Friday, December 19, 2008

Happy Holidays

First of all, I want to wish everyone a very joyous Christmas. We will be traveling to Illinois to get together with our family. I’m very excited!! Our oldest son recently moved to Illinois from Colorado and this is the first Christmas in a very long time that we will all be together. We can begin some new family traditions that include the whole gang. I hope that you are able to connect with your family and spend some quality time together.

The After Action Report is completed for the flooding this spring and was presented at the Council Meeting this week. We learned many lessons about handling an emergency. The key learning is that we need to make sure that everyone is trained and we need to take time to practice handling a large scale disaster. Command and communication are the key factors to saving lives and property during a disaster. We need to practice establishing command, activating the Emergency Operations Center and filling the roles that perform important duties during a disaster. FEMA provides free training and practice exercises. I will bring proposals back to the Council to implement a much expanded training and practice program for our city. It is important that we are better prepared in the future to face any emergency.

Enjoy the holidays. Be safe when you travel as the weather doesn’t seem to want to cooperate with our travel plans.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Saving Money, Preserving & Repairing

There are lots of ways we can save energy in Columbus and our Water & Light department has made some changes that will lower electric costs for the holidays. This year the holiday decorations downtown will be lit with LED lights. In the past the wreaths above the streetlights had 14 high energy light bulbs. These have been replaced with 140 small LED lights. The electricity cost will go from about $20 per streetlight to $2. So when you drive through the downtown you can check out the LED Holiday lights and see if they would work for you. They are available at the local hardware store. This one simple change makes the city more energy efficient and saves taxpayers money.

Something small can make a difference. A couple of weeks ago we dedicated four bikes at the Amtrak station. These are recovered bikes that the police had so they were free of charge to the city. They were painted crazy colors to be easily identified, and put at the Amtrak station for folks to borrow while they were waiting for a train. Well, I had a call last week from a couple who love to take vacations that do not involve a car. They were excited to hear that they could borrow bikes and explore our city. So they’ve planned a trip to Columbus on the train, then they’ll be borrowing bikes, eating in the local restaurants, staying locally and shopping. This one small thing has already had a positive economic impact on our community! And there was no cost to the city or taxpayers… just some imagination and a sense of fun!

We learned last week that DNR will not be fining us for the discharging that happened during the flood this spring. Prior to all the sewer work in the Main Street basin area, Columbus was considered a problem community and we were being closely monitored for any violations. We acted responsibly and upgraded badly deteriorating pipes. We’ve met with the DNR and made every attempt to meet requirements. The flood overwhelmed our system, but the DNR recognized that this was beyond our control. Again, good planning and management saves our citizens money, and provides better services.

I understand there has been some confusion over the need to repair the “roof” on City Hall. I think that we’re all talking about the same thing, but sometimes the vocabulary gets in the way. The repair the City Council is considering is a repair to the braces and joists that support the actual roofing materials. Of course when the braces are repaired new roofing materials will be required. The joists and braces have exceeded their expected life and are in desperate need of repair. City Hall has been the cornerstone of Columbus since 1892… over 116 years! When we repair and preserve it saves money while preserving our history. A new City Hall to house the Administration, Police Department and City Council Chambers would cost millions, while repairing the roof is much less expensive.

And talk about preserving and repairing. This summer I decided to paint the front porch of our B&B and wanted to strip off the layers of old paint before I put on new. I thought that it would take me a few weeks to strip down the wood… well I was wrong. After almost 10 weeks of scraping, stripping, sanding and using a heat gun I finally finished one HALF of the porch. It looks great, but I know what I’ll be working on as soon as the weather gets warm in the spring!

Did you notice the maple trees this week? The bright yellow leaves against the black trunks branches were spectacular and gave us a last look at their beauty before they fell to the ground preparing for winter. We live in a beautiful place! Enjoy your weekend.

Nancy Osterhaus – Mayor
920 623.4925

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Projects, Assessments & New Businesses

As the weather begins to cool off, let’s take stock of some of the work that was accomplished this summer. We continue to make street improvements to Dix Street and Charles Street and the new parking lot by City Hall should be completed before winter. We have made it a priority to get back on track with street and sewer repairs. For years the City neglected street and as a result there are many streets in need of repair. Next year the long-overdue Williams Street project will begin, and sewer is scheduled to be run out Lewis Street. Planning and organizing these repairs has allowed us to make the needed repairs with minimum impact to taxes. Cured-in-place sewer lines have been put in place. These are less expensive repairs that are possible when problems are detected and corrected early. The pavilion got a coat of primer to protect it from the elements. It will need further painting next year, but this first coat is a great start and it looks wonderful. Again, getting the primer on this year prevents further deterioration and keeps costs down.

