November 1, 2014

Gardner council hears citizens’ budget concerns

Danedri Thompson
submissions@gardnernews.com
Although she didn’t attend the meeting, Theresa Hall, Gardner quickly learned about a June 20 council meeting that dissolved into an argument.
“Good news travels fast in Gardner,” she told council members during an open comment segment of the July 5 council meeting. “But Gardner is still a small town and bad news travels even faster.”
A discussion about employee health benefits and an employee taking offense to the debate lead to the heated exchange. During the argument, Mayor Dave Drovetta loudly announced, “That’s bull—.” Hall said healthcare is not a sacred cow.
“You need to act like adults,” she told council. “…That meeting should not have devolved. This is not your petty little kingdom. You get the privilege to govern this town, and I don’t appreciate the nonsense that’s been going on.”
She also said she’s appalled that taxpayer money is being used for extravagant health plans for city employees. She and her husband pay 100 percent of the cost of their own health plans, she explained.
“When I see you guys increased what you’re paying for employees’ healthcare last year, that makes me furious,” she said.
Hall was one of a handful of residents with a variety of concerns who addressed council members at the July 5 meeting. Don Cooper, Gardner, told council that code enforcement in his neighborhood is a problem.
“It’s a problem because builders went bankrupt and foreclosed,” he said. Many of the foreclosed homes in his neighborhood have since been purchased, “but others are going to wreck and ruin.”
One duplex near his home on south Poplar Street has windows that don’t fit correctly.
The sidings coming off and the grass, he said, “is as high as an elephant’s eye.”
Cooper suggested that city officials examine the property codes in place and find a way to get the banks that own properties in distress to maintain them.
Resident Clem Egger offered a variety of suggestions to the council. First, he said it’s very important that the city council agenda reflect the will of council members.
“There should be ways to put things on the agenda by consent. My impression is that the mayor has a fixed agenda,” he said.
He noted that the police department is requesting to add officers next year.
“If it was me, I’d require the police captain to submit one or two alternate plans,” he said.
Other plans to maximize coverage might include re-working the police schedule.
“We are only a small town, so we don’t need three or four detectives,” he said. Egger is a retired civil engineer and has done work for the city of Paola.
He suggested that city officials also should consider appointing an advisory committee of retired engineers and other professionals in some instances.
“You’re paying a lot for consultants,” he said. “A lot of that can be done by the city.”
Dan Popp, resident and member of the Gardner Planning Commission, addressed the council about the budget. The city’s planning department has requested $75,000 in the 2012 budget to hire a consultant to assist the city in a comprehensive plan update.
The existing plan hasn’t been updated since 1996, he said. In it, the city designated land for Celebration Park, he said as an example of one way the existing plan has been used. It doesn’t take into consideration the intermodal.
“If we don’t plan for the future, we’re flying blind,” he said. “…I know it’s a significant outlay, but you have to think outside this budget.”

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