City begins budget work

Pay, splash park, streets major topics

The Springtown splash park has sat idle for nearly two years. Its lack of use has led to additional repairs being needed to get it operational again. Photo by Carter Loeffelholz

BY CHRISTINA DERR
christina@azlenews.net

As the governmental budget season continues its march toward a Sept. 30 deadline, the Springtown city council met July 10 to hear presentations from its department heads.
City Administator David Miller opened the meeting.


“Very pleased with how this budget has shaped up so far,” Miller said of the proposed fiscal year 2018-19 budget he and his staff were presenting.
He explained to the council that city staff’s recommendations were “based on council priorities from the April 10 budget meeting”
At that gathering, the council set priorities for employee pay, a solution to the city’s splash park, and work on the city’s failing streets.
Pay compensation
To address what the council called its number one priority, staff took a look at what could be done to improve the pay scale.
Miller said it was important to reevaluate the current pay structure because of the effect that it is having on hiring and retention – especially in the police department.
“We are hiring employees that are not what we need because of our low pay scale,” Miller said.
He added that the low rate of pay offered in Springtown when compared to other cities is leading to high turnover – one police officer leaves the department every 33 months, often for higher pay from a neighboring agency.
The solution, Miller proposed, was to adopt a pay structure based on tenure.
Miller said under the proposed budget, base – or starting pay – would be kept at current levels, but that additional pay would be given to employees based on years of service.
He added that the current structure allows for “compression” – where first- or second-year officers are making the same as their sergeants who often have more years of service and have taken on additional responsibility.
The proposed plan would alleviate those compressions, and would only require an additional $67,000 – or 2.87 percent of the overall personnel budget – to enact.
Though the police department has been hampered the most by the current pay scale, Miller said that he has seen similar problems in public works and other city departments.
Miller added that the proposed budget allocated raises to all positions and department heads – though the amount of the raise would vary across the staff – with the exception of one: his own.
Mayor Pro Tem Michele Chandler Kelley stated that Miller has previously informed the council he wouldn’t accept a raise unless his employees received one.
“You’re right,” he responded.
Overall, Miller said, the proposed pay scale “solves a lot of problems that have never been addressed before.”
Kelley said of the proposed changes: “You have turned a mountain into a molehill.”
Splash park
The ongoing dilemma over what Miller called the “thorn in everybody’s side” was also discussed.
Miller said he’d received specific instructions to investigate the cost of reopening the park that last operated in the summer of 2016.
“That has turned out to be a lengthier process than we anticipated,” Miller said, adding that “nothing had been included in this budget regarding the splash park.”
Miller said the cost of a recirculator – long thought to be a solution to the massive amount of water used by the park – was a $140,000-$150,000 investment.
He added that water usage from the park could drop as much as 85 percent with a recirculator installed.
But, Miller said, the cost wouldn’t stop there because of cracked pipes and other repairs that are now needed because the structure was not operated enough during the two years it has been closed.
Another concern when reopening the park, is making it appealing to visitors with children of all ages – an opinion he said that has been expressed to him by many citizens.
“If you want this project to be successful, you need to expand it,” Miller said.
Kelley asked if there was a way for the council to allow the citizens to make the decision.
Miller said to do that, the council would need to hold an election on the issuance of general obligation bonds for the cost, and that would also allow them to see if the majority of citizens want to take on the additional tax burden.
Kelley stated that the city’s current contract with the Tarrant Regional Water District meant they had to buy the amount of water used by the park regardless of whether it was used or not.
Council member Bill White stated that contract didn’t account for the cost of treating the water.
Miller said that city’s current contract with TRWD – which expires in 2032 – does require the city to purchase a minimum of 60 million gallons annually, but that operational costs are affected by treated the water as it comes in, and as wastewater as it leaves the park if there is no recirculator.
“If the desire is to truly open the splash park,” Miller said, “the council needs to look at overall cost for repairs, recirculator, and expansion.”
When asked for a time line, Miller said the election could not be called in time for this year’s November ballot, but could on the May 2019 referendum, or even the November 2019 ballot if the council wanted to avoid having the citizenry make a decision on the splash park at the same time they were being asked to elect a mayor and council members.
Streets
Miller said that though he does expect street repairs to be part of the next budget, no specific streets had been designated.
He added that council will have some funds available from the nearly $2 million in certificates of obligation issued at the June council meeting.
However, Miller suggested the council also consider planning for needed long-term and ongoing repairs and improvements.
“The proposed budget can be serviced by current tax rate,” Miller said.
He added that even though “no one wants to raise taxes,” it might be beneficial for the council to consider raising “the rate a penny or two” to begin saving up for present and future street repairs.
“Our streets are failing,” he said.
Part of the reason Miller gave was a lack of ongoing repairs, maintenance, or financial planning for either.
The council will hold additional budget meetings in August before it officially adopts a budget and tax rate likely in September.