City of Monroe
City Hall, Monroe, Louisiana
March 14, 2017
There was a legal special session of the City Council of the City of Monroe, Louisiana held this date at the Council’s regular meeting place, the Council Chamber, City Hall Building, Monroe, Louisiana.
The Honorable Michael Echols, Chairman, called the meeting to order. He then asked the Clerk to call the roll.
There were present: Council members Echols, Ezernack, Woods, Wilson and Clark
There was absent: None.
The Honorable Michael Echols, presiding officer, declared a quorum was present and stated the object of the meeting; that being to consider: (1) The 2017/18 fiscal year budget submitted by the Administration for review by the Council in Budget Hearing #3.
The Budgets discussed were as follows:
1) Community Affairs
2) Other Finance Source Use
3) Enterprise Funds:
a) Civic Center
b) LA Purchase Gardens & Zoo
(And any other items Council many want to revisit.)
The Chairman noted that they will begin the meeting with Community Affairs.
John Ross, Director
Mr. Echols asked for an overview under Community Affairs and what all departments you have under your division and total number of employees and then we can talk about some of the line items.
Mr. Ross noted that the number of employees full-time is 87, part-time is 113 and vacancies are7.
Mr. Echols wanted to know the breakdown for full-time verses 113 part-time and where does most of those positions function, in the community centers or is it all across your enterprise.
Mr. Ross noted that it is throughout recreation and there are some in other divisions.
Ms. Woods wanted to know what departments all fall under Community Affairs.
Mr. Ross noted the following departments under Community Affairs as follows; Civic center, Chennault Golf Course, Museum, Forsythe Golf Course, Parks and Recreation, River Market and Zoo.
Mr. Echols wanted to know how many employees are in parks and recreation and give a general overview of what they do.
Mr. Ross noted that there are 23 full-time, 25 part-time and 3 vacancies, which mostly work cleaning up in their divisions.
Mr. Echols noted that Mr. Janway’s conversation about maintaining parks throughout the City and his budget for maintaining parks and with these full-time employees are just working within the community centers verses on the exteriors. That is how he understood what Mr. Janway was explaining that he had crews that maintained the exterior, landscaping and those things. Is this more for the operation of community centers?
Mr. Ross said that is correct.
Mr. Bruce Watson, Park/Rec. Director explained that in the community centers you have 6 community centers and fitness centers. The fitness center is at BJ Washington and that is where you go and workout, they have membership and dues. At the community centers with the partnership you were talking about with Mr. Janway, when the transfer took place in 2007 the maintenance department was transferred to the public works department. It was agreed upon that the public work would maintain all your playgrounds, your parks, also the ball fields. At the community center you have supervisors, center workers, handicap instructor, youth coordinator, activity facility coordinator, administrative staff and custodian workers at the various community centers. What do they do at the community centers; we have baseball, basketball, football, volley ball etc., and there are community groups that meet for development, GB Cooley, ARCO or Dance, which they have zumba, senior citizen program. There are different users like the Renaissance, NAACP, Grambling and Southern Universities and different clubs. They also help with what use to be UMCAMP but now it’s PrimeTime with the registration with the kids. They have summer youth programs, special events that take place at the various community centers. They have community meetings for district meeting etc., family reunions and different groups comes through on a day to day basis and utilize it.
Mr. Echols noted that they budget some revenues for admission fees charged at the community centers and $30,000 was budgeted for the year for those admission fees.
Mr. Watson noted that those are for the registration fees for the summer programs. Each summer they have a 6 week summer youth program and it began on the first Tuesday of June and runs for 6 weeks; this year it will begin June 5 and run until July 14. The summer swimming program unless something changes it will run June 6 until July 14 and we normally hire 30 people including lifeguards, pool managers, pool coordinators, pool monitors and cashiers. We have summer worker and coordinators that work the summer youth program. During the summer programs we normally have anywhere between 13 to 1500 kids being in the community centers. We have partnership with the Monroe City School System where they pick up the kids and take the kids during the month if June so they can get free lunch during our summer youth program which begins at 8am until 3pm and it is $6 per child and that is the only program under parks and recreation that kids are charged. First come, first serve basis which is basically .20 cents a day.
Mr. Echols wanted to know that there have been several upgrades over the last few years and do you see any large capital expenditure over the next year or two that need to be made.
Mr. Watson noted that he wanted to give the Mayor credit where credit is due, the Mayor and city council have been good to them and donated money and you can always utilize money, but we want to stay within the city budget and make sure that every and all city departments are treated fairly. The monies that have been given to the community centers and we just had some major money that came from homeland security where we redid the bathrooms and showers at the various 5 community centers which was $1.15 million plus almost $350,000 that Mayor and the Administration gave to help finish that project. Also the outside restroom project that the Council and the Mayor worked in a partnership together that was over $400,000; and always during the year Mr. Janway and ourselves partner together to help keep the playground equipment is kept up and it has been a good partnership. We just want to make sure that all the departments stay within line items and we will be fine.
