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The Calistoga City Council’s agenda was full Tuesday evening, with several proclamations, water budget update, approval of $700,000 for a new lift station, and members engaged in a discussion about taking control of downtown sidewalks from Caltrans.

Lift Station Project

The city has approved $713,371 for the construction of a new Palisades Sewer Lift Station, serving Calistoga’s northeast sewer collection system.

The project was awarded to Telstar Instruments from Concord. The city had also received a bid for $900,000 from Valentine Corporation in San Rafael.

The replacement of the lift station is critical. The interior lining of the lift station has failed and the pumps are at the end of their life cycle, said Public Works Director Mike Kirn.

The sinkhole emergency that occurred March 1 was unrelated to these issues, however, and would have happened regardless, Kirn said.

The majority of the cost is related to electrical elements and a control panel with a fiber optic cable, so Public Works can see and control operations from an iPad.

The facility will be located on the same site and will have the same purpose and capacity as the original infrastructure with little or no expansion in capacity.

Check from Friends of Pioneer Park

Friends of Pioneer Park President Bob Fiddaman presented a check for nearly $33,000 to the city as that organization is dissolving.

“Our work is done,” he said.

Over the years the Friends have raised $500,000 towards improvements to the park, including the gazebo.

As the nonprofit dissolves, the money was given to the city with the stipulation that it be used for further park projects.

Raises for city employees

At the Feb. 19 city council meeting, raises were tentatively approved for unrepresented city employees at 3 percent in 2019, 2020, and 2021. Department directors will get raises of 3 percent in 2020 and 2021. The three-year term is for 15 non-union employees and was approved on Tuesday as a budget adjustment in the amount of $60,735.

Water budget adjustment

The city’s general fund ended June 2018 with a fund balance of $8.3 million, with about $1.3 million being non-spendable.

A mid-year financial update regarding the FY 2018–2019 revealed over the last six months there were several unanticipated demands on the budget that require adjustments.

At the Feb. 19 city council meeting, the water fund mid-year report revealed an adjustment of nearly $900,000 that had not been anticipated. Council asked for clarification at the next meeting.

City Manager Dylan Feik explained on Tuesday that there was a projected error of $4 million that never should have been budgeted for. New resort figures may have been factored in, but they shouldn’t have been, he said.

“It was wrong when the budget number was set one year ago,” Feik said. “We are hitting the mark on residential and commercial water rates, which are up, but not on industrial.”

The new water rate structure implemented last year is doing what it’s supposed to do and has been covering costs, Feik said.

As for the budgeting error, Feik said there is no missing money, there has been no loss of revenue or impact and the city is moving forward. Corrections are in place and the city is going to be much more critical of the third-party prepared budget study in the future, looking line by line at thousands of account codes.

Increase in agenda time publication

The city also voted to increase the number of agenda publication days from four to seven days prior to a regularly scheduled meeting, to allow more time for the public to review it. This precludes holidays. The council is also looking into publishing at least the first page of the agenda in English and Spanish.

Sidewalk relinquishment

Caltrans owns the sidewalks along Highway 29, or Lincoln Avenue, up to the buildings, with some variation.

Currently, the city has an agreement with Caltrans to allow for permits, like banners and signs, according to a staff report. However, Caltrans sometimes required separate agreements for certain projects, which can be a hassle.

Caltrans is very interested in relinquishing control of the sidewalks, said City Manager Dylan Feik.

Benefits of ownership include streamlining permits for events and improvements; increased flexibility in the range of uses that could be allowed, such as outdoor dining.

Concerns from the staff report include liability for trips and falls, and burdening property owners for sidewalk repairs.

Feik said the city receives less than one trip-and-fall claim per year, and not necessarily from the downtown area.

St. Helena has owned its sidewalks since 2011, after entering an agreement with Caltrans, according to the staff report. Since, the biggest issue has been the financial liabilities associated with repair and reconstruction of the sidewalks.

St. Helena has procured a $1.2 million grant from the Napa Valley Transit Authority to reconstruct sidewalks along their Main Street. An additional $300,000 will be required of the city for the project, according to the staff report.

Calistoga is looking for the extent of ownership of sidewalks along Lincoln Avenue downtown between Fair Way and the Napa River. A survey would be required to determine the exact limits of ownership.

Feik said the city has looked at the issue before, but has waited until Caltrans paid for the construction of the Lincoln Avenue Bridge, and ADA upgrades.

Still, council members expressed concern over the liability issue, especially around big events like parades, said Councilmember Michael Dunsford.

Councilmember Gary Kraus noted a trip-and-fall case that exceeded the city’s $100,000 liability insurance and costs escalated.

“I don’t see that the benefits outweigh liability issues, but I could be persuaded,” said Councilmember Don Williams.

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You can reach Cynthia Sweeney at csweeney@weeklycalistogan.com or 942-4035.

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The Weekly Calistogan Editor

Cynthia Sweeney has been editor of The Weekly Calistogan since July, 2018. Previously, she was a reporter for the St. Helena Star, and North Bay Business Journal. She also spent a significant amount of time freelancing in Hawaii.