It appears the City of Three Rivers will continue to have a Code Enforcement Officer in the new budget year that begins July 1st, retain its Petting Zoo, and, perhaps, lessen the impact of proposed cuts in the police department.
That’s the situation following a special meeting of the Three Rivers City Commission Tuesday evening (May 24th) in which the budget for Fiscal Year 2011-12 was the primary topic of consideration.
City Manager Joe Bippus and Finance Director Cathy Lawson presented several revisions that reflected input received during the initial budget session on May 10th.
In launching the budget review portion of the meeting, Bippus said, “We heard the commission loud and clear. We made some assumptions when we put this budget together on things we think you’re going to like. We’re not always 100 percent accurate so we’ve adjusted things to try to show that we’re meeting your needs, your priorities. We agree with those priorities.”
Sentiment from the commission and citizens has revealed backing for retaining the Code Enforcement Officer position held by Roger Stanfill, support reflected in a proposal for continuing to fund the position.
In revealing the plan for keeping the position intact, Lawson identified the following points:
• Lease the $40,000 phone system rather than cash finance the investment, generating estimated savings of $29,160. The approach spreads the annual costs of approximately $10,840 to the FY 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 budgets.
• Eliminate the contract for cleaning City Hall, yielding savings of $11,960. Subtracting the total savings from the phone system lease and elimination of the cleaning contract ($41,120) from the $49,420 cost of salary and fringe benefits for the Code Enforcement Officer leaves the need to utilize $8,300 from the city’s fund balance.
• Add the City Hall janitorial responsibilities to the Code Enforcement Officer job duties. Stanfill is currently doing the cleaning of the building as an employee of the company with the cleaning contract. (Cathy_Lawson_clip_code – 2:05 – 1.91 MB))
Regarding the police department, proposed staffing will provide a total of 12 road officers, rather than the 14 currently in place. Two police clerks, one police officer, and one grant-funded police officer will be eliminated and the SCAN officer will be reassigned to road patrol, thus providing round-the-clock police protection seven days per week.
The police proposal also includes a possible federal funding option to return to the existing road patrol of 14 after about two months through two actions:
• Applying to modify an existing COPS grant to a REHIRE grant versus a hiring grant.
• Applying for new COPS grant funding to rehire an officer with an estimated award in September.
Regarding Scidmore Park, the altered program proposal calls for maintaining a reduced number of animals, the majority of which will be petting animals. It also provides for the zookeeper for an average of 20 hours per week ($17,705), in-kind grooming services ($1,200) and other maintenance costs ($2,860) for a total cost of $19,765. The proposal includes a commitment to a minimum of Saturday public hours from noon to 5 p.m. from July 1st to October 29th. Funding for the program would utilize pledges of $8,565 (the amount committed as of May 24th), in-kind grooming services valued at $1,200, and an allocation from fund balance in the General Fund of $10,000 for a total of $19,765.
In the “General Comments” portion of the agenda at the outset of the meeting, St. Joseph County Prosecutor John McDonough offered a strong endorsement of funding for the police department. Noting his lifelong roots in the community, he said, “We are very, very lucky to have the chief of police that we have. He’s very committed to the city. We have wonderful police officers who work their tails off on a daily basis to protect the citizens of the city and I’m very, very proud to get to represent them in court. In my opinion, Three Rivers is the one place in St. Joseph County that cannot afford to lose police officers and, in fact, could use to gain some more.” And he concluded by saying, “Please do not cut the police department. Do everything you can to keep our officers here so they can keep all of us safe.” (John_McDonough audio_clip – 1:59 – 1.81 MB))
By consensus, the commission directed the administration to include the suggested revisions in the proposed budget and set a public hearing on the spending plan for the next regular meeting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, June 7th.
During a post-meeting interview with the River Country Journal, Mayor Ken Baker commented on the budget revision proposals presented by Bippus and Lawson and said, “Overall, I think Cathy and Joe have done a good job with the budget for what they have.”
To hear the interview with Mayor Baker – conducted by Bruce Snook – click on the following link: Ken_Baker_interview (3:30 – 3.21 MB).