Equipment replacement under capital projects is a top item for Public Works in the proposed 2022 Executive Budget for the city of Jamestown.
DPW Director Jeff Lehman said with the capital projects, he feels like “a kid at Christmas who gets a bunch of toys but still wants more,” “There’s a considerable amount of equipment in here, but there’s not that much equipment in here, in my opinion. This is a one time shot where we’re getting a considerable amount of money and I think we should be trying to pick up some of this equipment, try to catch up.. Tony will tell you.. Marie will tell you.. We’ve been playing from behind the eight-ball for quite some time.”
Lehman said that two of the sidewalk plows the city uses were bought in 1979. Fleet Manager Pat Monaghan said his biggest concerns are for the city’s dump trucks, but even if they ordered the four new ones proposed in the budget by January 1st, vendors are telling him they’re two years out from delivery.
Council Member Marie Carrubba said she supports using the American Rescue Plan funds toward the needed equipment replacement and infrastructure improvements. She said she would prefer buying now to avoid bonding later.
Council Member At Large Kim Ecklund asked Lehman if he requested the addition of the Assistant Director of Public Works position. He replied that he sees it as a “placeholder” position for whenever he’s ready to retire so someone could be trained to fill his position. The assistant is proposed to be funded at a $75,000 starting salary using American Rescue Plan monies.
Lehman said he’s concerned the budget has summer laborer positions being funded using CHIPS, or Consolidated Highway Improvement Projects, monies, “Which is something we tried this year because we didn’t budget any money. I’m just afraid now you’re going to pick away that CHIPS money and if this starts to happen it’ll never change. You know what I mean? And that could be two streets right there that aren’t going to get done in the future by doing this. So in my opinion, it’s a concern I have.”
Lehman added one of the items not funded was $400,000 in roof repairs, which included the roof repair for Fire Station 4 in his request.
Parks Manager Dan Stone said the inclusion of three new laborers using American Rescue Plan funds would help with increased Park maintenance, “The addition of the Riverwalk and the Bike Trail are fantastic. And our department can build anything, any playground you give us, any building, any trail. Maintaining them is the hardest part to do. So those two entities together basically become their own park. And because of that they’re not getting the attention that I feel that they should have. I don’t want to sacrifice quality of what we have here in the city for quantity of work.”
Stone said Bergman Park alone should have two full-time employees with all the activities and amenities there now, not even including what’s proposed in the future. He added more manpower is needed as projects have been added to the department’s work list like the mowing of delinquent properties, saying one property hasn’t been mowed in two months.
Stone said the city’s parks system saw a big increase in use during the pandemic. He said a number of new projects are proposed to be funded using American Rescue Plan funds including a frisbee disc golf course and a $250,000 dog park at Bergman Park, “For the last two years, three years, we haven’t been using field one. That’s the first one as you come in, the second entrance across from City View into Bergman. I figured that would be a great location for a dog park. That way it’s close to the sidewalk itself, so even on those nice winter days we have, it could still be accessible.”
A new playground at Nordstrom Park has proposed ARP funding as well. Stone said that park is home to the City’s youth rec baseball league and the future adult kickball league. He said the city is also proposing bringing back the summer playground program at four park locations.
The building of a splash pad had been mentioned in budget presentations by Mayor Eddie Sundquist but a closer reading of the budget book shows that project is not being funded using general fund or lost recovery monies under the American Rescue Plan at this time.
Finance Committee Chair and Council Member At Large Kim Ecklund expressed frustration during Monday’s budget session that the budget as presented isn’t transparent, “I literally went through this entire budget line item by line item, and what you sent me, writing down what we expended, and trying to find stuff. And I’m experienced with budgets. I can’t imagine how some of these people feel. It’s terrible. [Comptroller Thompson responds, “Thank you”] It’s not your fault. I’m not blaming you 100%, but you’re expecting us to make multi-million dollar decisions with ARPA and with all this stuff and I gotta bug you a million times for information. That’s not fair to us. That’s not fair to you. And that’s not fair to the public.”
Ecklund’s comments came after she made multiple requests at the meeting to Comptroller Ryan Thompson to provide breakout costs for the building mechanic’s overtime, summer laborer salaries, and other salary related items.
Four resolutions related to American Rescue Plan funds, including two new positions, have been postponed for discussion until November. Ecklund said this is due in part to how ARP funds are co-mingled into the proposed budget, which won’t be voted on until November. She also requested the administration provide a detailed budget of how the ARP funds will be spent.
Comptroller Thompson said he had attended the New York State Conference of Mayors recently and that no other city or village there had started spending their ARP funds yet, “And really, the advice was to slow down and take your time because there’s a lot of things that could change in the next year or so between the infrastructure bill and everything else going on.”
Thompson reported out on third quarter financials, saying sales tax is continuing to perform well. He said sales tax receipts are up $271,000 for this year, or up 13.67% from 2020. He said revenues were up $328,000 from before the pandemic in 2019, or up 17%.
However, Thompson said of the revenues for the parking meters, parking violations, and the parking ramps and garages, only 55.5% has been collected, “Our revenues for our parking garages are still not enough to cover the operating costs between all of the clean-up inside and all of the payroll and that kind of thing. We’re not even matching our expenditures, so we’re not turning a profit and that doesn’t include our debt service on them, so concerning for sure.”
Mayor Sundquist said the city is looking at possible costs savings through automating the parking garages. Thompson said expenditures are in good shape overall with health insurance remaining on budget.