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Staff shortage hits city again as employee tests positive for COVID-19

by E.E.Mullens
WALSENBURG — The Walsenburg city administration announced during the city council meeting this week that one employee has tested positive for COVID-19 and that three others who worked with the infected staffer late last week have been ordered into quarantine.

While the city council discussed the current situation at length during the Tuesday night meeting but rejected any notion of temporarily reducing staffing at city hall.  Council members indicated they wanted to make sure all city employees were wearing masks during working hours and that city vehicles are sanitized on a daily basis.

The temporary loss of those staffers will impact response from public works departments such as streets, water and waste water.

Finance director July Clayton presented a month-to-month tracking document showing city expenditures related to COVID-19 spending.  The total as of November 5 was $27,332.17.

Clayton also reported that four city businesses, who did not have a current city issued business license by the Oct. 30 deadline, have been denied COVID economic relief dollars.  Councilman Charles Montoya argued that one business, Uptown Liquors, which closed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and has neither a city business license or a state issued valid liquor license should get money anyway.  City attorney Dan Hyatt was consulted and explained guidelines regarding relief/reimbursement funds were put in place and approved by city council, who were mandated to follow state and federal funding criteria, and those rules cannot be changed unless the city were to change their entire policy.

Interim Administrator Greg Sund joined Clayton in updating the council on the city’s plan to expend $100,000 of relief funds to citizens saying a basic framework of the plan has been developed by administration and officials from South Central Council of Governments. SCCOG will oversee the application and distribution process for the city.  It is expected the plan will be before city council in the near future.

As the city continues its budget process for 2021, the audit of the city’s finances continues as well, and the audit process is not going well.  Clayton reported auditors have found problems with fund balances going back to the 2017 budget that must be resolved before the 2019 budget, the subject of the current audit, can be adjusted and completed.  Clayton told the council that auditors have requested three and a half pages of requests for materials to aide them in the audit.  “They’re requesting a lot of (budget) history,” she said.

The city has scheduled the 2021 budget public hearing for Tuesday, Dec. 1, their next regular scheduled meeting.

Sund’s detailed budget message, which was included in the council package this week for member review, will be part of the budget presentation in December and is broken down into 28 separate categories.

Administrator’s Update:
• Sund reported the Colorado 811 Line Locate program is back up and running in the city and is receiving between one and four locate requests per day.  Colorado 811 has requested additional information from the city regarding locations of raw water lines between Wahatoya and Daigre reservoirs and City Lake.  In some cases the lines are fairly close together but in other segments quite far apart.  Improper location line location information was the cause of the damage to the water line on Hwy 10, which remains unresolved, as council has rejected all bids for the project that have come before them so far.
• Sund reported on the possibility of a $25,000 grant that is being applied for the water treatment plant filter media project.  “It is important to note, however, that if we apply for the grant we will be required to do the project after the first of the year,” Sund wrote.  That project, mandated by water quality issues and necessary to lift the current state health departments cease and desist order, is likely to cost in excess of $200,000.

In other business:
• The city’s water haul distribution machine is back to operational status.  If a customer notices any discrepencies on charges or water amounts please bring this to the attention of city staff and administration.
• The city council voted unanimously to approve Resolution 2020-R 29; which adopts a city snow removal policy.  In the wake of the pre Halloween snow storm that temporarily buried the city and has produced a large amount of response complaints, council had directed administration to draft a new policy, which was presented and voted on this week.
Some of the highlights of the resolution include, the city will not begin plowing operations until snow is at least three inches deep; the city will be divided into four priority levels for removal-emergency snow routes/school access routes/residential streets and alleys.  The resolution and maps highlighting particular streets will be available on the city’s website according to staff.

Executive Session:
• After the regular session, city council voted to move into an executive session to address negotiations for a formal contract to hire Greg Sund as city administrator.  No vote was to be taken following the closed door session this week, said Mayor Brian Lalander.