By Sterling McGinn

A lengthy closed session with village attorneys took place at the beginning of the monthly meeting of the Newberry Village Council held Tuesday, March 16 at 6 p.m. The closed session revolved around the ongoing arbitration demands from former village manager Jennifer James-Mesloh.

The meeting was held via Zoom with all members of the board present on the call. No public comment was heard during the meeting. This may have been the last virtual meeting for the Village Council—with in-person sessions possibly resuming in April.

Following the council’s  return to regular session, the board voted to accept the attorney’s advice, and to authorize attorneys to present settlement terms for the arbitration. Terms were not discussed publicly.

No other council action took place regarding the matter during the regular session.

In other business, Village Manager Allison Watkins gave an explanation of the yearly village water bond payments to the board. The amount for the 2021 bond interest and principal payments total  $367,269.44. Once the payment is made at the end of the year, the remaining balance on the debt of the three water bonds totals $7.6 million.

“In conversations we have had already on water changes, I have talked about how we are bringing in enough money to cover our bond payments, but not much else,” Watkins said.

Watkins clarified that although she had previously stated that the village has enough to cover bond payments, there is still a need for additional revenue for bond payments.

“As we talk about water rate changes, I thought it was important for everyone to have a clear idea of what kind of debt we are taking about,” Watkins said.

For yearly bond contributions, there are four different requirements for every water bond. The requirements include: an operating/maintenance fund, yearly bond interest and principal payments, bond reserve payments and repair/replacement/improvement fund for the 2005 and 2014 bonds.

The bond reserve requirements have been met for the 2005 and 2009 bonds. The bond reserve amount for the 2005 bond totals $130,000, and the 2009 bond reserve totals $16,000. “Those are the required caps, and we don’t have to contribute any further money,” Watkins said. “That money sits in the bank—it’s there and we don’t touch it.” Once the bonds are paid off, the village can use the funds as they choose. The village is still putting $23,000 a year into the bond reserve for the 2014 loan.

“We talk about the bond interest payments of $367,000, but if you add all of the requirements we are supposed to be putting away, we are actually looking $440,962 just for 2021,” she stated.

Watkins also explained that $84,000 a year over the next 20 years should be set aside for the unfunded, state-mandated service line replacement. An additional $60,000 for capital improvements is also needed yearly.

“If we add all of that together for this year, we are looking at $585,000 in expenses—just to cover our bond requirements, and to cover planning for required or necessary projects coming up,” Watkins said.

In other news, Mike Schnorr submitted his letter of resignation as a trustee on the Water and Light Board. In his email to Water and Light chairman Kirby Wendt, he stated he  was resigning because he was “sick of all the lies.” The council voted to declare vacancy and will advertise to fill the position.

Watkins updated the board on the Fairbanks generator inspection. The inspection crew arrived and determined the engine block was damaged during the incident last year. The village is still waiting on the official report.

Other  business that evening included: the payment of the monthly Village and Water and Light bills, updates on the 2019 and 2020 audits and reports from village officers/management.