Oh what a happy day it is when I can go online and look at the city’s proposed budget, as well as view the board meetings where our elected officials make lots of important decisions. Isn’t it refreshing to have that ability when two short years ago we couldn’t? I love the smell of open government – it’s like walking into grandma’s house with cookies baking in the oven. Kinda makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Yet sometimes there are raisins in the cookie disguised as chocolate chips, so when you bite down it’s all icky!
The meeting from Tuesday was quite interesting and definitely contained a handful of raisins (disguised as chocolate chips). Let’s pick them out, shall we?
Citizen Ann Cox spoke up after taking a long, hard look at the budget and meeting with city officials to ask questions. She made some very good points, but some items in her $1 million proposed savings should be discussed. For example, cutting salaries of employees might look good on paper but if your employer suggested it to you, how well would you take it? To suggest our City Recorder, who commands an extensive knowledge base and wealth of history in his years of professional service to La Vergne, have his salary cut by $10,818 seems pretty harsh. He has, after all, accepted more responsibilities as the Interim City Administrator. I tend to disagree with the proposal of cutting longevity bonuses for employees and zeroing out the salaries of elected officials. My goodness given the headaches the rest of us cause them from our screaming and yelling and criticizing, I just think that’s cruel and unusual punishment! Do you know that sometimes the police are stationed at City Hall on water cut-off days because of the threatened violence toward city employees? Nah… I don’t want to cut their longevity bonuses, personally.
There are professional services the city does have to pay. The service of an annual audit comes to mind, for example. You suggested the sewer department cut its budget by $375,000. Unfortunately part of that funding goes to Nashville (still) to take our waste water. The city is conducting smoke testing at this time to identify holes in the sewer lines. These broken lines or rusted out holes let in rainwater and run-off and it’s pretty ridiculous that we have to pay big money to give this fresh water back to Nashville.
I think the police, engineering department, public relations office, are pretty awesome too. We agree that the money paid to the Chamber of Commerce seems outrageous given how little retail they haven’t helped the city gain. We do not want to be known as just an industrial town or bedroom community, so we believe the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce should stop trying to paint us into that corner.
But serious kudos to Ann for doing her research. She presented her opinion in a very respectful manner so possibly had a much more positive impact than others who would prefer throwing darts without doing their homework.
The city will streamline some of its health insurance benefits for future employees. If they are hired after December 31, 2012 they will have to pay toward prescriptions (unless you use the much-cheaper Care Here clinic). Also for employees hired after that date, they will have to start pitching in to pay the monthly premium for their families or spouses. That will definitely save some big bucks in the long-run.
The Board also cut out the $10,000 they pay annually to PAWS. While PAWS provides an important service to the county, they are nearly comatose toward La Vergne when called for animal attacks. When the city attorney advised the board that the county still has to provide the service to the city (thanks everyone for paying your Rutherford County property taxes!), they withdrew the extra funding.
Speaking of non-profit funding, remember the compassion expressed by Alderman Waldron about supporting the Smyrna / LaVergne Assistance Foundation? This excellent organization helps people with their utility bills in times of great need. Mr. Waldron went on the TEE-VEE telling people they should support the group! He was passionate about them! Guess who voted NO on funding the group through the non-profit resolution? The very same Mr. Waldron. Why would he vote no on something that important to him? In my opinion – and this is just my opinion – either 1) it’s an election year so he’s voting no on all budget items so he can’t be accused of “wasting money” or 2) he didn’t know what he was voting for. Either way it’s jaw-dropping.
During the meeting, the board passed the ordinance again confirming there is no parking on the street. Make fun all you will about how people still park on the street, but also remember that our police force has been undermanned – or as Chief Mike Walker says there aren’t enough boots on the streets. Now be honest with yourself… wouldn’t you rather have our police investigating child molestation charges (and the chief did mention those crimes were on the rise) than driving around giving out parking tickets? Be careful what you ask for, you might get it.
Finally people who stuff barbie dolls and water bottles down their toilets and break grinder pumps will have to pay for the replacement of the pumps. But not until they’ve been warned in person and in writing. It’s a three strikes you’re out rule.
All in all, the Board did a good job this week. But don’t take my word for it. You can read what the city says about everything here. Or go watch it for yourself here. And thank you City of La Vergne for posting the videos, keeping people updated on the web page, and actually posting the city budget online without making people come in and paying to have it copied.