Ms. Woods wanted to commend Mr. Watson for identifying and keeping a watchful eye on the recreation centers. She particularly want to talk about Marble Recreation Center and it had a leaking roof and as a direct result of the roof leaking the floor was bulking and it definitely could have been a safety hazard. I do know that you all have taken care of that and Ms. Woods would just like to commend Mr. Watson on that.
Mr. Watson want to thank his boss Rev. Ross, the Mayor and the City Council, we all work together and are all on one accord. You hear people in the community complaining about things but you just can’t go out there with city funds and you have to do everything in decency and in order. The way we do things in Parks and Recreation whenever something is going on in the community they do a work order and I have Mr. Willie Carr, Maintenance worker, go over there and see what’s going on he will report back to let me know what’s going on and if it’s something that he can fix right then he does if not, then I take care of it from there.
Ms. Woods wanted to know if he have monies allocated in this budget and will we do the summer youth program.
Mr. Watson noted that will happen every single year.
Ms. Woods wanted to know how many students you have.
Mr. Watson noted that last year they hired a total of 127 people.
Ms. Wood wanted to know when this process happens because she would very much like to get a communication out to some of the residents in her district so they will know you are starting to hire and when the application process is going to begin.
Mr. Watson noted that every year they put ads in the Monroe Dispatch, the Free Press, the NewsStar and also Mr. Rod Washington, Public Relations Media Coordinator send out emails and we communicate throughout the City. People have been over to our office already and we post it at each individual community center.
Ms. Woods wanted to know when that is going to start and is it already out.
Mr. Watson noted that it starts when school is out during spring break March 27th.
Mr. Clark wanted to know if it was just for that one week.
Mr. Watson noted that they take application on up until they get all the positions filled. There are only a certain number of people we can hire based on the monies available. Last year they had over 450 or 500 applications and that is like that every year.
Mr. Wilson noted that he spoke with Mr. Ross last budget hearing about the parks Lida Benton bathrooms and Jackson Street. Mt. Nebo was boarded up and he mentioned about cameras in both those restrooms. Is there anything in the budget for those cameras to be installed?
Mr. Watson noted that he mentioned earlier to Councilwoman Woods that bathrooms and park stuff are maintained by public works. I can have a conversation with them and find out what’s going on with that, but they are the ones that maintain the parks.
Mr. Wilson noted so you are saying the money is in public works for those.
Mr. Watson noted that when the maintenance staff was transferred in 2007 Forsythe budget was transferred to the public works department. Sometimes there are some issues that come up and they take their money and take care of it because it might be a park or a community center, we all try to work together and try to get a lot of thing taken care of. Mr. Watson noted that he will get with public works and try to get his concerns taken care of.
Mr. Wilson noted that he sent a letter to Mr. David Barnes and he thinks the Mayor has a copy of it asking for $40,000 for both of the restrooms to install those cameras. Everyone know it’s $75,000 per restroom so it can’t be boarded up so certainly in the community it needs to be open so citizens can see their tax dollars are being use in the proper way.
Mr. Watson noted that he would like the council members to relate to their constituents in their community. Not only can the Parks and Recreation, Police Department, Mayor, City Administration, Rev. Ross and myself we need the people that live in the community to also have an eye on the community. When people damage city property like that some people need to be locked up and until that camera is put in place it takes everybody to keep an eye out for the investment on the tax dollars that have been put in those outside restrooms.
Mr. Clark noted that he sent an email with respect to the Mt. Nebo Park and there is a gentleman that lives across the street, Mr. Darron Getts, who keeps a strong eye out on that park and he even lets the children come into his home to use the restroom because the neighborhood park is boarded up. According to Mr. Getts, it’s not the kids who live directly in the neighborhood who are tearing the facility up, but you have children who come over from the parish, from across the river and other areas who damage the park. Mr. Clark thinks down in Parkview and in certain areas of town there is a misconception that people who live within the City damage some of the facilities and thing that we are putting in place. He thinks that is a misconception because Mr. Getts has specifically seen people who do not live in that area damaging the property and he has called it in on several occasions. That is just one example and he agree with Mr. Watson that they need to keep an look out, but in a lot of areas of town there are people looking out and watching. They can only do so much he can’t go out there in harm’s way.
Mr. Watson noted that is right we don’t want to put them in harm’s way.
Mr. Clark noted that he just wanted that to be on the record and just do whatever they can to get it back open. We go out and stress to the constituents the importance of basically taking care of what the City is putting in place and he thinks for the most part a lot of those kids and parents in those neighborhoods do a good job of that. Mr. Clark noted that he appreciates all Mr. Watson is doing and hopefully they will be able to get these open soon and the camera will be able to help them out.
Mr. Clark also wants to know when do you open up the pools and how much revenue does that really bring in or do we allow people to swim for free.
Mr. Watson explained that you cannot give away governmental facility of economic value to anyone. You either have to have a cooperative endeavor agreement in place or of that nature. The swimming pool always open on the Tuesday of the first week in June and this year that will be June 6 and goes on until July 16 and for adults the fee is $2 and kids $1.
Mr. Clark noted that is minimum revenue, but what is the anticipated revenue that we generally get off the swimming pool.
