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City to look closely at rec department

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By Alice Du Pont

The Quincy City Commission took pencil to paper last Wednesday and Thursday nights during the first two of three budget workshops planned before September public hearings to adopt the 2009-10 budget.

Commissioners studied the proposed budget almost line by line in an attempt to lower spending while continuing to provided services at a level to please citizens.

"This recommended budget is balanced, maintains valued programs such as recreation and fuel cost assistance, enhances law enforcement and fire protection, maintains a lean and efficient workforce, keeps the same level of health insurance protection at no increased cost to the workforce. What I am proposing is a modest one-time lump sum bonus increase. Our employees have worked extremely hard and haven't had a wage increase in 3 years," said Jack McLean, city manager.

The one-time bonus would amount to 2.25 percent for each employee other than union employees (fire and police). Those classifications could be included depending on the outcome of bargaining later this year. The bonus, if passed, will be given to employees in January 2010.

The general fund revenues are projected to increase by 5.8 percent which represents a $437,444 increase. McLean said the components of the increase are: $200,000 in property tax revenues passed last year and $238,946 in miscellaneous one-time income, consisting of a reimbursement from April flooding from the landfill account.

McLean is also proposing to add a fireman and a police officer this year, taking the total number of city employees from 116 to 118. He said those positions will be funded by eliminating several part-time positions.

"The city's growth in the past year was nearly zero. Customer base (utility customers, etc.) grew by .04 percent and the population base remained relatively unchanged. The city must increase growth through construction, annexation and increases in utility revenues to offset natural increases in the budget. The alternative is to reduce the purchase of fuel and pursue less expensive sources of fuel. Until that occurs, employees' wages will remain static and the growth in revenues will be limited," McLean told commissioners.

McLean said the city could expect a slight increase in the legal department because of several pending liability cases. Otherwise, he said, the city attorney's budget would remain the same.

Commissioners only made a few adjustments to McLean's plan.

In the Building and Planning Department, McLean said he wants to hold off on hiring a planner until he can see more growth in the city.

"I disagree that we need a planner up front, not on the back end," said Derrick Elias, commissioner. He pointed to the proposed downtown by-pass that will take heavy truck traffic around the downtown central business district. That traffic, Elias said, will have to be deposited somewhere once it comes off the by-pass.

Because of the increase in code enforcement, commissioners also told McLean to place an employee in code enforcement full-time instead of splitting the time between code enforcement and parks and recreation.

When commissioners got to the parks and recreation budget, they said that although the number of citizen complaints has dwindled to almost none they want to take another look at the department. Mayor Andy Gay said he was dissatisfied with the offering at the department because only basketball seems to get backing.

Last year, in an effort to reduce expenses, commissioners voted to try a pilot program that would allow individuals or organizations to operate sports teams while using the city's facilities. The sport operators were advanced money for miscellaneous items such as paying officials to purchase uniforms. The city was to be reimbursed from money made through fees from participants.

Commissioners were informed Thursday night that none of the teams were able to repay the city its money. At least one team, according to McLean, owes the city $4,000.

"Lets's quit singling out one sport to give up-front money. I'd like to see competitive baseball and football. We've got kids leaving the county now to go play in Jackson County, Havana and Tallahassee because there's nothing here for them," Gay said.

Elias said the recreation program didn't seem to be working and that the entire department appears now to be geared toward AASU basketball.

"If we want a recreation department, we need to offer something for everyone," Gay said.

No date has been set but commissioners agreed to hold a workshop to take an in-depth look at the department before voting on the budget.