On Monday, July 21, city commissioners approved the proposed Fiscal Year 2014-15 budget during a workshop session, but it was not without some passionate arguments that sometimes strayed from discussion on the budget to what had been discussed earlier in the day during a strategic planning committee session.
While the proposed budget, which comes in at an estimated $70,467,187, is 2.39 percent higher than last year, at the same time it is 1.3 percent less than what the city’s budget was of 2008, which was more than $71 million.
“Here we are, seven years down the road,” said City Manager George A. Long. “It (the budget) accomplishes more than we did seven years ago.”
Among the items discussed, part of it centered around the proposed fire assessment fee, a matter that was taken up and approved at the city commissioners regular meeting held that evening. If approved at the Sept. 3 regular meeting, costs will rise. As an example, the annual current fee for a single family residence is $53.02. If the increase is approved, the fee will be $56.71.
Long also pointed commissioners’ attention to the wastewater plant expansion. The city is in very good financial shape, such that if it chose to, when it becomes necessary to expand that the city could pay for it in cash, rather than borrow the money.
“Funding is not going to be an issue in getting the project done,” said Long. However, because expansion is not yet required, it was not on the budget.
A number of items, as well as requests, are either defunded, reduced or denied. One of them $10,000 to replace a police dog.
“Are we retiring a dog and not replacing?” asked Commissioner Adrian “A.J.” Jackson. Yes, replied Long, who added that it was hard to justify the cost involved. The $10,000 would be for the purchase of a dog. Other costs would be incurred during a dog’s tenure as a K-9. Currently, there are three dogs with the Bartow Police Department; there were four.
Another request, for $7,500 for new sound equipment for the Bartow Civic Center, was also denied. It was questioned by Commissioner Trish Pfeiffer, who stated that the equipment at the civic center was more than 10 years old. Long informed commissioners the reason for the denial is that the money should come out of the Parks and Recreation budget, not the general fund.
The swimming pool at the civic center took up much conversation. Discussion revolved around whether to spend $125,000 to replace the pool liner.
“The pool liner has reached the point where it is a safety hazard,” said Long. From there conversation began to veer away from whether the money should be spent to whether the pool should remain. It led to further discussion where a community pool should be, if not at the civic center. Finally, at one point, Mayor Pat Huff attempted to steer the conversation back to the whether to fund a new liner or not
“This is all an interesting discussion, but that’s strategic planning,” said Huff. “We need to get to the budget.” His effort to return the conversation went unheeded. Commissioners continued to debate the purpose and worth of the pool.
“I question the value of a swimming pool,” said Jackson. “However, $125,000 to maintain the pool is not unreasonable.”
Other talk regarding the pool included a call by Commissioner Leo Longworth to keep the current pool for the time being, but to consider looking at the possibility of a centrally-located pool, perhaps a pool in downtown Bartow.
One of the final says on the matter came from Commissioner James F. Clements, who referenced how the swimming pool in Haines City had proven to be a boon.
“The return on investment will be a better quality of life,” said Clements.
However, Jackson pointed out that in addition to the pool, recreation (which he stated included the library, the parks and the golf course) eat up almost 30 percent of the entire budget.
“How do you justify that when infrastructure, such as roads get only $300,000?” he asked.
Two other matters also were discussed or received attention and both were not related to the budget. Near the end of the session, Clements lauded Interim City Clerk Jackie Poole.
“I think our city clerk is doing a great job and I know she is being considered for positions at other cities,” he said and then looked at Poole. He asked her that should she get another job offer, that she give Bartow the opportunity to respond.
The other matter, which was raised at the start of the session, came from Huff, who informed commissioners that this was the time when they evaluated both the city attorney and the city manager. He asked whether they wanted to do a numerical scoring system. Huff went on to mention that completed evaluation forms needed to be in by Aug. 8, and that a consensus on salary would need to be made by the first meeting in September.