The city of Easton appears to have serious interest in switching banks for the first time since 1990.
City council members reacted favorably at a workshop meeting Tuesday night to a recommendation that the city move its accounts from Lafayette Ambassador Bank to Merchants Bank.
Council will be presented with a resolution approving the move at its meeting Wednesday night, with a final decision set for two weeks later.
City finance director Chris Heagele presented the recommendation from a committee of city officials, including himself, who reviewed both written and oral proposals from five banks. Heagele said the committee members based their choice on interest rates, cost of services and "intangibles."
"In all three categories, Merchants tied with the others or was the winner," Heagele said. "It's very difficult to end a relationship with a vendor. Lafayette has done good work over the years. They've done anything and everything for us."
Merchants offered interest rates of .3 and .35 percent for city accounts, depending on the amount of money deposited in an account, Heagele said, adding that the city now receives .25 percent, which is the rate paid by Federal Reserve Banks.
Heagele said Merchants also was willing to tie the interest rates to what the Federal Reserve Banks pay over the next three to five years, when rates are expected to rise.
Merchants would not charge the city any fees to service the accounts, Heagele noted.
Mayor Sal Panto said, "Merchants has made a commitment to investing in this city. They're taking a shot because they believe in Easton. ...Merchants' investment means a lot to me."
Added council Vice Mayor Kenneth Brown: "Merchants shined."
In other business, city administrator Glenn Steckman presented council with a document defining non-union and management employee benefits for the next two years.
Employees hired on or after Jan. 1, 2013, will receive 12 sick days a year and 15-20 vacation days. They will be allowed to carry over up to 30 days from one year to the next. Employees will be allowed a maximum of 30 vacation days and 60 sick days to be credited to their final paycheck.
Employees hired between Jan. 1, 2000, and Dec. 31, 2012 will receive 15 sick days a year and 15-20 vacation days. They will be allowed to carry over up to 50 vacation days from one year to the next. Employees will be allowed a maximum of 50 vacation days and 100 sick days to be credited at the time of their retirement.
Employees hired before Jan. 1, 2000, will receive the same benefits as those hired between Jan. 1, 2000, and Dec. 31, 2012, except they will be eligible for 15-30 vacation days.
Employees will receive a longevity bonus of $700 for the fifth through ninth years of service; $1,400 from the 10th through 14th years; $2,100 for the 15th through 19th years; $2,800 for the 20th through 24th years, and $3,500 for the 25th year and beyond.
Steckman said health-care co-pays and the costs for pharmaceutical, dental and eye-care plans will remain unchanged.
Bereavement leave has been cut from four to three working days, Steckman said, but employees can choose the three days they want to have off.
City council will also give a first reading Wednesday night to an ordinance governing scaffolding in the city's right of way. Council member Roger Ruggles has been working on the ordinance since late last year.
Ruggles is proposing a scaffold permit that would cost $50 and be good for six months. The person getting the permit would have to buy property and personal injury insurance, and name the city of Easton as co-insured on the policy.
Two issues are yet to be decided: Whether the permit could be renewed once for another six months, or twice for three months each time, and the amount of the fine for violators.
Director of public works Dave Hopkins told council that bid specifications are being prepared for a new garbage hauling contract, and that they should be ready by April or May.
The city's seven-year contract with Raritan Valley Disposal ends in December, said Hopkins, adding that he believes the next contract should be for four years, with three one-year renewal options at the city's discretion.