Council members-elect and the current council waded through information, highlights and challenges of city staff in six departments during a Gardner City Council work session on Monday night.
Each department leader presented a wrap-up of 2010, goals for the upcoming year, and challenges they expect to encounter along the way.
Chief Ken Francis said 2010 was a year of change for the Gardner Police Department. The department lost two officers due to attrition early in the year, and mid-way through, department administration worked to split what was once a public safety department into separate police and fire entities.
Francis told council members that the merger of a portion of the public safety department with Johnson County Fire District No. 1 was a difficult proposition in terms of trying to reshape the remaining police department.
“The other thing I wanted to look at very, very hard is to mold our people to think they could be as good as a police department as they could as public safety,” Francis said.
Despite reshaping of the department, Gardner’s crime rate fell in 2010. Francis said the entire country uses a crime rate index that measures how many people in 1,000 in a community are the victims of part one crimes – homicide, robbery, burglary, aggravated battery, rape, arson, theft and auto theft.
In 2010, 24.6 per 1,000 were the victims of such crime. That number is down from 28.3 in 2009, and 39.3 in 2001. Thefts and burglaries made up the bulk of the city’s part one crimes. Two rapes, six aggravated burglaries, and six auto thefts, and zero murders were reported within city limits in 2010.
Francis said the numbers have trended downward over the course of the last 10 years.
“Things are going very well,” he said.
Officers wrote fewer traffic citations, in part, due to the loss of two officer positions. Police took almost 1,500 animal control calls in 2010.
Parks and Recreation
Department director Jeff Stewart said 2010 was a successful year for the Gardner Parks and Recreation Department.
Few new things, like parks and trails, were added due to limited funding, however, Stewart said participation in parks activities continued to grow.
He told council members that participation in department-sponsored activities grew 178 percent in 2010. A large part of that number is based on attendance numbers at the KC Hot Air Balloon Festival, which for the first time last year, was located in Gardner.
However, Stewart said when those attendees are backed out of participation numbers, the department activities still saw participation growth of 12 percent.
The department added youth recreational soccer leagues last spring, and the leagues were well received by the community. Overall, counts show more than 50,200 participants in recreation leagues, special events and non-athletic programming through the city of Gardner last year.
When all activities are combined, the recreation services department saw a surplus from event and programming planning of $91,966.
Those funds go directly to the general fund and don’t include the time and overhead of fulltime staff in the Parks and Recreation Department.
The aquatic center suffered a small loss of $7,248 in 2010, and attendance at the center was down. Stewart said both were expected due to Olathe and Spring Hill building similar centers in their towns. Despite neighboring communities upgrading their facilities, the average daily attendance in Gardner was 1,074 – down only slightly from 2009 when daily average attendance was 1,100.
Stewart called the 2010 season the best yet.
We didn’t have the crowding or the high spikes in attendance, he told council members. For example, in 2009, the highest attendance day boasted 2,399 customers. In 2010, the highest attendance day boasted 1,804.
In the last 10 years, the parks and rec department has developed 109.54 acres of parks and trails – a 56 percent growth.
Laura Gourley, city finance director, said the biggest challenge her department faces is turnover.
“The experience drain is significant,” Gourley said. Since April 2010, every person is completely new.
When two staff accountants left the department, Gourley said the city had to lower its job requirements to exclude degreed accountants in order to hire people.
“We couldn’t afford accountants,” Gourley said.
Despite several staffing changes, Gourley said the department serves as a service department. Anything to do with money in or money out goes through the finance department.
“My job is to keep us out of the news and out of jail,” she said.
Additionally, the finance department is overseeing aggressive debt retirement. In 2010, the city’s outstanding debt decreased 7.8 percent. That was an effect partially of few new projects and Johnson County Fire District No. 1 purchasing the 183rd Street Public Safety station and fire aerial truck.
The city added $7.9 million in new debt for the Moonlight Road project and to renew existing financing of the Prairie Brook and Kill Creek Sanitary Sewer Benefit District.
The finance department also oversees court services, which Gourley said has also been affected by turnover.
One court clerk was terminated in August and another clerk moved away in 2010.
The number of cases and citations in municipal courts declined in 2010 due to the decline in public safety staffing.
Assistant City Administrator Melissa Mundt said when the year started, the department had a full complement staff that had worked through the booming years of growth. In May, however, city officials reduced the department’s staffing by seven positions.
The number of building permits the city issued started to decline in 2006, and really dropped off in 2008.
In 2004, the city issued an all-time high of 400 single-family permits. By 2005, the number had dropped to 224. By 2009, the city issued 59 single family permits. The number rose slight in 2010 to 70, but Mundt expected that number to be lower in 2011.
“If we see 50, I’ll be pleased,” she said.
The number of multi-family housing permits jumped significantly in 2010 due to the Horizon Trails apartment complex and its 168 permits.
The department completed a variety of projects in 2010, director Dave Greene told council members. That included managing the Moonlight Road project, construction on the Lincoln Lane connector, which connects Moonlight Plaza to the Lincoln Lane, the U.S. 56 Highway/Old 56 Highway intersection upgrades, and a preliminary study for Gardner Lake spillway replacement.
Greene said the city’s water treatment plant produced approximately 575 million gallons of potable water, while the wastewater treatment plant at Kill Creek treated approximately 784 million gallons of wastewater.
Department heads brief council on annual progress