At the City Council meeting on June 8th, I shared that as we have reached the midpoint of 2021, there are several adjustments I suggest the Council consider in the budget regarding salaries and projects. Consequently, the Council hosted a special work session, introduced a budget amendment at the July meeting and adopted the suggestions at the August 3rd meeting.
The midyear budget review should help the City, as an organization, be agile and nimble … two words which are seldom used to describe government.
It does not take the place of our normal budget process which started in July at the department level. Departments will submit their 2022 budgets to the Mayor’s office in August. The Administration then submits it to the Council in September, the Council has its work session/review in October, approves it in November and the dollars become available for use in January. Then and only then can the actual procurement process begin, which is miserable and tedious unto itself.
I’d like to preface my budget suggestions with this: Since Spring of 2020 our sales tax revenue has increased about $800,000 per year. Our utility revenue has increased about $880,000 per year.
Just as important, when we budgeted for 2021, we (the administration and the Council) were very conservative in our spending. We always are, but particularly so last year due to the pandemic. Our current unassigned fund balance is about $5,000,000 with a few more million in reserve. The minimum reserve a city our size should have on hand is $3,000,000. Point being, financially, both in our revenue and in our savings, we’re in a good place.
So, some suggestions:
1) Planning Director Nahketah Bagby has given us her one year notice. I suggested we create a new position of Assistant Director (cost of salary with benefits = $95,000 per year). This new employee would be trained by Nahketah through next Spring and upon Nahketah's departure assume the role of Planning Director. The position of Assistant Director would then be dissolved.
2) All City employees remain underpaid compared to the labor market. This is particularly true of those at the lowest end of the scale. I proposed a raise of at least $1,000 per year per employee (cost =
$94,000 for the remainder of this year), factor in possible overtime, $100,000, $ 188,000 , $200,000 with overtime for next year. The Council may wish to consider a $2,000 raise instead $1,000. Additionally, another $2,000 per year for Quenton Belanger (IT Director) and for Eugenie Leggio (HR Director). Sidenote: Yes, this would include Police. Since the Council approved the raise last year, both the Sheriff's Department and the Slidell Police Department are implementing raises.
At the August meeting the Council adopted the $2,000 per year per employee raise.
3) Complete the Design of Sewer Point Repairs and Lining in River Forest ($150,000) - Smoke testing and video of sewer lines in River Forest has been completed. The data collected in this process is time sensitive, i.e. if the repair work is not done within a couple of years smoke and video will need to be repeated. This has happened to us in the past. I proposed we begin the process of completing the design phase of the process before the end of this year with the idea that we budget for the actual repairs in year 2022.
4) Harrison and 11th Ave - Earlier this year, residents brought to my attention a hazardous ditch adjacent to Harrison Street at 11th Ave (across from the Emergency Room). I met onsite with Public Works and we considered several options to repair. We concluded that all of our "fixes" were insufficient. Currently, the asphalt edge of Harrison is actually sloughing off into the ditch. Public Works recommends we engineer and build subsurface drainage in the ditch and create a safe road shoulder. Estimated costs: $35,000 for design, $85,000 for construction.
5) Replenish Public Works budget for emergency sewer line repairs ($250,000). The 2021 budget amount of $150,000 has been used due to sewer line collapse at Rutland / Jahncke ($78,000) and the disintegration of concrete sewer line underneath N. Taylor Street (servicing Ozone, $123,000). Public Works' concern is if N. Taylor continues to disintegrate, we will need to replace a few blocks of line. It would be important to have emergency funds on hand.
6) Hebert Lane Drainage - A 42" subsurface drainage culvert which services downtown has failed. It has separated in several consecutive joints. This repair will be similar to the one we did on Lockwood adjacent to the Tap Room. Engineering design was originally estimated at
$80,000, now reduced to $50,000.
7) Add fence to Wilson Cemetery, $25,000. This is something we considered for this year’s budget but out of being conservative, we held off.
8) For this budget year we also postponed replacing the walking track at Nose Park … cracks and asphalt upheavals now make the track less than desirable for walking. To remove and replace it is $85,000.
I am thankful to the Council for approving these suggestions and taking steps to keep Covington moving forward.