PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — City Manager Jim Bennett is proposing changes to various departments, from fire and police to recreation and solid waste, designed to keep the municipality’s 2011 budget level, with the goal to prevent the need to raise the mil rate. The most significant changes would affect staffing for fire and police and solid waste disposal.
Bennett, who presented his proposals to the City Council recently, began by noting this was his first budget presentation since taking the position of city manager. He advised councilors that they’d notice a different between this year’s draft and past budgets.
“The document you get … will be extremely detailed compared to the past, including a three-year expenditure history. It’s designed for anyone to understand. No matter how they get the information, they can figure out how to read it,” Bennett said. “We will be live on our network as changes are made, with figures updated as we go.”
Council sessions are televised on Channel 16. The broadcast, according to Bennett, allows viewers to keep up with the most current discussions before the Council, including the new budget.
“I feel the average citizen would make the same decisions the Council makes, if given the same information,” he said.
Decreases in state revenue sharing and the Homestead Exemption have greatly affected communities, including Presque Isle, he said, and new approaches had to be sought to solve budget shortfalls.
Among his suggestions, Bennett proposed changing from the current system of taxpayers choosing their garbage hauler to one whereby the city would provide curbside service, at a slightly increased fee per bag. Large garbage bags currently cost $1.75 each to be disposed of at the transfer station.
“We would go to a pay-per-bag system for residential properties — $2.75 for large bags (33 gallon) and $1.40 for small bags (kitchen size). Free curbside collection would be available for residents. We’d also continue to encourage recycling,” said Bennett.
Bennett said under the proposal, city officials would meet with the local haulers who currently provide service throughout the community, dividing the city up between the companies through a contract process.
Bennett also proposed a restructuring plan that includes combining the Recreation and Parks Department with the Forum, putting Recreation Director Chris Beaulieu in charge, with Forum Director Jim Kaiser serving under Beaulieu in an advisory capacity. Additional staff changes would be required to blend the two departments.
“To get to zero (level budget), we must do things differently. The goal of restructuring is to minimize the impact on the services citizens receive; minimize impact on employees; and deal with second-in-command issues,” said Bennett. “My implementation plan is to outline the proposal today and if it’s embraced by Council, then fund the ‘savings’ in one-time money to allow the change to occur over time (it must be done by Oct. 1, 2011).”
Bennett expressed concern that there was no clear chain of command in certain departments – specifically fire and police. He noted that while the fire department has deputy chiefs, there should actually be a captain who would answer directly to the chief. Similarly, he suggested the police department do likewise, so in the absence of the chief there would be a specific person in charge.
The city manager also proposed staffing changes at the fire and police departments. At the fire station, there are currently three five-member shifts. Bennett recommended switching to a seven-member crew for day shift, with two four-member crews for remaining shifts. He also suggested incorporating the code enforcement officer into the fire department, requiring one firefighter to be trained as CEO. An administrative assistant would also be added to the staff.
At the police station, Bennett recommended hiring four full-time dispatchers as opposed to the one full-time dispatcher and officers covering desk that is now the case.
“Hiring dispatchers would reduce costs through lower pay for positions, about $3 per hour round the clock, as well as uniforms, weapons, etc.,” said Bennett.
No new hiring would take place. Dispatchers would be hired as officers left the department, thus increasing civilian staff while reducing the number of law enforcement officers at the department.
Following the presentation, Councilors were presented with their first rough draft of the 2011 budget, estimated at $10,682,150.
“The 2011 budget and financial plan will decrease government size, reducing total budgeted employment another six full-time jobs or 6 percent; have minimal impacts on service levels; increase investment in infrastructure by $349,925 or 58.83 percent; and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your local government,” said Bennett.
The next Council meeting will take place on Monday, Nov. 1, at 6 p.m. at City Hall. The public is welcome and encouraged to participate. For more information, call 760-2720 or visit www.presqueisle.govoffice2.com.