Council budget debates intensify as session wraps up
Shawnee Amid more claims of micromanaging, the council voted against a list of suggestions made by Council Member Eric Jenkins for the city budget on Tuesday.
The city and council are scheduled to wrap up the budget session for the 2015 revised budget and 2016 budget later this month. Jenkins has suggested several ideas for restructuring departments and transferring funds roads and waste water projects. When he originally presented the ideas, the council voted to proceed instead with the city budget as recommended by city staff.
Council Committee President Stephanie Meyer, however, requested that the city readdress Jenkins’ suggestions at the most recent council committee meeting.
“This is a good thing, the more opportunity for input from council members and the public, the better,” Meyer said.
The opportunity to further discuss the budget also provided some time for heated debate on the council and Council Member Jeff Vaught, for the second time, described Jenkins’ suggestions as “micromanaging.” Vaught and Jenkins challenged each other on multiple occasions during a nearly four-hour meeting.
Vaught said the job of running the city’s operations should be left to City Manager Carol Gonzales as she has the most intimate knowledge of the city’s inner workings. He described the city as a business and said the governing body should allow the CEO or manager to run the organization while the board makes sure the it follows the proper plan.
Jenkins took exception to that and said it is a council member’s duty to his or her constituents to come up with ideas to better the city and present them to the staff.
The council had several debates Tuesday about the city’s budget strategies while it examined each of Jenkins’ suggestions. The city will hold a public hearing on the final budget on July 27.
Moratorium on staff hires
Jenkins suggested last month that the city install a moratorium on projected staff hiring because he said he thinks the country's emersion from the recession isn't complete and the city should exercise more caution in returning to pre-recession staffing levels.
In the proposed city budget, City Manager Carol Gonzales suggested that the city hire five new employees: a police officer, a fire inspector, an inspector, a maintenance position and a facility technician.
Jenkins recommended holding off on hiring the inspector, maintenance position and facility technician because they do not affect public safety.
The facility technician is a new position in the city that Gonzales and city staff recommended to be able to manage all eight city facilities. Currently, Gonzales said, each department has to deal with issues like flooding and other technical issues by themselves, taking time away from their other important jobs. The facility technician, she said, would have a long list of responsibilities that would allow for more efficiency in other departments. Council Member Jim Neighbor supported the city’s proposed hires.
“We have senior management people doing this work when (the facility technician) could provide a better overall handle on everything while increasing overall efficiency,” Neighbor said.
Jenkins argued that the city would be hard-pressed to hire three new positions while a portion of the city’s reserves are being spent in the next year. The city’s reserve fund, which has reached over 50 percent, is having a portion of it spent in the upcoming year to move money to other accounts like the public safety equipment fund. The city’s policy is to maintain reserves at 30 percent or higher.
After a discussion about the moratorium on the three positions, the council voted 5-3 against the idea and allowed city staff to proceed with the plan to make the hires. Council Members Mike Kemmling, Pflumm and Jenkins voted for the moratorium while Neighbor, Meyer, Vaught, Mickey Sandifer and Brandon Kenig voted against it.
Transferring money general fund to street maintenance
Jenkins’ suggestion of transferring $1 million from the city’s general fund to the road and street maintenance programs was met with a similar fate after the council discussed the possibilities of this transfer.
The debate became one of city philosophy rather than actually moving numbers because the city would again have to dip into its reserve fund to accomplish the transfer. Jenkins eventually argued that the city should have a set percentage of it’s general fund be set aside for the street maintenance program, and it should be higher than current levels.
The city currently takes $415,000 from the general fund for street maintenance annually. The new designated sales taxes and other fees like the Deffenbaugh impact fee also fund the street maintenance program and storm water programs.
Jenkins said the citizens pay for the general fund, and more of it should be used to tackle the deteriorating streets around the city. He said the city is pulling a “bait and switch” with taxpayers because no matter how much money is in the general fund, only the set $415,000 goes to roads.
Vaught and Sandifer supported the budget structure because it allows property taxes to remain at current levels while putting the burden on consumers, many of which are people traveling through Shawnee, to pay for the roads they use. Despite the general fund producing the same amount every year, the decision made by the city, council and voting residents have resulted in the highest funding levels the streets maintenance program has ever seen.
“We are going to have our hands full spending that money with the staff that we have,” Transportation Manager Mark Sherfy said.
The council voted on Jenkins’s suggestion to pump more of the general fund into roads, and the suggestion failed with a 5-3 vote against it. Jenkins, Kemmling and Kenig voted for the $1 million transfer.
Contracting out street sweeping
A suggestion from the council last month was also to look into contracting out the city’s street sweeping operation.
Shawnee spends $38.66 per lane mile to clean the streets using its two street sweepers. That number is below average for cities around the area who contract out the service but the concern, from the council came from the amount the city spends on keeping up the vehicles and replacing them. The city is on a 10-year replacement plan for its two vehicles, one of which is already 13 years old.
The council agreed that it would be worth looking into an outside contractor to avoid further depreciation and replacement costs. They also said that it would be good to keep the newer of the street sweepers to use at special events like Old Shawnee Days or the St. Patrick’s Day parade.
The city will put a contract out for bid later this summer and will present the council with the bids later this year.