Engineer's contract up for extension

By: Stephanie Dumm, News Messenger Reporter
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Lincoln City Council debated Tuesday whether to extend the city engineer’s contract for three months or six months. City engineer Bruce Burnworth’s contract expired Dec. 31. On the consent agenda for the meeting, city staff was asking the City Manager to authorize the extension of Burnworth’s contract from Dec. 31 to March 31, 2012. Prior to the City Council’s discussion on the matter, Lincoln resident Richard Mackirdy addressed the council. “I tend to look at employees as investments in our city. If we look at our city engineer as an investment, this has paid off quite well and continues to pay off,” Mackirdy said. “I think we need to do what we can to keep Bruce working in our city.” City Councilman Tom Cosgrove suggested the possibility of extending Burnworth’s contract from three months to six months. “Based on what Mr. Mackirdy mentioned, is a three-month period an adequate amount of time or could we do six months?” Cosgrove said. “I guess the reason I mention it is Mr. Mackirdy is accurate in the value Mr. Burnworth has brought.” During discussion, Councilmen Stan Nader, Gabriel Hydrick and Paul Joiner showed support for the idea of making Burnworth’s contract for six months instead of three. “The contract was limited in term due to the uncertainty in development services and capital project revenues,” according to public services director Mark Miller in the item’s staff report. “While development has continued to be limited, a number of projects including the Regional Sewer Pipeline, street projects and Reclaimed Water Project result in the necessity to extend the contract.” The contract for Burnworth’s position is for $50,000, according to Miller. “I have no problem extending it to six months, but what I’m hearing from staff is we don’t have the workload,” Joiner said. “The reason for the three months is simply the workload you are looking at and planning.” Miller said Burnworth’s contract was “extended this way based on the regional sewer project.” “I think it is prudent to keep it for three months,” Miller said. “The city engineer has got some very good talents we have benefitted from.” In a four-to-one vote, City Council decided to extend Burnworth’s contract three months to March 31 instead of six-months. Nader voted no because he wanted to extend the contract for six months. Miller said Burnworth’s position is currently “a contract service under public works.” City Manager Jim Estep said the “level of work” should be considered, instead of “workload.” “What is the level of engineering work, would it be for a city engineer or senior engineer,” Estep said. “If there is plenty of work, we can work him full time for this extension. If there is less work, we can also have the flexibility to vary the number of hours each week. As we get closer, we’ll look at the projects that need city-engineer level of work and adjust the contract.” Nader wanted to see Burnworth’s contract extended to six months. “I don’t know where Mark (Miller) is coming from when he says things are going down. Bruce (Burnworth) says there is plenty of work for him to do. In fact, we are farming out to contractors,” Nader said. “Last month, we paid $33,000 for outside engineering services.” Seventy-three building permits have been pulled this year, according to Nader, versus the 49 that were projected by development services department. “The reason I voted no is I felt there is work for him to do,” Nader said. “Even though he’s not an employee, he’s the kind of contractor we need to help us get out of the situation we are in.” In recent months, there has been talk during City Council meetings about potential development along the Highway 65 bypass corridor opening next summer, at the airport and in downtown Lincoln due to the Lincoln Boulevard Project. After Tuesday’s meeting, The News Messenger asked Mayor Spencer Short why Burnworth’s contract was not extended past three months, in reference to recent council talk of Lincoln’s future development. “When the bypass is completed, it will be years before we get serious development,” Short said. “We don’t want to give him unreal expectations, when realistically, we should be cautious and fair.” Short said the building permits mentioned by Nader “don’t require the engineering services of Bruce (Burnworth)” since they are for projects “utilizing what is already here.” Short said that meant land already developed. “Greenfield projects are where his engineering comes in, which is bare land that’s never been developed,” Short said. On Wednesday, Miller said that “there are no firm projects moving along the bypass” and that “the airport potential projects are even further out.” “We all hope development restarts quickly but even the most optimistic projections put development out a couple of years,” Miller said. “The city cannot expend general taxpayer dollars on engineering services contract costs for development that is not here yet.” The News Messenger’s phone calls Wednesday to Estep about why Burnworth’s contract is only for three months when there has been recent council talk about future development were not returned as of press time.