Mr. Watson noted that this is really just a service and they don’t make $4,000 between two pools, so it is really just a service that we office to the general public. They spend almost $20,000 annually for chemicals on the pools.
Mr. Wilson wanted to know about the educational program at Emily P. and if it was a pretty good program.
Mr. Watson said yes and right now on a partnership and Prime Time is coming in Friday to sign up kids for the Headstart program, which OMCAMP use to run it. Mr. Tennessee work very closely with the housing authority for the GED Program and over the last 2 or 3 year unfortunately they haven’t been able to get CDBG Fund because they have been having cut back. We us to have an after school tutorial program, but we do have at Beniot a young lady in place that teach math, science and different languages during the school year every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Mr. Wilson wanted to know what about Emily P.
Mr. Watson said they don’t have that in place because we use to have the partnership with CDGB but their funds are being cut and we are working on something at this to get that back in place.
Ms. Woods wanted to know the ages for the summer jobs for the students.
Mr. Watson said the ages are 16 and above as long as they are enrolled in college, vocational trading or technical school, they have to be enrolled in some type of educational program.
Mr. Echols wanted to know about the Chennault Golf Course Scheduling, we are always looking to maximize tournament revenue and play at the course. One of the challenges was that you had to wait until January 1 or some day after to schedule a tournament whether non-profit or however they are doing those tournaments. Have we considered opening that schedule to where you can schedule it 5 years in advance as long as you pay the deposit?
Mr. Bill Baker, Director, Chennault Park, noted that all he was doing was what the last administration did and he has changed that and it is open as soon as he gets next year’s calendar.
Mr. Echols wanted to know if we are doing marketing to market to non-profits and groups that are trying to come in and host more events both there and Muni.
Mr. Baker said that they were.
Mr. Echols wanted to know about community golf outing like Wednesday’s kids scramble or a Thursday’s adults scramble.
Mr. Baker said that is in the works, the senior scramble he did try that last year but didn’t have much success with it. He is going to try it again and also work on having a Sunday afternoon scramble once a month.
Mr. Echols noted that they talked a lot about programing for people throughout the City and have we thought anymore about children day camps, golf camp and those types of activities.
Mr. Baker noted that they have had the First Tee out there and it is slowly expiring, so as soon as he gets the word that it no longer will exist he will start up something. Kids are the future of golf and he loves it as you know.
Mr. Obie Agbasi, Forsythe Golf Superintendent, noted that they are doing a Thursday scramble and he do have a junior program going on this month and he plans on doing it every month at Forsythe. Like it was said the program at Chennault is deteriorating and it just needs a change in the person that’s managing it that’s all, if he taking over that.
Mr. Wilson wanted some elaboration on the First Tee expiring.
Mr. Baker explained that each year Rev. Larkin has had it for about 15 or 20 years and each year it is slowing going down. It is hard to get the kids these day interested in golf, you got the computer games, etc. and also when Selman Field closed down before that was a better location for the First Tee to visit and now they are having to come all the way to Chennault which is not that much further, but it seems like it. We have soccer out there and there is car after car pulling in and pulling the kids out there so we will increase it after I take it over.
Mr. Agbasi, noted that another reason for the First Tee Program a Chapter require about $250,000 a year to sustain it. Monroe just doesn’t have that money and we can’t raise it. Rev. Larkin hasn’t been able to raise that and the most he has raised a year maybe $15,000. That cannot sustain the First Tee emblem, now, the First Tee will give you what they call a break where you can just pay a certain amount of money just to retain the name for some publicity and that’s all he is getting. He doesn’t get any of the extra value from the program from nationals itself. He doesn’t have a license he can just retain the name; it is a lot going into that First Tee. If you don’t have money it is not worth sustaining the program. Mr. Agbasi said that it would be more beneficial for the City to start a Junior Program of their own and it would be easier to sustain, because the golf professional will be over it. That is his suggestion anyway.
Mr. Clark noted with respect to the First Tee Program he thought they gave the City all of the equipment and things needed, is that true.
Mr. Agbasi, noted that they gave them some.
Mr. Baker noted that they donated some equipment when they were over at Selman Field but it hadn’t been anything donated in a while.
Mr. Clark noted that you still need even with the donated equipment at least $250,000 to sustain it.
Mr. Baker explained that the equipment that was donated back in 2002 is also outdated and it takes a lot of money to run that kind of Junior Program.
Mr. Agbasi noted that the First Tee Program is more of an enterprise these days and the word is out there that it’s just for the kids. If you talk to Shreveport or Baton Rouge they are having trouble sustaining their program. Not only that, but they hire and pay an individual to maintain that Program, it is a full-time job.
Mr. Clark noted with respect to the Junior Program that the City will start what is the anticipated cost of that Junior Program.
Mr. Agbasi said that it is very minimal. The program that he is doing right now at Forsythe it’s not particularly affiliated with the City because he is having outside help coming to help. The parents pay $20 and it goes on for the whole month for kids. An individual lesson is $70 for an hour and $35 for 30minutes, so it is pretty much a steal for parents.
Mr. Clark wanted to know what the ages were for the youth program.
Mr. Agbasi said the ages were 7 to 15 and anyone that wants to start in elementary, junior high or high school.
