Steve Zachmann has had a busy 2020. And 2021 may be as busy too.
The former member of the city council became the mayor in the middle of a summer where a global pandemic hit the nation and the state hard.
It also forced the city to make some drastic changes, including closing the recreation department for budgetary reasons.
“I was on the city council for a year and a half and worked with the city council on the planning board for a number of years … so I was pretty familiar with what was going on. So no surprises,” he explained Tuesday.
Then COVID-19 hit the nation and the state hard.
“It was pretty much a surprise for everybody,” he said, noting it added to the challenge.
“Getting fully staffed with the public works department was the biggest task probably. That just took a little time,” the mayor said.
In some ways, the city has been lucky with a milder winter meaning less expenditures for clearing the snow, he said.
“With this warmer weather, it (the snow) is probably just going to get slushy and melt. We’d rather spend the money on upgrading the streets than we do on just moving the snow,” he said.
The mayor said that he hopes to have a schedule planned out for upcoming construction projects by the end of January. “We’ll check on our financing and see what we can get done …. see how we can work that out,” he said.
He said he has already advised the city council as to what projects he would like to focus on for the upcoming year.
Among the projects planned are completing the George Avenue Project paving, put out a bid proposal for paving the current street dig outs with the George Avenue Project, street patching and sealing throughout the city, coordinate with Fallon County on the street reconstruction between Highway 7 and Triangle Park and do exploratory excavation for the water under the pavement at 4th Street and Center Avenue.
In addition, the mayor also proposed replacing the water main to wells northwest of Baker following the completion of the Montana Avenue Water Main Project, along with doing a study on making adjustments to SID #36 costs prior to considering an assessment for the district. He also wants to look into the cost of working with Fallon County on use of container site for clean up and the need to landscape Steve McClain Park after the Parkview storm drain project is completed.
He also requested council input on the neglected or deficient areas of the city or projects that the city or other agencies could address.
The mayor also said he is hoping to work with different agencies on promoting area wide economic development.
Looking ahead toward specific projects, the mayor said he is hoping to be able to maximize funding for work while keeping the costs down. “We are putting all the projects that we have ongoing – and some proposed ones – together and take a look on balancing them against what funding we have. So we’ll have a general idea what direction we will be heading. The Plan B and Plan C will probably fall into the SID as we look at that and see how we can parse that project out enough to hopefully reduce some costs so that the assessment is lower,” he said.
“We have some things that we can collaborate with the county on to get done and take some of the costs off the projects.”
With a new administration taking over, there may be some changes when it comes to the Keystone XL pipeline locally, the mayor said. “It is my understanding that the president plans to withdraw the permit for TransCanada to cross the border. I believe some of that infrastructure is already in place, so I am not sure of his standing on that. Because of that looming, it is kind of a wait-and-see as far as TransCanada is concerned.
“I did get an email from TransCanada and they have done quite a bit of adaptations over the last few years to address some of the environmental concerns and that is all in place. That should match up with what the Biden campaign was looking at.
“But, we don’t know what the Biden Administration’s reception will be of those changes.
“They (TransCanada) are just dealing with the roadblocks that come up in front of them and try to get those worked out,” the mayor added.
The man camp west of the city hasn’t been using any water currently, he added. “Everything is provided out there now, but they haven’t being using any water because it is winter. They haven’t had a need for any water, so at this point the infrastructure is there, we just haven’t supplied them any over the winter. They haven’t needed it.”
Some federal help?
The federal CARES program which helped the city by reimbursement for pandemic related expenditure has ended. “That helped. But it is an unknown what the policies (under the new Biden administration) are going to be.”
The mayor said the city is planning for what they know is coming up in 2021. “We are planning our construction projects based on our current revenues. We are not going to plan on any ifs. We are just going to move forward.”
“I believe in planning to make things work as they are so that we don’t have to count on windfalls and what not. We want to be prepared to respond as needed,” he said.
Financially, the city is doing okay, the mayor explained. “We are are managing expenses without cutting back. The recreation department we had to close out because of COVID.”
“We didn’t have a full staff in the public works department for a while and that allowed us to save some wages,” he said.
“We are just planning as normal, like a lot of businesses have. Our revenues are not generated by having a storefront, retail business or service business. It is all through our enterprise funds,” the mayor said. “We have to still deliver water, take care of the sewer and haul garbage. We have been able to maintain that.”