Othello reviews proposed $6.1 million budget, talks engineer and drone

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Charles H. Featherstone/Sun Tribune - Othello City Council member John Lallas makes a point during a discussion about the proposed 2019 city budget during a regular council meeting on Monday.

OTHELLO — The Othello City Council on Monday reviewed the city’s proposed $6.1 million operating budget for 2019, roughly half of which is slated to fund the city’s police department.

However, the bulk of Monday’s discussion centered on the roughly $300,000 in the general fund’s “Red Zone,” money leftover after all necessary city operations were funded.

Items on the list include hiring a city engineer, replacing the police department’s aging radio system, replacing the city’s network of surveillance cameras, buying a dron, providing the police with body cameras, buying a new heater for the city pool, fixing the library roof and electrical system, and upgrading the restrooms at Lions Park.

“If we have the money to fund everything, it doesn’t mean we should,” said Spencer Williams, Othello’s finance officer. “This is still public money. We’re just talking about priorities.”

The city council reviewed a proposal to spend $105,000 spread across four funds — the general fund, the street reserve fund, the water reserve fund, and the sewer reserve fund — to pay for a city engineer technician to review developer plans and inspect buildings, with the hope of saving the city some money.

According to Development Director Ann Henning, the city pays its engineering firm, Varella & Associates, more than it receives in fees to review and inspect building.

“If we had a tech, that would help things move forward,” said Councilmember Angel Garza, who is also a property developer. “We could make that back fairly quick.”

City council members also considered finding another $65,000 per year to fund a certified engineer, as opposed to a simple technician.

The city is also considering whether or not to spend roughly $154,000 to replace the city’s dispatch radio as well all of the department’s hand-held and car radios as well. The current system is aging, and police have had to resort to scrounging on E-bay for replacement parts.

And there was a heated discussion of a proposal to spend $3,000 for a commercial drone to take pictures and video to help promote the city.

“We started to look at this when the police department did their challenge video,” said Mayor Shawn Logan. “It would be nice to do a drone shot to look at development, to document and advertise changes in the city.”

Councilmember John Lallas, however, said that could be done with a much cheaper, $150 drone.

“If you want that for some kind of tactical advantage for the police, I’m good with that. But not if you’re going to take pictures of the city,” Lallas said.

Police Chief Phil Schenck said that the Adams County Sheriff has a police quality drone, complete with radar for night searches.

“I could use that drone for recon or filming crime scenes,” Schenck said. “But we’re not searching cornfields. The Adams County Sheriff has that drone.”

In addition to the proposed $6.1 million general budget, the city is also proposing a $1.2 million street budget, a $200,000 transportation improvement district budget (primarily for upgrades to Olympic Street), a $10.8 million water fund budget, a $2.3 million sewer budget and a $1.3 million solid waste budget.

The council just reviewed the proposed budgets, and will likely vote on them at its next meeting.

“A week gives you better perspective,” Logan told council members.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached via email at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com

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