BLACKFOOT – The Blackfoot City Council met Tuesday for a full agenda which it expedited in a fast 45 minutes before going into executive session.

CITY FINANCES

City Treasurer Holly Powell presented the preliminary end-of-year results for the 2019 fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30. She reported that the city was well on its way to financial recovery after the austere year of 2018 and the cautious year of 2019.

At the beginning of 2018, the city was confronted by a severely depleted general fund and reserves. While the city was still in the black, the shortage was the result of multiple factors, including a slowly-increasing $400,000 deficit in the ambulance fund over many years.

“We anticipated reducing the ambulance deficit by $300,000 in 2019,” Powell explained. “In fact, we were able to completely zero out the entire ambulance deficit … It’s time to put this behind us and move forward.”

Powell cautioned the city council that the ambulance issue was not completely resolved. Until last year, the service ran in the red for an extended period. “We can’t (continue to) run the ambulance at a loss, but now we have the chance to figure that out.”

Issues involving the ambulance budget are complicated since the service covers both the city and a large portion of Bingham County. The revenue sources are complex and include the city, Bingham County, Bingham Memorial Hospital, and ambulance fees. In addition, some of its expenses and overhead are covered by the fire department budget. Whether the ambulance can stay in the black will be tested during the 2020 fiscal year.

Powell also pointed out that the city now needs to build its reserves back up. “A municipality of our size should have reserves of around 17 percent (of revenues), which is (approximately) $1.26 million.” She also recommended building separate long-term and short-term reserve accounts. Long-term reserves would be used for emergencies or economic downturns and short-term reserves would be used for things like matching funds to take advantage of unplanned but advantageous grant opportunities.

TAP GRANT

Powell outlined a potential grant opportunity for the council. The State of Idaho Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) funds non-automotive alternatives, including pedestrian and bicycle routes and facilities; public transportation projects; and school pedestrian and bus route safety projects.

Multiple citizens have contacted the city about pedestrian safety issues for pedestrians along East Airport Road (“the Bypass”) between Highland Drive and Rose Road. As a result, the city would like to apply for a TAP grant for $539,000 to build a sidewalk, curb and gutter on the west side of this road.

Carroll noted that the city has received several letters from residents in support of the grant application.

Because the city must provide matching funds of $39,599 if the grant is awarded, the application must have city council approval.

The council voted to approve the TAP grant application.

AMERESCO

The council approved entering into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Ameresco Inc., of Framingham, Mass. The company has offices in Idaho Falls and frequently does business with the Idaho National Laboratory. The company describes itself as a “renewable energy company and energy efficiency company offering energy solutions for public and private organizations.”

The company offered to do an energy efficiency study for the city at no cost, with the proviso that if Blackfoot opted to hire Ameresco to implement the resulting energy savings program, Ameresco would guarantee the city’s energy savings.

The purpose of the MOU would be for Ameresco to access the city’s records and infrastructure information in order to create the energy study. The council voted to approve the MOU.

IDAHO POWER REBATE

Buzz Pfeiffer of Idaho Power presented Rex Moffat, sewer department head, with a rebate check for the city of $9,349.20. The rebate is to reward the waste water treatment plant (WWTP) for the recent installation of three 25 HP energy-efficient motors.

The rebate program is part of Idaho Power’s energy efficiency initiative with local governments and utility districts. Blackfoot’s WWTP is a participant in this program. Pfeiffer noted that Blackfoot’s WWTP has saved over 6.7 million kilowatt hours of energy since joining the initiative.

“You might wonder why Idaho Power is paying customers (like Blackfoot) not to use electricity,” Pfeiffer explained. “By being more energy efficient, less electricity is used. Less energy usage enables Idaho Power to avoid building new power plants -- and that saves a lot money and helps us keep rates down.”

OTHER BUSINESS

The meeting included the swearing in of the city’s newest additions to the police and fire departments. City clerk Suzanne McNeel swore in Police Officer Loren Dobson followed by Firefighters First Class Blake Gil and Ches Ricks.

Noting that the city’s Transportation Commission had a vacancy, Mayor Marc Carroll recommended that the city council appoint Michelle Kofoed as a new commissioner. The council approved the recommendation.

McNeel recommended that the city adopt a ¾-time personal leave benefit for the city’s two part-time employees who work between 20-30 hours per week. These personnel already receive retirement benefits through the Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho. The council approved the recommendation.