Give credit to city employees

 

Dear editor,

After reading the mayor’s first opinion piece in the Miles City Star, I had decided to not answer back. When I picked up last night’s paper and saw his ad which made more allegations, he left me little choice but to respond.

This last budget cycle the council was tasked with trying to fund a Flood Study in order to find a permanent solution for the skyrocketing flood insurance premiums. This idea came from City Engineering and was passed unanimously by the Flood Control Committee. The study is a “Cost-Benefit” study and will look at various solutions to our flood insurance predicament. The study will cost the city $187,000, and there is to be an additional $10,000 for engineering work which was done before the study was approved. 

This is a one-time expense that could either come out of the General Fund or come out of the Cash Reserves. At the time, we had $857,000 in cash carryover and an additional $192,000 in a Capital Improvement Fund, and some of us felt that the money for this study should come out of the cash carryover. In the mayor’s budget, he wanted to cut city personnel to cover this expense. In his budget, the Animal Control Officer was cut to half time, the Finance Clerk, the Police Secretary, and one Dispatch position was eliminated. 

Our goal was to fund this study and keep City services at the same level and our plan included:

·  Cutting the Mayor’s health insurance, because no other elected official had City paid health insurance. This was a savings of $7,422.

· Not giving a raise of $2,000 to the Historic Preservation Office.

· Removing two employees from the Parks Department and putting them in Maintenance District 204 and 205 for 3 winter months, as these employees do work in these districts during the winter months. We checked with our auditors to make sure this was legal, and they said it was. This move would have increased the City Specials by around $7, for one year.

· Taking $15,000 out of the Health Fund, as it had a carryover of $14,147 from the previous year, and this fund brings in revenue from inspections and other services.

·  Correct a budget mistake in the amount of $25,319.

These changes would have allowed us to fund the above-mentioned positions for the coming year.

The city employees do a wonderful job of saving the taxpayer money, by being efficient and ingenious. For instance, it was a city employee who discovered the federal program (PASER) that the mayor mentions, and takes credit for, in the Star. Since I have been elected, I have seen the city employees do a wonderful job of saving the taxpayer money, by obtaining grants and fixing equipment that would have been an expense to the city. On a tour of the water plant, I saw some milk jugs and wire that took the place of expensive gauges, thus saving money.  

During the budget hearing the council chambers were packed. We were presented with a petition, and many people gave public comment. Not one person, either in attendance or on the petition, said they wanted the Animal Control and the Police Secretary Positions cut.

The Police Secretary position is part time, with no benefits, and pays minimum wage. This position’s yearly cost to the city is $13,400, not the $20,767 that the mayor assumes. Not only does the secretary answer the phones, but she assists the department with many tasks that will now be done by police officers. Some of those duties are: calling officers into the office to speak to the public, if there is a complaint, gathering the paperwork from the officers and organizing the case files. The secretary mails the required documents to the crime lab, as well as ships off evidence. She also organizes our sexual and violent offender registry and sends that information to the State Department of Justice.  She also orders blood kits, evidence material, case file paperwork, patches and warning books. So now we will have an officer who is paid almost three times what the secretary receives, doing these jobs. Personally, I want the officers out on the streets.

I was puzzled as to what the mayor was eluding to when he said, “There were four council members that went against our own ordinance.” The budget changes that we put forth would have resulted in a balanced budget. Or, perhaps, he is referring to the fact that the budget that was passed was not balanced. Either way, the city attorney sent us a letter addressing the ordinance in question and said that it was his opinion that it met the 2/3 majority threshold that was required in the ordinance. In other words, there were other councilpersons who voted “yes.”

Thomas Jefferson  once said: “The purpose of government is to enable the people of a nation to live in safety and happiness. Government exists for the interests of the governed, not for the governors.” The city provides many services to the public. Administrations come and go, but it is the city employees who are the “nuts and bolts” that hold our city together.

Susanne Galbraith

Ward 1 Councilperson