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Busy Council Session - Utilities, Animals, River Trail Highlight Meeting
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After proclaiming this week as Oakdale Mustangs Football Week and honoring the high school team, the newly-seated Oakdale City Council got down to business Monday night, deciding to delay one item and showing differences when it comes to financial issues affecting the city.

The council heard discussion of converting power lines to underground along South Yosemite Avenue and J Street, especially with the pending development of the proposed skate park in the area. Though much of the cost would be handled by PG&E service credits and Stanislaus County allocation, a decision was postponed when the council learned that affected property owners may be subject to additional costs for any parcel conversion that went over $1,500.

Staff reported that they had not received any objection to the development but councilman Mike Brennan inquired if the mailed out notices about the project included a specific reference or clarification to the increased liability.

The matter was tabled until Housing Services Coordinator Lourdes Barragan could retrieve a copy of the letter that was sent by the city. The letter only revealed that interested persons could read a packet that included the additional cost. The council voted that additional time was needed with specific contact to the affected owners so that they had complete information about the project and any costs.

Police Chief Lester Jenkins made a presentation regarding the city’s animal shelter and the need to upgrade the facility. The current structure is an 800 square foot cinderblock building that was built in 1974.

Jenkins pointed out that kennels had been renovated and added through the Oakdale Shelter Pet Alliance and private donations, but stated that it was currently inadequate for the city’s size as well as serving as the shelter for both Oakdale and contracted services with Riverbank.

“It’s come to the point where it’s inefficient and difficult to manage,” said Jenkins.

A local foundation, ASTRO – Animal Shelter To Riverbank/Oakdale, is interested in raising private funds to build a new shelter but would need an assessment study before it could proceed.

Jenkins has arranged for Animal Arts of Boulder, Colorado to do the study at no more than $4,400, a cost that would be equally divided between Oakdale and Riverbank. The Oakdale share would be taken from the Animal Control Budget.

Mayor Pat Paul said she thought moving the shelter’s location was a good idea due to the stress the animals had from it currently being so close to the police gun range and sewer plant.

Jenkins added that the current remote location was also a factor in the renovation.

ASTRO Executive Director Curtis Lineberger told the group his organization wanted to develop a city-private partnership for the shelter. He informed them he had spoken to the Riverbank council, who said they would follow Oakdale’s lead.

Councilman Tom Dunlop said that due to the city management vacancies he wondered if the city should take on another project.

Lineberger said that if the city went forward, a completed assessment would not be expected until spring of 2013.

During discussions, Interim City Manager Stan Feathers told the council that his discussions with Riverbank showed they would authorize the study. He said that by city policy, due to the amount, he was authorized to approve the study but wanted the matter brought before council for their prerogative.

Councilman Farrell Jackson said that his solution due to the overcrowded facility was to sever ties with Riverbank. Jackson said that when the original contract for services with Riverbank went into effect, the Oakdale facility was not supposed to receive animals from the city. He asked that if the private foundation had the capability of raising $1 million for a new facility, why they couldn’t pay for the study.

Jenkins responded that if the contract with Riverbank stopped, the personnel cuts to animal control would make for a difficult operation. He also believed ASTRO wanted the city to show a commitment for the study before fundraising operations went into effect.

The council voted 4-1, with Jackson as the dissenting vote, to move forward with the study.

The council heard discussion regarding pursuing a grant for the planned river trail along Valley View Park to Kerr Park and using the funds to purchase easements from the current landowners.

Brennan was an outspoken proponent of the grant stating if it was up to him, he’d grab all the park land he could.

Dunlop countered that if the city received the grant, including the city’s $33,000 matching funds required, it would be another huge budgetary project he did not know if the city could undertake.

Feathers said the $1 million grant was an “opportunity” the city should take.

Resident Kathleen Westenberg spoke to the council and wanted to remind them that the newly elected Dunlop, Jackson, and Don Petersen, were put into office on assurances of fiscal responsibility.

Al McCarty also addressed the council and used the analogy of a budget-strapped household and the opportunity to buy an expensive pick-up truck at a greatly reduced price.

“If you don’t have the money, you still can’t take advantage despite what kind of opportunity it is,” said McCarty.

Jackson said the river trail needed to be handled through the city plan process.

“We need to spend public money prudently,” said Jackson. “I don’t think we should do this unless we go through the specific plan process.”

Petersen said he wanted to see actual city financial reports to determine where the city was financially, even if it meant missing the Jan. 9 deadline for the actual grant.

Paul said the grant was a “quality of life” issue for the city and to just not apply the city would “just miss the boat.”

Operations Manager Chuck Deschanes told the group that the city isn’t guaranteed the grant and if later decided not to do the project would only have to give the money back.

Dunlop, showing a change of position, stated he was tired of tax money going to the L.A. and S.F. Bay Area and would probably vote for the action.

The measure narrowly passed 3-2 with Paul casting the deciding vote after Petersen and Jackson voted against going forward.