Quincy city manager looks back on past year

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By Alice Du Pont

In July 2008 Quincy's then-new city manager Jack McLean told city commissioners and citizens that the only way the city could get on the right financial track was to "right-size" city government.

One year later, McLean told employees last week in a State of the City address that the city's work force has been successfully reduced by 30 percent. The head count has gone from 166 employees to 116. Those employees who were laid off were assisted finding employment and/or preparing for another job through educational opportunities or training. The number of active police officers has been reduced from 32 to 24 and without compromising safety, according to McLean.

He said the cost savings the city has earned due to the reduction in the work force have been significant.

"To date we have set aside $1.2 million and we are working toward increasing our unrestricted reserves by $6 to $10 million over the next 5 years. Our projected reserves will increase by $350,000 by the end of this fiscal year," McLean said.

One of McLean's main objectives was to restore citizens' confidence in meter reading and invoicing. He credits the sticker program, in which meter readers place a sticker on meters bearing the date and time of the reading. At the same time, McLean said, utility collections have increased from 84 percent to 98 percent monthly.

"This is the highest monthly collection rate the city has ever experienced," McLean said.

One of the areas that consistently ran over budget for many years was the amount of overtime in the police and fire departments.  That problem has been significantly reduced by going to 12-hour shifts and placing more officers in the street instituting community policing strategies.

"The fire department has reduced overtime by assuming turn-on and other duties related to utilities. They have also painted all of the fire hydrants throughout the city. We have saved money and cut out duplication by consolidating the parks and recreation department with public works. We have been able to save $416,000 for the city by doing this," McLean said.

"The 2008-9 budgets were cut significantly. All of our departments participated in finding ways to reduce spending and realize more savings wherever possible. We will complete three audits by the end of the year. Vendors and debtors are being paid timely with outstanding invoices less than 45 days and our payables have been cut from 180 or more days to 45 days. With these cuts and belt-tightening measures, our fiscal year budget was reduced from $40 million to $32 million," he said.

McLean said he is proud of other accomplishments over the past year. They include:

• Reducion of short-term debt. By the end of this fiscal year, short-term debt should be between $500,000 and $1 million, down from $3 million 9 months ago.

• The city has satisfied the fund revenue so that the state is not issuing warrants and liens against it. The debt has been restructured to pay off the $1.25 million tax debt over the next 3 years.

• A trust fund has been established and the city has repaid $100,000 into it.

• The warehouse has been replenished and critical back-up generators for the water system have been purchased.

• Department heads and supervisors attended 2-day leadership training in the fall of 2008 and the spring of 2009.

• Public works and parks and recreation staff attended code enforcement certification training.

• An employee assistance program for supervisors has been instituted.

Despite all of the gains over the past year, McLean said the city still has improvements to make.

"It reminds me of the kid in the car who is constantly asking 'Are we there yet?'  We're not there yet but we will know we are there when the following things are accomplished," McLean said. These are:

•  $10 million in unrestricted reserves.

•  Sufficient funds to meet  foreseen and unforeseen events without damaging the city's credit rating or the ability to pay the city's bills on time.

• Construct another sewer treatment plant.

•  Another fire station on the south side of the city is constructed.

• A Quincy bypass is secured to remove truck traffic from central downtown.

• The city's energy source is diversified by "going green" and a smart grid and a smart metering system is introduced.

• The city's streets are well-maintained and lawns are manicured.

• The handling of emergencies/disasters is improved.

• Individual and community needs of residents are met.

• More control over the cost of electricity in the city's system and more alternatives are provided for customers to reduce their monthly costs.

• Investing in the kind of technology to protect the community and keep crime low.

• Parks and recreation systems have been restored and the city systems are actively using all of those facilities and they serve the whole community, Corry Field is redesigned, the Tanyard Creek project is completed, the annexation plan for River Oak and Magnolia developments is implemented and major drainage improvements to prevent flooding are made.

"As Quincy moves toward the future, it looks very bright. Our goal is to serve our citizens well and reward our employees for their contributions. Our commissioners are on board, the citizens are on board and our employees are on board," McLean said.