Blanding Council talks audit, fire department and recognizes retiree

by David Boyle
News Director
As part of their latest meeting, the Blanding City Council certified the results of an audit, discussed the fire department and recognized the retirement of a 27-year employee.
At their October 25 meeting, the Council voted to certify the results of the Fiscal Year 2022 financial audit. The audit was performed by Kimball and Roberts CPA, a Richfield, UT firm. It found no non-compliance findings in the report.
Financial highlights for the town included a report that city assets exceed liabilities by $52,869,262, a reported increase of $532,569. The city has seen an increase in its net positions over at least the past five years.
While the audit didn’t have any findings, it recommended the city move to electronic management of invoices and implement electronic timesheets. Both will be implemented.
A third recommendation raised some concerns. That recommendation asked the city to look at the classification of employees vs independent contractors. 
The city has historically classified volunteer firefighters as independent contractors receiving 1099 forms. The recommendation is to reclassify them as employees with W-2 forms.
Volunteer firefighters in small towns often receive a nominal stipend for their work. While that small amount would continue for hours worked by volunteer firefighters, the city has been alerted of potential IRS code and the Federal Fair Labor and Standards Act issues with full-time city employees also working as firefighters.
The overtime hours could require the city to pay overtime for those who work both jobs as well as pay all volunteer crews at a similar rate. This would be a significantly higher rate than currently. 
That situation applies to Assistant Fire Chief Chas Jacobsen, who addressed the council in public comment at the meeting. Jacobsen shared that he’s served on the fire department for 10 years and has received all certifications.
“A lot of people in the department don’t have all their certifications because they’re hard to get. They are very time-consuming. The tests aren’t all that easy and I feel like I have more to give,” said Jacobsen.
During public comment, Monica Jacobsen voiced support for her husband’s continued work with the fire department. She shared a conversation with the auditors suggesting that the jobs are separate duties that could require two time cards.
“I hope that if his phone went off right now for a fire call that we would all say go. That we would all send Chas and (Chief) Corey (Spillman) right now to go on a fire call and to help those in need.” 
Neither the council nor city staff directly addressed Jacobsen’s situation during the open meeting but did discuss the issue, as it applies to any city employee wanting to volunteer as a firefigther, during a closed session.
City staff says the revelation of a need to change their work classification of the volunteer department puts the city in a precarious and frustrating situation. The city is looking into options to resolve the issue. If one is found, it will be presented at a public meeting in the future.
Also during the meeting members of the council heard a quarterly report from Fire Chief Corey Spillman.
Spillman reported ten fire calls, five being bushfires, and 12 trainings totaling 19 hours in the second quarter of the year.
While the department has 20 members, Spillman reports about one half didn’t respond to any calls or training. Spillman said the department saw a decrease in participation since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and has not seen an increase to previous levels since. Spillman also mentioned work and family responsibilities as a possible reason for some volunteer’s decreased response.
Council member Cheryl Bowers asked if it is related to pay, work, business in work, family life or something else. City Manager David Johnson recommended an interview of volunteers to help understand the issue. 
The city council also recognized the retirement of Diane Bradford as Justice Court clerk.Mayor Logan Monson presented her a plaque for 27 years of service.
“Thank you, we really appreciate all the time, and hours, and service, and everything that you’ve done.”
The council also received an update from City Engineer Terry Ekker on the Westwater water project.
Opening bids came in from two companies for deep well drilling, with plans for a recommendation of award to come at a council meeting in November.
Ekker reported that one bid came in $1 million over budget, while the other came in $200,000 over budget.
With other funds leftover from the power project and the political will behind the project, the city will locate funds for the project before it’s approved.
Ekker reported the timeline in the less expensive bid is 240 days out, just for the drilling of the well. Once the project out for bid is completed additional work will be needed for pumping the water.
Council also heard the results from the annual Utah State University Wellbeing Survey. Findings were discussed by USU Professor Courtney Flint.

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