Mr. Clark wanted to know so that’s no cost to the City.
Mr. Agbasi said no charge to City.
Ms. Woods noted that she was under the impression that First Tee was sponsored by corporations like Wal-Mart in particular was a sponsor.
Mr. Agbasi explained that in the mid 2000 he believe Mr. Larkin tried to get First Tee to be a corporate sponsor with Wal-Mart. You have to do tournaments for fund raisers first of all and invite the other companies that do business with them and they raise the money. Mr. Agbasi noted that he doesn’t know what went on and he was only involved with First Tee for maybe a couple of years before he took the job at Black Bear so he is not entirely sure what happened. The deal didn’t stick and sometimes Wal-Mart just doesn’t want to do it; they feel they won’t benefit from it because the City they are doing it in is too small. Shreveport had that problem and they lost their Chapter and it’s still lost, they are pretty much like us right now they just have the name but not a Chapter.
Mr. Baker noted that he will promise that they will have some kind of Junior Program out there.
Mrs. Ezernack noted that was here question, and if he was talking about 2017.
Mr. Echols noted that the great thing is that they have resources, one the course, two the people and all they need to do is tell the kids they are out there.
Mr. Baker noted that word of mouth and using the computer for marketing.
Mr. Clark wanted to know if they have opportunities for sponsorships for this youth program that you are going to put in place.
Mr. Baker noted that the sponsorship is very good for the opportunity to join.
Mr. Clark noted that once you put this together if you can give each council member the information as it relates to sponsorships for the youth programs, because there are a lot of businesses including his that would be eager to put their names to something that’s as good as a youth program.
Mr. Agbasi noted that they want need much just water, food.
Mr. Clark noted that he see the opportunity being that Councilman Wilson and businesses here because they follow the kids anyway.
Mr. Echols noted that he had a few questions about park and park capital and or maintenance and over the last several months he has had the opportunity, one to visit Chennault on many, many occasions as well as Forsythe Park plus numerous other parks throughout the community. There is some deterioration with some of the equipment in these parks as well as there are some electrical stands that have been knocked over by mowers and other general maintenance as well as capital. What dollars and what plan do we have within the next fiscal year to address each one of those concerns to get this equipment back up into working order?
Mr. Ross, Community Affairs Director, noted that with Forsythe Park as Mr. Watson said as this is under Mr. Janway, Public Works Director since back in 2007 and they do all of that.
Mr. Echols noted that they do all of that if a piece of equipment is broken they fix it and not just mowing and maintaining they actually do the fiscal equipment too.
Mr. Watson noted also that whenever something is broken or brought from the council, the city or a concern citizen what normally happens is communication. They may call his office, Rev. Ross office, Mayor’s office or council and once it is brought to our attention communication takes place between Mr. Janway and all of us but at the end of the day 90 to 95 percent Mr. Janway is going to take care of it. On some situations parks and recreation will take care of it, nothing last forever but when it does happen and is brought to our attention either Mr. Janway or our department they got to go ahead and take care of it immediately. A couple of week ago they had a problem with the Tennis Courts the water fountain was broken communication took place and he got with his maintenance guy and a public works guy and problem was solved. There is a lot of communication and they just ask the public as well as the council and other people to just be patient and when it is brought to our attention to give us a little time and it will be taken care of.
Mr. Echols noted that he wanted to thank Mr. Watson for that because on the issues that he called about specifically in District 1 and some other districts they have been addressed rapidly and his longer term concern is who in the City is responsible for going around and checking this stuff annually, quarterly or every two years, etc.
Mr. Watson noted that it was public works department responsibility but like he said when it is brought up discussion does take place and Mr. Janway and his staff does an excellent job trying to get things taken care of. We just ask people to be patient.
Mayor Mayo wanted to caution the Council and all of the citizens, there are 32 parks some large, some small and that is a significate amount of parks considering any size of a city particular the City of Monroe. Alexandria doesn’t come close and they are essentially the same size we are, but we are a little larger than they are. When things go wrong and these parks are utilized very much by those in the neighborhood also throughout the city, they tear things up and we have a $62 million budget. That is a lot of money for some but not a lot of money for the size of the city that we have when you consider the number of parks we have and also the number of community centers we have. Even having 7 community centers per capital is more than a lot of cities much larger also Mr. Watson and Mr. Ross alluded to the fact that we combined the maintenance several years ago to address the issue with the budget, because you have a separate maintenance crew that was actually in parks and a separate maintenance crew in public works and they were combined to try to save some funds. That was recommended primarily by the Community Affairs Director at that time and at that time was a very good recommendation. We have considered trying to appropriate money to go back but all of that as you very well know depends on the amount of funds we have to do different things.
Mr. Echols wanted to know if they have a dollar allocated for additional repairs this year for those parks or is it just out of the general repair budget.
Mr. Watson noted that it was just out of the general repair budget.
Other Finance Source Use:
Mr. Heard noted that the first budgeted item is the subsidy for the Transit Division, this is the amount of money to balance transit’s budget. This amount needed to make revenue and expenditures equal roughly $2.6 million. The Civic Center is budgeted $155,000 a slight increase over what was budgeted in prior years. The Zoo is budgeted $237,000.
