established also allows owners within the designated area to apply for a state grant to assist with funding facade improvements. When questioned as to why have it, Mrs. Smith said it’s the intention of the commission to keep as she called the “historic flavor” of downtown with coordinated improvements. Councilman Marvin Humphreys noted college properties are in his second ward and are part of the proposed historic district, but he said no one from the college contacted him as to whether college leaders were supportive.
Third ward councilman Robert Romesburg said seven of nine business owners downtown whom he spoke with were opposed to the historic district.
First ward councilman Lance Otto said he feels the intent is great but the current wording of the document doesn’t seem fair to him if someone wishes to change a door. Businesswoman Sena Arnold, who was at the city public hearing two weeks ago, indicated she favors the concept but has concerns about wording related to doors, windows, and signage. Others present indicated the historic preservation ordinance would lower property values downtown since potential new owners– they claim – would get discouraged with the requirements.
Fourth Ward Councilman John Dolan questioned whether the ordinance could be re-written to try to satisfy the concerns. City Attorney Tara Walker said it could but it was what she called a challenge to create due to the diversity of existing properties – residential and commercial – within the proposed district. Mrs. Walker did research and wrote the document presented last night; following examples of other cities that have a historic district. While the city has had a historic district ordinance, the creation of the district had not previously occurred, nor did it at Monday night’s meeting.
Voting against creating the historic district as presented were Danny Brewer, Duane Urich, Dave Mlika, as well as Otto, Brewer, Humphreys, and Romesburg. Councilman Kevin Klinginsmith was absent. What happens next was unclear on Monday night.
Results on two other topics were determined by split votes of the city council: three to four and four to three.
Utility director Ron Urton presented the request to raise the base rate for electricity to $21 per month. Currently, it’s at $14. The base rate is there for TMU to cover fixed costs such as for poles, wires, meters, and now, the recent loan to pay back over five years, the $785,000 additional cost Trenton incurred in providing electricity to TMU customers during the 72 hours of extreme cold weather in February. Several of the council expressed the belief that many citizens can not afford the $7 a month increase especially those with limited incomes. Urton repeated a comment last night that he made at last week’s utility committee meeting that the loan payback to the public energy pool for $12,000 per month means a minimum increase of $4 on each of 3,000 meters. The payback is to be done interest-free.
Councilman Lance Otto said he would support a $4 increase but stopped short of making a motion to that effect. Councilman John Dolan then made the motion for the $7 increase – again only on the base electric rate. His motion failed when three votes were cast in favor and four against. On the voice vote (since it was a motion), the $7 increase was favored by Dolan, Duane Urich, and Robert Romesburg. Opposed were Otto, Danny Brewer, Marvin Humphreys, and Dave Mlika. When no one made another motion, Brewer requested the move into a closed executive session where legal was to be a topic. The increase in the base rate also was said to be designed to cover increasing costs regarding construction and purchase of materials like wire.
Without an increase in the basic electric rate, TMU still must pay $12,000 a month for the additional power purchased in February. It’s possible that money could be taken out of the electric fund reserves. Councilman Humphreys noted that’s why the reserves exist, for emergencies, like was incurred during the extreme cold.
When questioned, Comptroller Rosetta Marsh said the electric fund reserves are about four million dollars. It was four-point eight million before the council decided to enact an electrical rate reduction during the pandemic. The reserves will drop by another $500,000 when the city makes its planned purchase of a needed transformer.
The other proposal before the city council was to purchase a security gate at the water plant reservoir and issue keys to fishermen who pay a $10 annual fee and sign a document regarding the privilege to use the area to fish. That area has been plagued when unidentified persons leave trash and debris on the premises that is then picked up by others. Humphreys said there should NOT be any fee because requiring them to pay is quote “punishing” the guys for not doing anything wrong. Dolan countered that he felt they’d pay $50 to fish there. After more discussion, the council voted on a different motion. There were four in favor and three opposed to having the lockable gate and having a city employee unlock in the morning and then lock when he leaves mid-afternoon and only on weekdays.
In favor were Mlika, Urich, Romesburg, and Otto. Opposed to the motion were Humphreys, Dolan, and Brewer.
There was unanimous agreement among the seven councilmen to the purchase of five pumps and three panels for the city’s waste-water system. The proposal is from Enviro-Line Company Incorporated of Osawatomie, Kansas. The total cost is $59,000 although that exceeded the budgeted amount of $55,000.
Utility director Ron Urton suggested the purchase of one pump could be delayed until next years’ budget to allow this purchase to fall within budget. But the council choose to proceed with the five pumps and three panels as requested. The additional cost is expected to be taken from wastewater reserve funds.
The council approved an ordinance that updates the wording in the table of permissible uses within the city code, without making any additions.