Some of you may have noticed discrepancies between the printed assessments that you received in the mail and the on-line listing. I talked to the assessors about this problem and they are working to correct it. In my case, the number of bathrooms on my printed copy shows 3 while the number on-line indicates only 1. The assessor assures me that the correct number was used to determine the assessment value. You may have noticed these kinds of errors on your own assessment. They are working to correct them, and provide accurate information to everyone who asks.

We recently learned that there are several new businesses that plan to expand or locate in Columbus. This is a wonderful boost for our economy and a credit to all of us. Our friendly, safe city is a good place to run a business and raise a family. It gives us a competitive edge in attracting businesses. We have a lot of great things to showcase in Columbus… great schools, a beautiful historic city, the aquatic center, golf courses, parks, a full-service hospital and emergency room, and of course great people who have a lot of pride and involvement in their community. Thanks to everyone who is helping keep us moving in a positive direction. Our responsive city government is making a difference. Businesses see a mayor and council who are planning for the future and working to provide good services that business can build upon. It all helps us continue to move forward.

My husband and I plan to go canoeing this weekend. It will be the first time that we’ve taken the canoe out this year. Always fun to spend some time on the water relaxing. I hope that you take some time for yourself.

Nancy Osterhaus – Mayor

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

End of Summer

On Labor Day we will be holding the 2nd annual City Wide Picnic in Fireman’s Park. Come on down and enjoy music, games and food. It is a good time to get together with friends and celebrate the end of summer and the beginning of the school year. Mark Croft will be performing, there will be burgers and brats for sale, games and a jump house for the children. I hope to see you there!

As summer comes to an end Public Works is working to complete the road projects scheduled for this year. The parking lot by City Hall will be regraded and surfaced. Last winter there were several mishaps on the ice in the parking lot. The new design is much safer and provides parking for Library patrons as well as folks visiting City Hall. A part of Dix Street near 16/60 has been resurfaced. There will be some paving work done on Charles Street and cured-in-place sewer piping is being constructed. These are all much needed repairs that are essential to keeping the infrastructure of the city in good repair. Next year will see the Williams Street project and Lewis Street sewer project. We have experienced many years of not maintaining our infrastructure, and without annual maintenance the costs to replace are extremely high. This is a wise use of our tax money.

The City Administrator has been working with the department heads to prepare the 2009 budget. We anticipate an overall city tax increase of 2% which actually represents a decrease in money available for city services. We have a commitment for over 3% salary increases for union employees and approxmately11% increase in health insurance. Gas, oil, asphalt and many supplies have gone up in cost dramatically. In addition we experience record snows last winter and used up the entire snow removal budget for 2008 before this winter season has even arrived. The 2% overall budget increase will need to cover these expenses. Our mill rate will decrease in 2009 as a result of the revaluation. The state mandates the revaluation whenever assessed property values fall below 90% of fair market value. That threshold was met two years ago, so we had to reassess.

The Fire Department met to discuss incorporating EMS into fire services. They voted, and overwhelmingly approved moving forward to propose a plan that will provide EMS services integrated into the Fire Department. The fire department will be putting together a proposal that is fiscally responsible while providing superior EMS services. The goal is to save money, provide better service, and preserve as many EMT jobs locally as possible. They believe that this can be accomplished without any increase in taxes. You will be hearing more about this as the proposal is developed.

Happy Labor Day and drive safely as the children return to schools. They are precious treasurers… our future.

Nancy Osterhaus

Friday, August 15, 2008

Revaluation and Budget

This week you probably received your revaluation letter from the appraisers. The City of Columbus was required by law to perform this revaluation to bring the fair market value assessment of the city to 100%. It has been 8 years since the last revaluation and the residential assessments had slipped to 64% of fair market value. Since we’re going from 66% to 100%, on average the change will be around 36% increase. This does not mean that taxes will go up by 36%!!!! The City Council has set a goal of 2% increase in spending for 2009. The revaluation distributes the cost more equitably across the city. On average every 5-6 years the city must do a revaluation. This one was big for because the last full assessment was in 2000 and most houses did not get a walk through at that time.

If you feel that your current assessed value is not fair, please schedule an appointment with the assessors. Call them at 800-770-3927 for an appointment or send your questions to them. They will be in City Hall on August 27th and 28th, and you can make an appointment to visit with them to understand your situation.

