City manager responds to city complex questions
After reading Attorney Robert Smith’s letter to the editor in the Oct. 5, 2019, edition of the Daily American Republic, I felt it was necessary to clear up some of the information he provided in his letter. First, he states the cost of the new city hall and police station is $17 million. That amount was an estimate. The council and I believe it will be less than that. In fact, if it is not, I do not think the city council will move forward with the project until the cost is reduced.
As far as Mr. Smith saying the city found out the maximum they can raise out of taxes, he wrote it to look as if the city was raising taxes which is not the case. What the city did, was look back at what the payment was on the last bonds which built the Black River Coliseum, the addition of nine holes for the municipal golf course, the sports complex on W Highway and the addition to the public library. The last few years of payments on those projects was in excess of $1 million per year, the last year’s payment was $1,300,000. What we are saying is, this is the maximum amount we could afford to spend. It does not mean the city is going to spend that much, and there has been no vote from the council to do so.
Here are a some of the questions that Mr. Smith asked in his letter to the editor.
• Why didn’t the city have architect plans first and then get a bid?
That’s what the next step is. We have not requested bids from anybody. There is no way we could, unless we had a set of plans for the building. As I mentioned above, the seventeen-million-dollar amount was an estimate, not a bid.
• Why didn’t the city have a public forum to discuss the plans for City Hall and the Police Station?
We are in the first stages of this project. There have been numerous meetings over the last several years where a new City Hall and Police Station have been discussed. As we go through the process, there will be many more public meetings. The only thing the City Council has voted on, was to authorize the City Manager to negotiate a purchase amount for the property on Shelby Road. There are many more decisions that will be made by the City Council before the project is started. There will be opportunities at those public meetings for the public to attend and have input.
• Why does the Police Station have to have 27,000 square feet, so much larger than needed?
I would rather look at what the square footage needs are of other police facilities similar to the Poplar Bluff Police Department, and the opinions of our own Police department staff, and their needs, than to just take the word of someone saying they do not need that much room without any basis for their opinion.
• Why does the City Council plan to cut their employees’ benefits and then plan to increase City expenses?
The city has no intentions of cutting current city employee’s benefits. They did change the benefits for all future employees. The City cannot continue offering the benefits we have been accustomed to, and give salary increases. It’s not any different than you having a personal budget and deciding whether you can go on vacation or buy new school clothes for your kids. You may not be able to afford both, so you have to make a choice. And it’s not always a popular or easy choice. As I have said time and time again over the years. Capital Money will be used for the construction of the new City Hall and Police Station. Capital Money cannot be used for benefits and salaries of employees; this is State Law.
The Capital Improvement Fund is in good financial shape. The General Fund, which is where salaries and benefits are paid from, is a different story. We are still trying to dig out of the mess Mr. Kaplan left us. During the time Mr. Kaplan was City Manager, Mr. Smith was the City Attorney and I was the Finance Director, but Mr. Kaplan brought in a CPA consultant and changed my job duties. Balances have continued to decline for several reasons. One being we are supporting a computer system that we didn’t need, but now we have it and it would not be reasonable to go backward. The other is stagnant sales tax revenues because of internet sales. Internet sales continue to increase, and we receive no sales dollars from those purchases.
There were other items brought into question about planning and master plans and not flying by the seat of our pants. City Planner Matt Winters and I have been discussing plans to update our master plan for the entire city, not just downtown. We plan to budget for part of that in next year’s budget and the remaining portion the following year.
One item I have not addressed is the consultant and the local architect firm. Since there are contracts with both companies, I cannot discuss those publicly at this time, but they will be addressed by the City Council in the near future.
Poplar Bluff City Manager Mark Massingham