By Clay Coleman
VANDALIA—I sat down with Vandalia’s City Administrator Darren Berry on Friday and discussed current town initiatives, ordinances, upcoming ballot measures, and the way forward for the new year. So, let’s get started.
Competition in the internet market
The Vandalia City Council recently approved a Pole Licensing Agreement with New Florence Telephone Co., a subsidiary of MissouriCom, which authorizes Berry to sign an agreement to rent space for internet and telephone services on the existing 695 utility poles throughout the city. With an annual fee of $10.87 per pole, increasing 3 percent every year, the city hopes to generate revenue of more than $7,000 annually.
“We currently have an agreement with Windstream,” Berry said, “and the contract with MissouriCom will virtually be the same.
“Talking about the benefits for residents, Berry said the competition would be ideal for Vandalia. “MissouriCom wants to be competitive with Windstream, so we could see some price fluctuations that benefit our residents in the near term.
“Offering Vandalia residents another source for fiber broadband and phone service, Berry anticipates competition in the internet business could come to the city soon.
“Signing this agreement will be the first step to allow them access, but I’m anticipating 6 months before this takes place,” Berry added.
A new tax on the ballot
Vandalia residents will have a “Use Tax” added to the ballot for the general election, held on Tuesday, April 7, 2020. Similar to the city’s sales tax, which is currently at 1.5 percent, the use tax will be on goods purchased from an out-of-state vendor, including catalog and internet sales.
“We’ve noticed revenue from our sales tax is going down,” Berry said. With an added use tax, “We will generate an additional $2,000 to $3,000 a year for the city.
“If passed, Berry cautions that residents will not have to pay both. “You wouldn’t have to pay a sales tax and a use tax,” he said. “This is a way for the city to capture revenue we’ve been missing out on. Farber and Laddonia have already passed this.”
New Stop signs
The city council approved new stop signs installed at the intersection of West McPike and North Walnut streets. Berry said the intersection has a history of accidents.
“We’ve had problems with this spot for a while now. Once we looked at it, we noticed stop signs at every intersection on McPike except this one.” When asked how long before residents would see the new sign, Berry said, “Weather dependent, this will be taken care of as soon as possible.”
The Everbridge Emergency Notification System
A long-standing issue with Vandalia and outlying community residents is the lack of immediate notification of severe weather, missing children, chemical spills, and any other emergencies affecting our area.
“The Everbridge Emergency Notification System is a free service started by Audrain County a few years ago,” Berry said. “It’s an automated system designed to inform residents of county-wide emergencies by sending a message to a person’s cellphone, landline phone, or place of business.” To access the Everbridge page, go to www.audraincounty.org, click on county offices, then select the emergency management page. Scroll down until you come to the Citizen Alert Notification sign-up icon, click on that and away you go. Residents can tailor what types of notifications they receive, times they get them, even set-up alerts for multiple businesses. It’s simple to do and takes just a few minutes of your time. For those residents and businesses who still use a landline, the county has gone through area White and Yellow pages and included those numbers automatically. Those individuals will receive weather alerts only.
New Facebook page
On the subject of notifications, the city of Vandalia has set up a new Facebook page for city-wide alerts and essential information.
“This is fairly new,” said Berry. “We noticed a need to let our residents know about important issues like city hall closures, Missouri Department of Transportation working in the area, water leaks, and boil advisories.” Updated by Deputy City Administrator Ami Schuckenbrock, the site will also include trash pick-up changes, city council meeting times and locations, and photos of city employees working in the city.
Speaking of city employees, Vandalia’s city council recently approved $4,350 in holiday bonuses.
“We’re bringing back “Chamber Bucks” this year,” Berry says. “We had this program a few years ago, and it worked better than anything we’ve done in the past.” If you’re unfamiliar with “Chamber Bucks,” these are checks from Vandalia’s Chamber of Commerce that will be honored at almost all local vendors in town. “We are trying to enhance local shopping in the area, and our employees can use these to purchase food, gas, anything that a participating vendor may sell.”