Danedri Thompson
Council members agreed to offer BNSF an easement on city property rather than selling all of a  .434-acre parcel of land to the railroad during a meeting Jan. 18.
A portion of the property will be conveyed to BNSF as an easement and the rest will be sold to the railroad as originally planned.
The agreement council members approved  is an addendum to a purchase contract for the parcel of land  between the railroad and the city that was inked in 2008. In October of that year, council members approved a contract selling .434 acres near the Elm Street Viaduct to BNSF for $15,000. The cost to the railroad will remain the same, however, the new addendum will convey a portion of the land to the railroad as an easement.
BNSF owns the viaduct, a bridge that crosses over BNSF railroad tracks at Elm Street, and connects northern Gardner with the southern side. It was closed to traffic several years ago due to structural concerns, and closed to pedestrians in 2005.
However, the agreement will also allow city officials a 10-year easement on BNSF’s property near the bridge to install a pedestrian crossing in the future. BNSF will remove the closed bridge as part of track work.
City officials said there are no immediate plans to construct a pedestrian bridge over the tracks at Elm Street.
As part of the agreement, the city will also grant an access easement on the south pier of the Center Street Bridge. As part of track work for the intermodal project, BNSF will install crash walls beneath the bridge.
In other business:
• Council members extended Berberich Trahan & Co.’s contract with the city for auditing services through 2011. City staff recommended that the contract be extended through 2013, but council members expressed concerns about not having a bidding process, or RFP, for auditing services.
Kristina Harrison, council member, said she had two concerns about granting the company a three-year extension.
“First, I don’t like not going through an RFP,” she said. “… Second, I have concerns about not having new eyes looking at it.”
City finance director, Laura Gourley, said although the same company has audited the city’s books for the past six years, they’ve sent different staff each year for the audit.
She said staff recommended the extension due to new government accounting standards and due to turnover in the city finance department.
“We’ve had an entire accounting staff turnover since 2010,” she said. “It would be less disruptive if we keep the auditors and let the staff catch up.”
Berberich Trahan & Co. has served as the city’s auditing firm for the last six years – initially a three-year contract and a three-year extension in 2008, and Gourley said they would likely score “very, very high in an RFP.”
The organization currently charges the city approximately $39,000 for its annual audit. However, Gourley said in an  RFP for another city, the company offered its services to that city for a one-year cost of  $43,800.
She also said the city of Gardner’s books are more complicated than many municipalities, in part due to the city owning a public electric utility and an airport.
• Council members approved the re-appointment of Ryan Beasley and Eric Schulz to the Electric Utility Board and the appointment of Mark Baldwin to the board. Baldwin replaced Vernon Pickert.
• Council members approved a liquor license for Johnny Brusco’s New York Style Pizza.
• Council members passed an ordinance providing the range of salaries and compensation of various officers and employees for 2011.
City Administrator Stewart Fairburn said the ordinance was a house-keeping function that eliminated certain public safety positions related to the consolidation of Johnson County Fire District No. 1 with the city’s fire services.