Posted 9/03/15 (Thu)
By Kevin Killough
The City of Tioga is easing back the throttle after a few years of frenzied growth.
At a special meeting Monday, city commissioners discussed recent notices put out by the auditor’s office, under direction from the commission, announcing new restrictions on overtime, a hiring freeze, and a halt to new design work.
“We got to work it out because something has to be done,” said Mayor Drake McClelland.
Speaking after the meeting, Commissioner Todd Thompson explained the city is not out of money and the move is about controlling expenditures while the city is improving budgetary and spending processes.
The city has recently installed new software, which “streamlines” information on city finances, Thompson said.
Previously the commission was often provided the information in spreadsheets, which were prone to misinterpretation. The software presents financial information in easier-to-read formats, which would help city leaders make better decisions, Thompson explained.
The auditor’s office also has had rapid turnover, creating a lot of disorganization during multiple transitions.
“We’ve had three auditors since I’ve been on the commission myself, and I’m pretty new,” Thompson said.
City Auditor Abby Salinas, who was recently promoted from deputy auditor after the previous auditor resigned in June, said the slowdown in expenditures will help her as she is learning her duties.
“I’m new and I’m trying to do what’s right,” Salinas said.
The city is using the services of AE2S to help support the auditor’s office until Salinas is up to speed.
Just as this freeze is being instituted, the Tioga Police Department is on the verge of hiring a third dispatcher.
The city commission had approved two new dispatchers for the department to be paid for with grants from the Williams County emergency services sales tax. The 1-percent tax was passed last November and shares half its revenues with emergency service providers outside Williston.
The grants are approved through a county board composed of representatives from emergency services departments throughout the county. Tioga has three seats on the board.
When the city police asked for funding for the positions, they based their requests on numbers provided by the previous city auditor. The figures she provided did not include benefits, equipment, or training costs, however.
The department hired one dispatcher, but since the funding requests were not enough to cover anything more than salaries, the department doesn’t have enough budgeted for the second position.
At the special meeting, the commission decided Commissioner Ronda Davidson will meet with Police Administrator Jeff Spivey to discuss what options the department has to fund the second dispatcher.
This may mean asking the county board for more money or finding areas to trim costs in the budget to pay for the second dispatcher position.
At the meeting, Salinas expressed concern about how over hiring could lead to lay offs at some point. Not only does that have the potential to undermine morale, it would waste training costs.
“We have to contain hiring or we’re going to have to layoff people in 12 months,” she said.
With the slowdown in the oil industry, state revenues remain uncertain. This could impact what grant funding is available down the line, which is vital to the police department’s budget.
“I fund half the department’s salaries with grants,” Spivey said.
The restriction on overtime created other concerns for the police department. The restriction does not apply to any emergency issues. So, employees in the streets department could repair a water main break this winter, even if it results in overtime.
The police department can still address emergency situations, but it relies on overtime for other routine procedures.
Police Chief Larry Maize said the transporting of suspects to the county jail requires overtime. If the officer on duty handles the transport, it leaves the town with no police on patrol. So, off-duty officers are used for that task.
The commission appeared to accept such matters would require overtime.
“If you got to transport a guy, you go to transport him. I understand that,” said Mayor Drake McClelland.
Spivey discussed the possibility of using the volunteer reserve officers who supported the department on a regularly basis in previous years.
The commission also put a freeze on all new design work. This means any projects that are currently in the design phase will be put on hold and may be canceled all together.
“Anything that is current, ongoing, and moving forward should not be affected,” said Commissioner John Grubb, speaking after the meeting.
This means projects such as the new city hall, the Main Street projects, the dog pound, and the wastewater treatment plant should move forward as planned.
Grubb said there are many unknowns that could come along, but barring anything unforeseen, all such projects will continue.
He said projects such as the Welo Street renovation, which has not had any design work done, will be put on hold.
He said the move is, in part, over uncertainties as to what grant funding may be available in the future from the state, but the city is not currently under pressure from lack of funds for projects currently in the works.
“We’re not strapped for cash or anything,” Grubb said.
He said after budgets are complete at the end of the year and available funding is known next spring, these other projects may get the go ahead.
“We just have to step back and take a solid look at where we are,” he said.
The special meeting was called, in part, due to the time between regular commission meetings due to the Labor Day holiday. The commission’s regular meeting is set for this Tuesday, Sept. 8.