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Snow removal heats up Fox Chase meeting

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By Stephen Thomas

 FOX CHASE - Love was in the air as the city of Fox Chase hosted a special Valentine’s Day gathering prior to its February business meeting.

The love affair ended abruptly after the opening Pledge of Allegiance, when the city council could not agree on the minutes from the previous meeting.

The disagreement pertained to the wording of the minutes in reference to comments made by council member David Selby in regards to snow removal agreement with Jason Denner.

Selby had addressed concerns about the agreement following a November overnight snow episode in which the city of Pioneer Village plowed city streets.

When Fox Chase mayor Bill Broughton thanked Pioneer Village mayor Gary Hatcher for the volunteer effort, Selby was concerned about alienating Denner due to the city’s verbal agreement for his services.

The end result was the council sticking to their agreement with Denner, while Hatcher agreed to no longer plow Fox Chase streets.

Denner’s agreement consisted of $85 per hour of work, along with $12 per 50-lb. bag of ice.

As of the February meeting, city clerk Ricki Daniels said the city owed Denner $3,486, not including work done just prior to the meeting.

Some residents in attendance were not happy about the council paying so much for a service they believed was offered free of charge by Pioneer Village.

Council members countered that they were never told Pioneer Village would plow for free prior to their agreement with Denner.

Broughton said Pioneer Village never officially said in the past that snow removal would take place, but had just always offered the service.

“We offered to pay before, but Hatcher wouldn’t accept it,” he said.

Residents were not pleased, however, raising concerns ranging from how bids were accepted to honoring a verbal agreement verses a business contract.

Meanwhile, council members were not pleased with an anonymous letter distributed to residents that criticized the council for snow removal decisions and a plethora of other decisions made in the past few years.

Resident and former council member Phillip Puckett mentioned magistrate Joe Laswell, a Fox Chase resident, assisted Pioneer Village with their plowing and performed the service along the city streets during the November event.

“Laswell plowed prior to the December meeting,” said Puckett, who also volunteers with Pioneer Village. “No one on the council didn’t know until January? Pioneer Village reached out and took the high road, and we (Fox Chase) didn’t respond well, to the tune of $3,400. The council could’ve handled it better.”

Council member Owen Taylor noted that Puckett used to scrape the city’s streets and now did not. Puckett said he only volunteered and didn’t own the truck he used.

Council member Lois Whitis said the council was never approached about free snow removal. She said the city took bids, received two of them and took the lowest price.

“Nobody came and told us that,” she said. “We took what we were offered. We’re being criticized for trying to solve our own problems in this city. No one told us they would do (plowing) every time, for free. We didn’t do anything wrong.”

Council member Sandy Osbourne referenced a Pioneer News article from 2010, when Hatcher reportedly canceled both a police patrol contract and a snow removal contract with Fox Chase (The snow removal contract was for Fox Chase to pay for salt used while Pioneer Village plowed free of charge).

Taylor said the 2010 event took place before current members of the council were in office (Taylor is the only current council member who also served in 2010).

City attorney Mark Edison said the city had contracted with others in the past, renewing contracts on an annual, seasonal basis, prior to the Pioneer Village agreement.

When the 2010 agreement ended, Fox Chase allowed a few individuals the opportunity to plow streets during various snow events. They planned to decide who performed best and eventually offer them a contract.

However, the past few seasons resulted in mild conditions and not enough snow events. Therefore, a contract was not put into place.

As far as bids, Broughton said contracts under $20,000 did not require sealed bids. He said the city asked for bids and made their decision from the bids received.

Resident Martha Ferguson said the bids were not properly advertised and that residents nearby would’ve been interested in the work but were unaware. She questioned the allowance of individuals from other cities to perform snow removal tasks.

“Volunteers by other city officials, as a favor, is not legal,” she said.

Whitis said Denner has performed a good job in the city, adding that people were only upset because the service was not free.

Council member Jamie Wolz added that money was in the city’s budget for snow removal, therefore it would not cost residents extra and would not raise taxes.

The meeting minutes for January were approved by a 3-1 vote with Taylor against (Selby and council member Mike Higgins were absent).

In other business:

- Edison presented the first reading of a residential sign ordinance.

The ordinance would require signs to be placed no more than three days prior to an event and removed within one day of an event.

Only one “for sale” sign would be allowed per property, two for a corner property. For sale signs must be removed within 10 days of a sale or lease.

A 10-foot minimum requirement from the street would be placed on signs up to 16 square feet in size. Larger signs up to 32 square feet would be required to remain further away.

The distance requirements were included to avoid impeding drivers’ views.

Residents would receive a written warning for a first offense. From there, a fine of $10 for a second offense and $50 for a third offense.

Election signs are not included in the sign limits per freedom of speech. However, they can not be placed more than 30 days prior to an election.

A second reading of the proposed ordinance will take place at the city’s March meeting.

- Edison presented first readings of tax rate ordinances pertaining to the city’s real property, personal property and utilities.

A second reading for each will take place in March, along with the setting of the new rates.

- The next meeting of the Fox Chase City Council takes place Tuesday, March 11, 7 p.m., in the Larry Belcher meeting room at Jewish Hospital Medical Center South. The public is invited to attend.