Mr. Echols noted that he heard at a press conference this week that the City had received a million and change to acquire some new buses and we have our match. Does these budget figures count that million and change for 18 or have we receive the money yet or will we receive it in this upcoming fiscal year.
Mr. Dan Richards, Accountant, explained that there are 5 buses that we are looking to be delivered in this fiscal year at $2.1 million. A grant is covering 80% match.
Mr. Echols wanted to know if that dollar coming in from the transit rolling through this fiscal year or the next fiscal year.
Mr. Richards said it would be next fiscal year.
Mr. Echols wanted to know by way of the transfers in and out and how does that work if those additional federal dollars come in.
Mr. Richards explained that they budget the revenue from the grant money also on the expense side.
Internal Service Fund:
Mr. Heard noted the Central Shop has $480,000 budgeted for that area and transfers out in the amount of $7,668.00 and that money is to pay for administrative fees on capital projects but we can’t use grant funding or things of that nature. That seem like an odd figure and it has been that ever since he has been dealing with the budget and that deal with the capital projects funds. We never know how money we will be expending there so really that amount stays constant each fiscal year. We have $54,000 budgeted for CDBG, CDBG funding is going down and there was a time when the general fund didn’t subsidize CDBG at all. In the last couple fiscal years we have had to subsidize due to declining federal revenue coming in. The River Market $199,000 basically the difference between expenses and anticipated revenue that would come in and that is the amount that we need to zero out the fund.
Mr. Echols noted so in all these, obviously, we are pumping money into each one of these divisions, transit not improving based on what we are looking at. Any strategy we can employ to improve the outcome in each one of these categories.
Mr. Heard noted that he believe that when transit was up during the budget hearing he thinks one of the things that was talked about was entertaining a rate increase and he don’t think there has been one.
Mr. Barnes noted that also reduction of routes.
Mr. Echols noted reduction of routes and raising fees is what you all are proposing.
Mr. Heard noted that it would be more efficient on the operating side as well as enhance revenue to a fair increase.
Mr. Echols wanted to know if it is reasonable and going to 2016 specifically in the Civic Center $472,000 then, $154,000 budgeted for 18. Where are current year?
Mr. Heard noted that currently he thinks the revenues at the civic center are down somewhat. Here again with that being an enterprise fund we are hoping that it is self-sustaining so they have always taken the approach that they don’t do in at the outset and budget a tremendous amount of subsidy from the general fund. There was actually one year where the Civic Center did come in and do well and had money to give the general fund, but it has always been our philosophy that we go in and the less amount we cover they give those subsidies for us from the general fund and serves as an incentive for them to go out and generate more revenue. Or the reverse side of that is to operate with spending less money, fewer expenses.
Mr. Echols noted that in 2016 the actual was $4.4 million where do you feel we will end up in 2017 this current fiscal year we are in, ball-park.
Mr. Barnes noted for the fiscal year basically on transit that’s the main one primarily they are more than all the rest combined. This year they are anticipating having it down to $600,000 transfer increased from last year which will be good if that happens.
Mr. Echols noted that would put us at $2.8 million.
Mr. Barnes noted right now.
Mr. Echols noted and do we have year over year that we can decrease from this year at $2.8 million plus or minus.
Mr. Barnes noted that based on the fact that we do rate increase or rate structure and consolidate routes, but all this has to come back to the Council.
Mr. Echols wanted to know if the administration will be coming with a proposal with a rate increase this year.
Mr. Barnes noted that they have given something to the Mayor and they are studying it now.
Mayor Mayo noted that they are not going to for the rest of this fiscal year because we are already at the end. Again, he caution the Council in the next fiscal year there are going to be several things they are going to have to do to try to address some of the slides they have had with the pension increase, insurance increase as well as the flooding that has occurred in the past. That is going to take some time, we’re $5million in damages, over-time etc., from last year’s flood that we are going to have to address. He knows that the Council is sometimes hesitate concerning rate increases, we have a large number of citizens low to moderate income who depend on transit services in our community. Concerning rates we just can’t go that long without having pay increases, but that by itself is not going to address it as Mr. Heard indicated, it will take a combination of things. Those reduce routes the citizens are not going to like because they are so use to these routes, but to try to become more efficient, effective and try to be more productive as it relates to the budget we are going to have to make those tough decisions. As Mr. Barnes indicated you guys are going to have to and it will come before you for your vote and approval.
Mrs. Ezernack was wondering as far as Transit goes and she knows that we have some of the smaller buses.
Mr. Barnes noted that is something they are studying and taking the big buses in the early morning and afternoon and using the smaller buses during the day, but this all coming through Marc and Transit. From an accounting point of view we try to look at the routes, the union and all these perimeters go into effect because the bus drivers’ union doesn’t like the idea of having to come and change buses; this is something the Mayor and Transit will have to work on.
