Much has been said about Ely’s City Council and the actions they have opted to take over the past year. Some members of the community have been outspoken in their support of the council’s tackling of difficult subjects and their ability to get things done. Others have raised concerns over their intentions and the way they’ve handled themselves.
In a follow-up to last week’s lead story, The Ely Times would like to provide answers to a few commonly asked questions during city council meetings and raise a few new ones for city voters to consider before narrowing the field of candidates at the April 7 primary election.
What is the city’s financial obligation with the new interlocal agreement with law enforcement?
The Ely City Council recently signed off on a renegotiated interlocal agreement with the White Pine Sheriff’s Office to adjust the amount the city pays for law enforcement. According to Sheriff Dan Watts, the new agreement will bill the city on a quarterly basis based on a “percentage of expenditures,” meaning that the price will fluctuate each quarter. This is in contrast to the previous agreement the city had, where the council paid one flat fee to White Pine County for police protection. Watts said the city is currently paid up to through their most recent invoice.
How much does the city owe for the forensic audit of the railroad?
One of the main concerns of the current city council has been getting financial documentation from the Nevada Northern Railway to gauge their stability and longevity. In June of 2014, the council approved spending up to $10,000 to pay for a forensic audit of the railroad’s books. Since the forensic audit done by Larry L. Bertsch, CPA & Associates LLP was presented in a meeting on March 5, many have gone on to wonder how much the council actually spent on the process. According to City Administrator Bob Switzer, the City of Ely received an invoice from the auditing firm but would not disclose the figure listed on it. Switzer said the council has put an item on their next meeting’s agenda to go over the figure and to negotiate a lower price with the firm. The next city council meeting will be held on April 9.
Is the City of Ely actually on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars in railroad track repairs by S&S Shortline?
In addition to concerns about the railroad’s debts, members of the current city council have also raised concerns about another railroad related debt, the cost of track repairs to S&S Shortline. In an interview with The Ely Times last September, owner of S&S Shortline Mike Williams said the total cost of the repairs came out to $374,000. City Councilman Marty Westland has often returned to this number as a debt hanging over the city’s head, but according to the city’s own most recent audit, the city is not on the hook for paying that amount. In the city’s latest audit by Hinton Burdick CPA’s & Advisors, in the section entitled “Notes to Financial Statements,” the auditors state “The City and The Ely Railroad Enterprise Fund have no obligation for the rehabilitation costs” in reference to their agreement with S&S Shortline.
A few questions to consider going into the primary:
During his firm’s presentation of the findings from the NNRY forensic audit, Larry Bertsch said the railroad was on a “going out of business curve” and said the only way to fix it was to have the Railroad Board of Trustees and the Railroad Management Board work together on putting policies in place to correct the problems. The council has since gone forward with several actions, the most recent of which was to adopt a new conflict of interest policy, that are supposed to help shore up issues found in the audit. But the council has been informed they need to work with the management board before. In a ruling during a preliminary injunction hearing against the council, Justice Robert Rose found the council guilty of several Nevada Open Meeting Law violations in their attempt to terminate the chairman and vice-chairman of the management board. An ad-hoc committee that was formed by the council to work alongside the management board to get answers to the trustees questions was dissolved by Mayor Melody Van Camp shortly after no council members attended a committee meeting.
The council has also recently made a push to move city hall into a new building on Campton Street. In their most recent meeting on March 26, the council stopped attempting to overturn a veto by the Mayor to purchase the building and instead proceeded with talks to lease the property. Should the council go forward with their intentions to lease the building, there are still questions about what would be done with the 107-year-old City Hall building? There are also questions about why the original agenda item to approve a purchase of up to $500,000 for the building was held in a special meeting with little public notice.