Council discusses moving municipal election to November

The Yuma City Council rambled through a variety of topics during yet another remote version of its regular meeting, last week.
The meeting lasted more than one hour, despite a fairly short agenda, though there was plenty of discussion.

It appears the city is moving toward asking the voters in the November general election to amend the city charter so municipal elections are held as part of a regular November election, as opposed to currently being being held on the first Tuesday in April.
City Attorney Kathryn Sellars explained to the council that long ago municipal elections were set up to take place in April in even-numbered years, and when the Yuma City Charter was adopted decades ago it was decided to keep with that schedule.
However, the costs are rising as the city continues to have its own election in April as opposed to sharing in the costs in a coordinated election with Yuma County in November. Sellars said the city having its own April elections also increases the work load and the stress for the office of city clerk and the employees, which would be lightened by the city switching to November coordinated elections. She said it would allow the staff to focus on other pressing duties, rather than an election. Sellars noted the county clerk’s office deals with elections more often, and has a steady protocol in place that, while not completely eliminating the stress, makes it more manageable.
Council members asked about the pros and cons, particularly in regards to costs.
City Clerk/Treasurer Karma Wells told them that this year’s April mail-in election cost the city $8,202 compared to $5,559 two years earlier. She said Wray holds its municipal elections in November, in tandem with the county handling the overall election duties, and Wray’s cost for its last election was $4,646. Wells explained a lot of factors go into an entities shared cost in a coordinated election but it almost assuredly would be less expensive no matter the factors.
Council members asked if going to a November election results in better participation. Wells and Sellars said there is no hard evidence that it does.
Sellars explained that switching the election date cannot shorten or lengthen the terms of the current council members, so the city still would have April elections in 2022 and 2024 with the first November election being in 2025.
Switching to a November election would require the city’s electors approving a change to the city charter. Sellars recommended putting such a question on this year’s November ballot. She said there is not a lot of time left to get it on the November ballot, but it is a simple procedure that can be done within the timeframe.
The council members agreed it would be best to move forward with placing such a ballot question on the upcoming November election.

Code enforcement
Code enforcement, and related topics, got quite a bit of discussion during last week’s council meeting.
It first came up during the city manager’s report when Ron Swehla asked how much focus was being put toward code enforcement.
Moore said the code enforcement officer also handles janitorial duties at the city’s buildings, and thanks to COVID-19, has been extra busy with additional sanitizing duties, adding that she still has been busy with code enforcement work.
Council members began asking about the timeline for getting a code violation rectified, and were told the timeline can be lengthy as it works it way through municipal court. Sellars noted that an immediate threat to live can activate quick action by the city, but most code enforcements, such as excess weeds, do not fall into that category, so they have to go through the process.
Council members asked about whose responsibility falls in which city department for code enforcement.

Sellars said the code enforcement officer deal with public nuisances, that the police can be involved in code enforcement, and city hall itself can issue violations if necessary.
However, as to it being clearly outlined which department is responsible for particular violations, Sellars said the city does not have such a policy and procedure, and did not think it was necessary, as the way the city code currently is worded , i.e. “the city shall” allows for flexibility in dealing with code issues.
Mayor Ron Swehla, who brought up the issue, said a small town like Yuma does not have the resources to separate out the responsibilities. Councilman Tim McClung said he understands that, but is confused at times by who should be in charge of code violations, and so is the public and the city administration itself. He said he would like to see efforts made in the coming months by the city to enlighten everyone about how code enforcement is handled.
Swehla responded the city does have a way to enforce code violations and that it has worked for years. He noted the discussion had veered off its initial course, stating it should be resumed at another meeting.
McClung said he was fine with that, adding it would be brought up again, and the council meeting moved ahead.

More meeting
• A requested donation of $500 to the S.A.R.A. House (which stands for Sexual Assault Response Advocates) was approved by the council. The non-profit, which has an office in the old City Hall, how the NJC campus, works closely with law enforcement and the 13th Judicial District in helping victims of sexual assault.
• The council passed the first reading of an ordinance reaffirming the city’s sewer rate. The council had approved a new sewer rate in 2019. However, an ordinance passed recently dealing with the dumping or discharging of oils, greases and toxic substances into the city’s sewer system mistakenly utilized the wrong sewer rates, so it was necessary to revisit the sewer rate and adopt what was approved in 2019.
• Moore was approved by the council as the city’s voting representative on CIRSA, the insurance pool that has the city’s insurance coverage, and McClung as the voting alternate.
• The city had two bids for purchasing a new utility line locator for the Electric Department, which locates underground lines and also finds faulty areas. The council approved the purchase from Ditch Witch of the Rockies for $5,804. The other bid was from Intermountain Sales for $6,488.
• Moore informed the council that the water main replacement of the first two blocks of S. Albany was set to begin this week, and two more blocks would be done later in the summer. The work is being done by Concrete Specialities. There are four blocks being done this year instead of two because the council approved relieving Concrete Specialties of doing two blocks last year so it could help complete the extensive project being done in Sterling.
• Moore also reported that a problematic series of potholes on Beatty Avenue were going to be fixed soon by the city’s Street Department.
• Councilman Dan Baucke brought up that some people in his neighborhood put out trash for the spring clean-up after the city crews had already come by the neighborhood. He said the alley was mess with refuse, and suggested the city crews communicate where such areas are located throughout the municipality, then come back by to pick up the stuff. Moore said it sounds like it could be handled by code enforcement, and after much discussion, assured Baucke the city would look into it.
• Several council members expressed their appreciation to the Yuma Police Department, city administration and staff, Yuma fire and Yuma ambulance, for taking precautions for last week’s protest at Veterans Park that Facebook chatter had set the whole community into hysteria though it turned out to be a simple silent protest by about 60 locals, just as it always was meant to be.
• The meeting, which was held one day later due to the Black Lives Matter protest set for the regular meeting night, once again was held remotely, with everyone participating via Zoom. One council member dealt with connectivity problems, and another briefly was unable to unlock the audio connection. Let’s hope they can get back to having in-person social distancing meetings in the near future now that City Hall is reopened.
• Members participating in the meeting were Mayor Swehla, and council members Mark Shay, Dan Baucke, Daniel Ebersole, Bryson Chrismer and Tim McClung. Councilman Luke Goeglein was absent.