Mr. Echols noted that from a budget standpoint and we just opened up a lot of different avenues to discuss being more efficient with our budget. We really have two choices, we can go out and increase taxes and fees or we can become more efficient and reduce the budget in some form or fashion. What strategic steps are we taking to be more efficient and you can pick anywhere in the budget. These are pretty large numbers when we start talking about the difference between $2.1 million in 16 or $2.8 million in 17. What area have we found large opportunities to become more efficient as a city and how much money is it going to save us.
Mayor Mayo explained that he said back when they had a $5.4million deficient back in 2004 and we had a Come To Jesus Meeting with the department heads and division heads; we recognized at that point and that’s been pretty much our motto that you just can’t cut your way to prosperity by itself. There has to be a combination of cuts as well as revenue enhancements, expenditure reductions and that is what we did. That is what put us on the right track in terms of where we come from in having a deficient operating all the way to $15million fund balance surplus. I know people criticized the amount of funds that we have now as fund balance and now you see when you have those hard times you got a little cushion. There are always ways that we can try to cut but we are never looking to intentionally raise taxes and we haven’t always done that in fact we cut taxes 3 consecutive years, well the Council did and I commend the previous council for that. Keep in mind we get request all over the City for different things; that we need this, we need that and some of the most conservative folks in the City come to my office and tell me don’t cut me, cut the man behind the tree. I get request and council members get requests for different things. We are hearing it now we want additional things done so it’s tough but you are looking at an administration whose been working hard to get us to a point that we are now. We are doing these things to try to not only get us where we need to be, we need to keep going not piling on surplus, but having a very strong fund balance and keeping our credit rating at an A+ to go to triple A if we can. We have an experienced administration and it’s not perfect and I will be the first to say that we’re not perfect. When you speak of strategies and so forth we meet weekly to talk about things we can do to help us as it relates to the budget.
Mr. Heard noted that he and Mr. Echols talked about previously if you are not having any type of increases in terms of raising revenue and things of that nature. Inflation alone is really going to hurt you from the expense side and we are basically at that point. In 2004 when I took this position one of the first things he did was go in and look at revenues and expenditure over a 5 year period. Revenues had gone up less than 2% but expenditures had gone up by 11%, we’ve had significant pension increases, significant insurance increases and medical related items. Those things have gotten to the point where we really, not only, have to be more efficient on the expenditure side; we really need to seriously look at doing something on the revenue side as well.
Mayor Mayo asked Mr. Heard to mention what they did for the employees, which they don’t know as it relates to the insurance.
Mr. Heard explained that at the present time the City bares about 75% of the cost of the total premium cost. The City pays .75 cents on every dollar of health insurance on our employees. We have 4 different tiers for a single employee we pay $6,800 annually for insurance, for an employee who has a family we pay over $17,000 and you don’t find a lot of places that’s doing that. A lot of places that I have worked with in the past they would pay premiums for the employees, but for family the employee has to pay that cost themselves the employer did not pay any. The retiree at the current time have a 60/40 split, the city pay 60% of the premium for our employees and those are things that are very generous and getting to the point where it is getting kind of expensive for the City.
Mr. Echols noted about a million and change in additional tax revenue this year and is that accurate.
Mr. Heard said yes in term of when you say additional tax revenue are you talking about sales taxes, property taxes.
Mr. Echols noted bottom-line more revenue.
Mr. Heard said yes we always take a very conservative approach on the revenue side.
Mr. Echols wanted to know where that million plus dollars are going to come from.
Mr. Heard noted that they expect to get more monies in from property taxes. The taxable value on our properties is about an $11 million increase in comparison to last fiscal year and generally our sales taxes every year have gone up. Once again, we always take a conservative approach so, basically, when we get money from sales taxes and property taxes they are our two sources where we get the increases.
Mr. Echols wanted to know this year current year sales taxes and in the meeting if they have been flat, up, down.
Mr. Heard noted that in terms of sales taxes we are pretty flat, however, starting in January in the beginning of January Amazon start charging sales taxes on their online purchases that people are making. We are anticipating getting some monies from that and we really don’t have enough history yet.
Mr. Echols noted that it is a kind of wait and see to see what’s going to happen.
Mr. Heard noted that we think that will help our sales tax too.
Mr. Barnes noted that a lot of our sales tax reduction has been because of online sales. We have seen the difference from last December and November to this November and December; a lot of the sales have been going online. This is common knowledge in the community, we saw some uptick in January not much but that was the first month of the sales tax.
Mr. Heard noted like Mr. Barnes said we are losing a lot of revenue online.
Mr. Echols wanted to know if we have gotten Amazon estimates for January.
Mr. Dan Richard explained that he thinks to the city it paid about $65,000 and he thinks the City’s general fund is only like $10,000.
Mr. Heard noted that even with the fact that we are losing sales to online purchases we’ve never has a situation where our sales taxes have declined from one year to the next so we are hoping with Amazon it will further increase our sales tax revenues.
Mr. Richards noted that with Amazons it is just purchasing off third party sellers and they don’t have to pay sales tax.
Mr. Heard noted that also Walmart has implemented a new program that is very comparable to what Amazon does in term of the two day delivery. Walmart does not charge an annual membership fee to be a part of that particular program. Who knows maybe we will see some of the sales shifting from Amazon over to Walmart and he don’t know if we get money from all Walmart online sales.
