Corbin H. Crable
[email protected]
The Gardner City Council, at a July 19 work session, received a glimpse of how the proposed 6.5 mill increase for 2011 would impact specific local homeowners.
City Administrator Stewart Fairburn gave council members a handout that detailed how much specific property owners would pay if the increase were to go into effect for fiscal year 2011. Each homeowner and residence was only identified by a letter.
“Some of you are on (this list), and some of you are not,” Fairburn told council members.
One home that was appraised at $231,300 in 2009, for instance, has dropped to $212,600 this year – a change of $18,700, or 8 percent. That homeowner paid $655 in city taxes per year in 2010, but if the mill rate were to increase, that amount would rise to $760 – a change of $106 per year, or $9 per month.
Fairburn said council members should operate under the assumption that valuation in 2011 would remain flat and finally see a 4 percent increase beginning in 2016.
The governing body also received similar information for unidentified, specific commercial properties, listed only as “medium retail,” “convenience store,” “industrial,” “large retail” and “office.” The industrial property listed was appraised at $1,264,000 in 2009 and at $1,082,000 a year later, a drop of $182,000, or 14 percent. That business paid $7,775 in city taxes in 2010 but would pay $8,413 per year if the mill increase were to go into effect; that’s an increase of $638 per year, or $53 per month.
Similarly, the property identified as “large retail” was appraised at $4,019,000 in 2009 and had an appraised value of $3,709,000, a drop of $310,000, or 8 percent. A 6.5 mill increase would mean the $24,723 that business pays in city taxes this year would rise to $28,839 in 2011, an increase of $4,116, or $343 per month.
The city’s General Fund itself has a shortfall of only a few hundred dollars, but the Bond and Interest Fund will see a large shortfall, due mostly to delinquency on special assessments.
Fairburn told the council that if it decides not to increase the city’s mill rate, it must trim $850,000 from the General Fund to make up for the shortfall in the Bond and Interest Fund.
“There’s nothing else in the line items that would equal that kind of cash,” Fairburn said, noting that the only viable option for reducing expenses in the General Fund would be enacting another reduction in force.
Gardner Mayor Dave Drovetta advocated against added staff cuts, saying it would “cripple multiple departments” in City Hall.
“I am not interested in participating in a reduction of staff,” Drovetta said. “To get to $850,000 is significant cutting.”
Fairburn said another option would be for the council to split the mill increase between 2011 and 2012 to lessen the financial effects on Gardner residents. As of now, there are no plans for a mill increase in 2012.
“If you want to decrease (the 6.5 mill increase) in 2011, it would still increase in 2012,” Fairburn told council members. “And you can do that.”
Council member Kristy Harrison said she was concerned that the mill increase would benefit no one in the short term.
“We’re not getting anything out of it,” she said. “No one’s getting raises.”
Pay ranges for city staff was another topic of discussion at the July 19 meeting, however, as Fairburn updated council members on city employees’ current placement on the city’s pay scale. Out of the positions listed in each department, 17 percent of city employees – 18 of them – are currently earning the maximum monthly amount for their individual position. Those include Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Stewart, whose minimum monthly earnings are set at $5,400 and maximum monthly earning are set at $7,540 (or $90,480 per year); Public Works Director David Greene, whose minimum monthly earnings are $5,640 and maximum monthly earnings are $7,920 (or $95,040 per year); and City Administrator Stewart Fairburn, whose minimum monthly earnings are $6,550 and maximum monthly earnings are $9,170 (or $110,040 per year).
Assistant City Administrator and Community Development Director Melissa Mundt stands at the 60 percent mark of the pay scale. Like Stewart, the minimum monthly earnings for her combined positions is $5,400, while the maximum monthly earnings are $7,540 ($90,480 per year).
A followup story on the city’s budget talks will appear in Friday’s edition of The Gardner News.
In other business, the council:
• discussed a possible consolidation of the city’s Public Safety Department with Fire District No. 1. Drovetta said both entities have begun debating benefits and disadvantages of consolidation in order to make both more effective. Police Chief Ken Francis said that as far as day-to-day operations are concerned, if both Public Safety and Fire District 1 decide to consolidate, the transition would be mostly smooth.
“On the law enforcement side, we wouldn’t miss a beat,” Francis said. “Tomorrow would look the same as today.”
A disadvantage to the consolidation, Fairburn noted, is that the two would not be under the city’s control. In addition, Fairburn said, there would be a period of cross-training for those employees affected by the decision.
“Let’s start walking forward and figuring out the logistics,” he said.
Talks on the pros and cons of consolidation will be ongoing, he added.
• joined the mayor in recognizing Dan DeMiyt, Tim Rodgers, Susan Hutchcraft, Mike Gardner, Forest Strentz and Jerry Sicks for their years of service to the city.
• approved a resolution authorizing the sale of a total of $7,995,000 in temporary  notes and general obligation bonds. The public sale will take place at 11 a.m. Aug. 16.

The council will next meet for a work session at 6:30 p.m. Monday, July 26, at City Hall, 120 E. Main St.