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City leaves financial emergency behind

By DARRELL SMITH - dsmith@newsexaminer.com

Continued spending diligence left the city with a half-million dollars more at the end of 2017 than when the year started. The year marked the end of a financial emergency.

Mayor Harold Gordon credits the City Council, Board of Public Works and Safety, department heads and employees, and oversight from Clerk-Treasurer Rosemary Brown.

The year included ending a financial emergency begun in March 2014, Gordon said.

“I see a lot of activity in Connersville now, and I’m not saying getting out of the financial emergency did it, but I do think it’s telling people, ‘We’re OK, come on and do some investing,’” he said.

“The council and others and Rosemary have been very diligent on how we spend our money,” he said. “They let me buy things but at the same time they opposed some things. The council members come in here and talk and we have a good working relationship. It’s good they take an interest.”

The fund report provided by the clerk-treasurer’s office shows that diligence has paid off. Funds in non-investment accounts grew by $520,842 during the year. With investment funds included, total growth came to $1,130,094.

Fund levels in some accounts were lower. For instance, the general fund dropped slightly, by about $20,000.

In accounts where the balances dropped, money was used for a purpose, the mayor said. For instance, the Local Option Income Tax Special Distribution Fund balance dropped from more than $314,000 to just over $66,000. The city used the money to help pay for street paving.

Gordon said the city’s department heads are doing a good job.

“When you let department heads run their departments, they get quite a bit done,” Gordon said. “We meet once a month to let me know what’s going on. They always keep me informed but when they know they can make decisions, I think it helps them run the department better.”

The mayor reviewed some of 2017’s accomplishments.

In 2017, the first canoe launch ramp on the West Fork of the Whitewater River opened at the new Rivers Edge Sports Complex. The Parks and Recreation Department will also work in 2018 to develop Phase One of the project, using a $200,000 grant from the state Department of Natural Resources, Gordon said.

In 2017, 1,239 youth and 350 adults participated in leagues at the parks. There were 14,364 visits to the Roberts Park pool, he said.

The Firefighters Local signed a new labor agreement which allows the city to hire two more firefighters. That has reduced the overtime paid when officers are called in for an emergency, Gordon said. A two-tier pay scale allows the city to save money when a firefighter retires. The replacement is hired at a lower rate.

The mayor also reviewed city plans and projects for the coming months.

The long-awaited Grand Avenue sewer separation project from 24th Street to 30th Street is scheduled to be bid this fall. Construction can start in 2019, he said. The project involves separating underground waste water lines from flood water lines so that rainwater does not create overflow at the wastewater treatment plant. It is required by federal law.

Connersville Police Chief Carol McQueen is implementing a plan to let officers work in one district longer so the residents, especially children, get to know them and the officers get to know the people, Gordon said.

“We want to get the kids to realize the policeman is not the problem, he is your helper,” he said. 

The police bicycle program returned in 2017 and will be used more in 2018, he said. Kids relate to bikes. If kids are playing basketball, officers are encouraged to go shoot a few hoops with them.

Officers are being trained in active shooter response, not just the SWAT team, he added.

A goal for 2018 at the Emergency Medical Services is to relocate to one location, he said. Emergency ambulances are located on Mount Street. Transport ambulances are in a building rented from Fayette Regional Health System.

When transfer ambulance operations were taken over from Fayette Regional by the prior city administration, the goal was to offset some of the EMS expense, he said. Costs last year were $611,036 more than income. Under the prior arrangement, annual costs had been closer to a million dollars, split between city and county.

The council at the time also required setting aside 10 percent of the income for equipment replacement. That fund now has $156,799.

All departments need to replace aging equipment. The police department has bought five new vehicles in the past two years, with two ordered this year, he said. The EMS added a used ambulance in 2017 and has ordered a new commander’s vehicle. The fire department needs to replace two engines. The street department’s automated trash truck has had several breakdowns.

Brad Colter, the city’s ADA coordinator, has developed a plan for departments to communicate with residents with limited English proficiency. ADA is Americans With Disabilities Act.

This summer, one street department worker will be assigned downtown to clean the trash, spray for weeds and cut grass.