Mr. Richards noted that it is not separated so we won’t know if it’s coming from regular Walmart or Walmart.com.
Mrs. Ezernack noted that she know this year has been unusual because of the flood and all, but as far as when we do our quarterly budget adjustment she thinks for us as a Council to be able to ask those questions; be able to keep up if we are up or down for that particular quarter, and what we are having to do to make those changes. This is ever so much important to us to kind of understand how all that is flowing and she look forward to you explaining that to the Council every quarter.
Mr. Echols noted that getting to work with the financial committee and understanding where we are at one point in time be it a month or two at a time. He thinks it’s important as Councilwoman Ezernack said reporting to the public on quarterly basis current state of affairs so they can keep an idea even though it’s a moving target. Even though property taxes come in at a certain point and it catches us up sometimes just making sure the general public knows where we are at any given time. How that is compared to years past he thinks is a level of comfort and a level of what we do from a legislative body is to insure that the public is award of those things.
Mr. Wilson wanted to know about the vendor setup selling merchandises during the Mardi Gras and he wanted to know if the City is collecting any dollars on that.
Mr. Richard said yes they have to register with Tax and Revenue.
Mr. Barnes noted that they have people go out and check that in fact the police department does some checking for us. Every year we send someone out to check all the licenses and make sure they are updated and such.
Louisiana Purchase Garden and Zoo
Mr. Echols wanted to know about building Use of the Civic Center Arena; in 2016 the building use was $563,000. Where are we year-to-date under 2017 amended budget. How does that compare to the 2018 proposed budget.
Mr. Heard noted that they just prepared the report and he has not had an opportunity to look at the revenues as of yet. We prepared the reports for the end of February and he has not had an opportunity to look at the revenues for that particular period. He thinks they are slightly down in prior months prior to February the last time we checked.
Mr. Echols noted compared to other years they were down.
Mr. Heard said yes compared to year to date and if his memory serves him right it wasn’t a large amount.
Mr. Echols wanted to know how confident you feel in estimating that revenue number.
Mr. Charles Thomas, Civic Center Director, noted that revenue last year was $563,000 and this year they are right at about $350,000. We amended the budget for 2017 to about $663,000 so they did drop that about a couple of hundred thousand dollars realizing that revenue was not going to be there.
Mr. Echols wanted to know what we are doing to insure that even that number is not too aggressive.
Mr. Thomas noted that is why he dropped it, he realized after meeting with staff, looking at the budget and after meeting several time they realized that the revenue just wasn’t there. This building and others building like the Theatre are our two biggest revenue makers and we realize the usage is not what it used to be, so we came back and lowered the numbers because they were too high and they didn’t see any way of reaching those numbers.
Mr. Echols wanted to know if he still thinks he can hit the $663,000.
Mr. Thomas noted that they hope so and they are into the biggest part of the season from now all the way up until about June 30. This is their home run season so it looks good at this point.
Mr. Heard noted that it is all about event activity.
Louisiana Purchase Garden and Zoo:
Joseph Clawson, Director
Mrs. Ezernack wanted to know if it is possible for someone to come to the Zoo and only go to the Splash Pad and how much is the cost.
Mr. Clawson noted that they do and it cost the same entry fee you pay one fee and get to do it all. I will tell you in June and July and a lot of people come into the Zoo waring their swim suite and spend an hour or two at the splash pad and they will leave the Zoo without visiting the rest of it.
Mrs. Ezernack wanted to know that it’s the same fee.
Mr. Clawson said yes it’s the same fee, whole Zoo for same fee.
Mrs. Ezernack wanted to know if it was possible to reallocate at some point in time in item 6320.001 and at one time there was some other use for that money, which obviously we haven’t spent that. She wanted to know if it is possible to reallocate that for some district project and how would they go about that.
Mr. Barnes noted that you can do whatever you want to with a budget amendment in your budget. Right now the Council is at 56% of their budget where everybody else is at 80% so it’s obvious that the council has plenty of money for funding.
Mr. Ezernack noted that they could do that in this years’ budget are let it absorb back in or set it up for next month.
Mr. Barnes said or set it up for next year and that he didn’t think there was any change in it.
Mrs. Ezernack wanted to know if they would have to go through any line items for that or how would they do that. Would they have to allocate and go into a certain thing and say special project District 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5 and just divvy up some money; she was thinking about if the Council wanted to do something at a park or recreation center or something for their district and not a huge project.
Mr. Barnes noted that the only thing you all will have to realize is you can go in and divvy up the money and create a park, say in District 1, but you are having administration maintain this park.
Mrs. Ezernack noted that she is talking about adding a piece of equipment or something or updating something.
Mr. Echols said buying a new swing, replacing a new swing.
Mrs. Ezernack noted like something that’s already there.
Mr. Echols noted like allocating some of the council professional dollars toward a project.
Mr. Barnes noted that we do a budget amendment for that purpose and process the budget amendment. Mr. Barnes noted that you can’t go between departments or you will have to come back to council.
