Corbin H. Crable
The Gardner City Council heard presentations from three different city department managers at its budget work session June 28.
Finance Director Laura Gourley, Assistant City Administrator and Community Development Director Melissa Mundt, and Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Stewart all briefed the governing body on their projected revenues and expenditures for the 2011 fiscal year, which, like the General Fund, will see a slight shortfall next year.
A reduction in force enacted in early May, which saved the city more than $384,000, greatly helped to decrease the shortfall for the next fiscal year, but directors all reported having to share employees with other departments to help make up for the difference in workforce.
Across the board, this is the third consecutive year in which city employees will not receive salary increases, although the city anticipates being able to offer 3-percent pay increases for full-time employees beginning in 2012.
Overall, the city also expects to see a 1- to 3-percent revenue increase between 2012 and 2016.
All figures reported for each department do not include tax increases.
The Finance Department’s expenses sit at $577,100 of the overall $2.24 million in the General Fund. The 2011 expenses are up more than $6,000 from 2010’s estimate of $570,900. Each program within the Finance Department – administration, accounting and municipal court – will see funding increases of between $3,000 and $5,000.
Gourley said the department’s goals for 2011 include plans to issue permanent debt for the Prairie Brooke and Kill Creek Sewer benefit districts, which will occur in August 2011. But she said that as the department assists the city with planning for future growth, finance employees are doing their best to keep up with the staffing changes at City Hall since the reduction in force took place.
“We’ve got inexperienced staff with increased responsibilities,” she said, adding that the department remains without an accountant.
She said she hopes staff members will boost their experience as they take accounting classes and attend training sessions, but for now, the department is still seeing the effects of spreading their human resources thin.
One of those immediately recognizable effects is in the municipal court program, which is overseen by the department. Gourley said the municipal court has seen a 38-percent drop in issuance of court fines, due in large part to reduced staff levels and to increased speed limits at certain points around town. The council approved those increased speed limits last spring.
Administration’s expenses for 2011 are projected to be $723,500, down nearly $30,000 from 2010’s estimate of $753,900, according to Mundt.
Much of the decrease has to do with funding for the department’s economic development program being transferred to the Economic Development Fund and being halved, she added.
Costs for the March 2 recall election clocked in at $16,400, or $8,000 less than former Gardner City Council member John Shepherd predicted earlier this year. Those costs are classified as “outsourced services” under the mayor and city council expenses in the department’s budget.
Mundt, like Gourley, said administration staff members have had to lend a hand to other departments since early May, and that administrative assistant Tana Johnson assists Parks and Recreation administrative assistant Erin Groh for roughly 40 hours a month. Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Stewart said one way to address that situation is by trimming hours of operation in his department.
Mundt also addressed the department’s goals for the upcoming fiscal year, which include preparing for growth at 175th Street east of Interstate 35 and “developing a social media presence on the Internet for the city of Gardner,” according to a handout from the department.
Since early May, Mundt has served as both Assistant City Administrator and Community Development director.
Parks and Recreation
Even with no new projects on deck for 2011, department funding for the Parks and Recreation Department will still increase next year, from 2010’s estimate of $1,905,100 to $1,962,700 in 2011. The department’s budget makes up roughly 22 percent of the $8.9 million in the city’s General Fund for 2011.
Most of that increase will come from parks maintenance (a $24,000 increase from 2010) and the Gardner Aquatic Center (a $22,000 increase from 2010).
And although the department will not take on any new projects, Stewart said that regarding park maintenance, the department plans to complete a crack and slurry seal project on the Stone Creek Park Trail and the North Center Street Trail. That project was put on hold in 2010.
The aquatic center also will see added maintenance projects next year, including restaining the facility’s privacy fence and conducting valve and pump repairing if needed.
Stewart said a main priority for his department is maintaining satisfaction levels among Gardner residents as outlined in the Citizen Survey.
He said that among other figures in 2009’s survey, the department ranked in the 97th percentile in satisfaction with the aquatic center among survey respondents; it ranked in the 91st percentile in registration costs.
“That’s been our goal – to set fees in order to break even,” Stewart said.
Gardner Mayor Dave Drovetta said he believes it is important for the city to continue to boost satisfaction with the department’s performance and what it offers.
“It’s important that we do what we can to maintain that level (of service),” Drovetta said.
Hardest-hit and most directly affected by the economic recession, employees in the Community Development Department have had to absorb added duties and reallocate tasks to other departments since the layoffs in May, according to Mundt.
Still working to regroup after six of the department’s employees were laid off, funding for the department will dip in 2011 to $341,200, down from $582,800 in 2010. Only a codes administrator and building inspector remain in the department, with Mundt acting as Community Development Director.
Mundt said she is willing to defray some expenses in department-related training and travel by declining to attend a training conference next year. The cost allocated to that venture is $2,000.
“I’ve told (City Administrator Stewart Fairburn) that I’m more than willing to give that up,” Mundt said.
According to a memorandum from Fairburn and Mundt, the 2010 estimate for the issuance of single- duplex and multi-family unit building permits likely will rise to 171 issued for fiscal year 2010, up from only 84 in 2009. That number is expected to decrease slightly to 162 in 2011.
The department continues to receive front-desk help from administrative assistants in other areas of City Hall, Mundt said, but she said she has not heard any negative feedback about the effect on customer service.
“There is no one left to do clerical tasks,” she told council members. “But I haven’t received any complaints regarding the level of service.”
The council will next meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 6 at City Hall, 120 E. Main St.