We have begun the 2009 budget process, and as I mentioned the goal is about 2% increase. The city faces significantly higher increases in union salaries, utilities, health insurance, etc. That means that we will continue to find ways to cut costs while funding new initiatives. It is always a challenge to fund very important programs and reduce funding in other areas. You will continue to see us focusing on efficiencies in the city

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Efficient, Safe City Operations

City Government has accomplished a lot of good work this year. We’ve taken a look at ways to save taxpayer’s money and perform city work more efficiently. This work continues. This week at the Committee of the Whole meeting we will be discussing hiring George Sheets, former Beaver Dam Fire Chief, to help take a look at reorganizing the Fire Department to include EMS services. The Fire Department has asked for this reorganization and they have asked for a full-time, professional chief to lead the combined Fire Department / Emergency Management Services. The goal is to also do this more efficiently and save taxpayer’s money. We currently spend over $210,000 annually on EMS services, and this money can be reallocated to provide EMS service in-house. George is educated and experienced in Fire Department / EMS operations. In addition to being a chief in several large communities, he has a masters degree in Organizational Management. We have the opportunity to use his skills and experience to help our Fire Department become more efficient and improve the quality of both fire service and EMS. George is not interested in being hired into this position, but will act solely as a consultant.

I am in the process of setting up a committee to review the options and develop a Fire Chief Job description that encompasses the expertise needed to lead the department forward. George will act as a consultant to this committee helping them set the standards for Fire and EMS services. Bill Breunig will chair this committee. Bill is a Captain in the Fire Department and the Eastern Columbia County Judge. He has been on the Columbus Fire Department since 1984 and is respected by the firefighters and community. His leadership will ensure the Fire Department’s voice and Community’s needs are kept front and center. The committee will include representatives from the Community, Hospital, School, Rural Group, Fire Department, Police & Fire Commission, and City Council. Throughout this entire process we will ensure the safety of our citizens is enhanced by this reorganization, never compromised.

The Council is also reviewing studies of the City Hall roof. Several weeks ago we went upstairs and took a look at the roofing structure and learned that the beams that hold the roof in place are failing and need to be replaced. We have earmarked $300,000 in the Capital Improvement Plan to perform this work. City Hall is a grand old building, the cornerstone of our City. This building has served as the center of our government since 1892 and there is no reason that it cannot continue in this function for many more years to come. It needs a new roof… it’s that simple. We will talk about options available and begin the project to maintain this landmark property. It is much less expensive to do the maintenance now rather than be put in a position of having to fund repairs when the roof fails.

Last week I attended the Mayor’s Innovation Projected hosted by Madison Mayor, Dave Cieslewicz and the University of Wisconsin. It was wonderful. About 60 people attended this conference, mostly mayors from across the county and the state. We talked about issues that affect every city large and small. Issues boil down to discussion of money and people… how do we provide the best services that we can for our citizens, while watching the budget and keeping taxes affordable. What decisions can we make that will enhance quality of life for the citizens. Great conversations, great information on how other cities have solved their problems. We all learn from each other’s experiences and ideas.

Have a great weekend… summer is certainly in full force. The flower gardens around the city are spectacular with the purple cone flowers and roses in full bloom. It is a great time to take a walk and enjoy this wonderful city.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Home Improvements

I talked to a number of people who are working on their home improvement projects after the flood. There are many projects underway all over the city… new furnaces and air conditioners, new dry walling and carpets. FEMA continues to warn us that there are scam artists out there who would love to take your money and run. Be careful of anyone who comes to your home offering to do home improvement projects. They often request a down payment, and after you give them your money they are gone. Many of the reputable contractors have 4+ months wait to begin the project, so I can understand folks getting impatient… but, be careful.

We are getting much closer to beginning the hiring process for the Columbus Fire Chief. The fire department came to the City Council Planning session on Tuesday and asked the council to consider combining Emergency Services (Ambulance) into the Fire Department and hiring a full time Fire Chief. We will be developing some cost : benefit numbers to understand the costs behind this. I completely support the Fire Department’s request to go to a full time chief and combine emergency services. Once we have some good data on costs and transition plans, you will hear a lot more about this.

I’m in Madison this week at the Mayor’s Innovation Project where 60 mayors from around the country get together to discuss best practices and topics of importance. We will be discussing transportation options and making our community pedestrian and bike friendly… it should be very interesting.

My son and his family moved to Illinois from Colorado. We’re so excited. This means that the grandchildren are much closer and we will be able to get together much more often… yippee!!!

Nancy Osterhaus