Mayor Mayo noted that he do have some questions for the Council in fact Mr. Barnes alluded to some of it, because each week and you get the notice when we have the Finance Committee Meeting. We keep a weekly tally of where everybody is concerning their budget year to date goal. The year to date goal as of Monday was 86.54% and the Council is at 58.94% which is almost what you should be at the 6th month period compared to we are just over a month and a half out from the remaining of this fiscal year. Councilman Wilson mentioned some projects that he would like to see and you guys do have quite a bit of cushion in your budget that you can utilize some of those funds. When I look at the other departments most are really struggling trying to stay under budget in fact at this point we have 6 departments that are under budget and 2 that are over budget. Some are slightly and some of the enterprise funds they have alluded to where they are concerning the expenditures. The Mayor wanted to reiterate what Mr. Barnes said that you do have funds in your budget and he believe the previous council actually planned on doing some other things with those funds maybe bring in some more folks, so you appropriated more funds than what you would normally have. The Mayor wanted to know what your strategies are to dealing with that.
Mr. Echols noted that he knows in district 1 and he will talk about a specific project an enhancement to some of the equipment at Forsythe Park. There is equipment beyond its useful life and he anticipates some of that will be proposals to repair some of that equipment. He has talked in generality to other councilmen and women, but he has heard that same theme to repair somethings whether its restrooms, adding security cameras to ensure that as people break stuff we can catch the perpetrators and make sure they pay for their crime. So he knows there are several projects throughout the city that are very, very important to the councilmen and women. Who know Mr. Barnes you may see proposal next week that will consume those professional dollars that would enhance our parks and beautify things. He is certain there are opportunities there for the Council to allocate those funds to worth wild causes that support our citizens.
Mr. Barnes noted that he would appreciate it because they get a lot of requests for stuff to be done from the Council, but there is no revenue to cover it.
Mr. Echols noted that he appreciate the conservative nature of the Mayor and the Administration trying to protect the City’s dollars and he can assure you with 100% certainty this Council will do everything they can to insure that they are as efficient as we can with every dollar and conservatively estimate budgets.
Mr. Heard noted that one thing that has taken place and we have always met our revenue goals. He doesn’t think there has been one single year when they didn’t meet our budget of revenues. Mr. Heard noted that speaks well to the approach that they take in term of budgeting monies and yes that will definitely.
Mrs. Ezernack wanted to say if we were able to see where what we had anticipated that we were going to have extra and we divided that up among ourselves evenly. She has two particular projects that are quite costly but are in phases, engineering type projects she wanted to know if she could designate that for engineering to work on first phase of a project or how would that work.
Mr. Barnes noted whatever they put in their amendment administration would charge it to that fund. If there’s not a thing to charge it to we don’t.
Mr. Echols noted that we will have a couple of projects for you next week.
Mr. Wilson noted that the Mayor is correct and he wanted to say thank you Mayor for one of his projects the Southside Economic Development and he see it is on the agenda tonight for himself, Councilman Clark and Ms. Woods and other colleagues we say thank you for that. But one of his larger projects South 8th Street to cover those ditches and he know that is a pretty large project and when we started we asked for $200,000 and certainly the council doesn’t have that kind of money in the budget and that is something I have been asking for and the recreation parks on South 3rd and South 4th Street for those kids in those areas that cover my district and also Councilman Clark’s District. Some of those item are pretty large but and certainly he agree that they have money in their budget. I mentioned to the Chairman the other day that basically small little project that we can implement from our budget will help but we will need some matching dollars to make sure we get the project complete. I would hate to start a project and not complete it so certainly he is all in favor of that and here again we thank you for the support of SEDD and Southside Economic Development. We are looking forward to a growing districts and thank you Mayor for that as well.
Ms. Wood noted that she would like to possibility allocate some of those dollars that are in our budget to Chennault Park and she do understand that there are some things out there that need to be done as far as the benches, walkway and she was out taking a look around on Saturday so definitely we can use some of those dollars and that is where she would like his dollars to go.
Mr. Barnes noted that you all are looking at a small part of the Budget, but we look at the City when we have the same questions.
Mr. Echols noted that you have $61million and we have way less.
Mr. Barnes noted that we have the same problem.
Mr. Wilson noted that the Mayor and he supposed to be talking and they mentioned during the Fight the Blight about demolition grants. There are some citizens here tonight and the Mayor and I said they were going to try to put some money in the budget for the demolition grant since it was zero negative. Hopefully we can look at putting a little something in there and he know they don’t have the dollars in the council’s budget since everybody has spoken so it is probable a negative now, but certainly if we can do something with that Mayor it will be appreciated.
Mr. Echols asked if there were any other questions from the Council and seeing none he called for a motion to adjourn upon motion of Mr. Wilson and seconded by Ms. Woods.
Mr. Echols noted we will take a 3 minute break and come back and start our Council Meeting scheduled for 6:00pm.
The budgets were reviewed and discussed.
There being no further business to come before the council, the meeting was adjourned at 5:55 p.m.
Carolus S. Riley
For extended details on the council meeting please call the Council Clerk Monday-Friday at 318-329-2252 to schedule an appointment to listen to the minutes.