“Actually, it’s not just the residents you’re trying to pass cuts on to, it’s also the employees. They’ll be there on Monday, and I don’t think they’ll be too happy, especially the entire recreation department some council members trying to cut.”
So says a commentator to the last granolapark post. The commentator is reacting to last Monday’s awkwardness – Councilmember Terry Seamens had the nerve to suggest the city go to a largely volunteer/contractor recreation department as a cost-saving measure.
Dear Readers can interpret “had the nerve” according to their predilections. Some would say it means that Seamens was brave to suggest such a drastic change in public to the city manager – who, they think, likes to keep the budget crafting under her own control and does not brook ad hoc budget suggestions well.
Others may say “had the nerve” means Seamens was presumptuous and insensitive, second-guessing the city manager, who they feel is a PROFESSIONAL budget writer who knows what she’s doing, and scaring the pants off the Recreation Department employees who suddenly saw soup lines in their immediate future.
Seamens proposed that recreation programs and courses would be planned by a volunteer committee, a “recreation commission.” Contractors would be hired to run the programs and classes. He said the reason he was (reluctantly) picking on the recreation department was that with massive cuts a distinct possibility the city might have to drastically reduce costs while keeping up “core services.”
Councilmembers pressed him for more detail and expressed doubts that volunteers would be willing to take on what sounded like a substantial commitment.
Seamens did not have much more detail than the basic idea. It was, he said, just an option to explore. He did note that the city’s volunteer recreation committee was particularly robust and active. The commission he proposed would not take up much more commitment than the committee, he said.
The city manager’s reaction was prickly. Asked for her opinion, she said she was “unclear of the purpose” of Seamen’s proposal. The recreation dept. already hires contractors, she said. She asked “What positions [Seamens] proposed to eliminate?”
The latter question was of particular interest to the Recreation Department director and staff members present.
Seamens, slightly flustered, said he proposed to eliminate positions as they were vacated, not lay off staff. And he wasn’t proposing eliminating senior staff, he said.
Matthews repeated that she couldn’t give an opinion if she didn’t know what was being proposed.
The rest of the council sidled away from the hole Seamens was slowly sinking into. Groping for neutral ground, they allowed as how the suggestion might be worth looking into, BUT it would require so much research and calculating they would have no conclusive answer before the budget was due. Best to, as councilmember Josh Wright termed it, “de-couple” the proposal from the budget process, and proceed with the city manager’s proposed budget as is.
The hot issue set aside for cooling, Wright squarely addressed the dynamics in the room. Speaking to staff he said the councilmembers “have to confront hard realities.” That may involve staffing changes, he said. if the council avoids having discussions that might distress staff, “we can’t make necessary changes.”
We don’t envy the city manager her current residence – limbo. Limbo is one of the outer circles of hell where inmates wait and wait in perpetual anxiety for the messiah’s return. In the city manager’s limbo, she is not waiting for a savior’s resurrection, she’s waiting for Ike Leggett’s budget, which, trust us, is entirely different.
County executive Leggett’s budget will not lead her to a heavenly place, it will probably give her a swift kick in the opposite direction. The city may be denied up to $600,000 from the county annual tax rebate. It could be $300,000. It might be less – but not likely. See our last posting for more info.
While waiting, city manager Matthews has been nit-picking her budget for additional places to trim. She read off a list to the council, asking them for a straw vote on each item. Some of the items and votes were:
Increase in recreation facilities/field usage fees from $5 an event to $5 a head, projected earnings of $32,000. Yes.
Adjusting parking meters to accept only quarters, not nickels and dimes. Without raising the parking meter rate, staff estimates income of $15,000. Yes.
Eliminating vacuum leaf pickup services, saving $67,500. No, but willing to reduce number of operating weeks from 7 to 5, saving approximately $20,000
Reduction of $50,000 for employee benefits. Yes.
Reduction of $30,000 grant to Independence Day Committee. No.
Using contractual workers for snow removal rather than Public Works employees. No
Contracting out custodial services. No.
Removing marketing survey from the budget, saving $30,000. Keep in for now, but a likely target.
Reduce a $30,000 grant to the Old Town Business Association to $20,000. No.
Further reducing hours at the Community Center, Computer Learning Center, and the Recreation Center. No
Pass credit card fees (35%) on to consumers when paying for recreation programs, etc. Mixed vote, uncertainty on the legality of charging a fee, general outrage at the 35% credit card charge.
Defer commercial center upgrades ($32,000), public art (21,000), and street light upgrades (20,000). Mixed. Many wanted the items separated.
Jequie Park is Belle Ziegler Park now. The name change was officially approved by the city council. The was one little bump in the road. It came out that city staff had made only a minimal effort to alert residents in the neighborhood surrounding the park of the proposed change. With a “too late to halt the train,” shrug, and a “hope that doesn’t come back to bite us” shiver, the council proceeded with the renaming.
The mayor proposed installing an historical plaque listing the park’s former names. Your Gilbert thinks that if they don’t put up a huge “Formerly Jequie Park” sign there, they will doom scores of soccer parents to long, frustrating drives through the city searching for a non-existent playing field.