By Joshua Scheer, reporter, County10.com
(Lander, Wyo.) – During a two-hour work session last night, the Lander City Council did an overview of the city’s finances and helped Treasurer Charri Lara kickstart the budgeting process. However, much of the discussion involved what appeared to the council to be departmental inefficiencies.
Lara gave the council an overview of the previous year’s earning and expenditures, and provided comparative data for the last five to seven years. Since 2007, when the city’s reserve accounts were used to pay off a loan, the funds have steadily increased since and have surpassed 2006′s levels. There is a little more than $1.5 million in the city’s reserves, a solid portion of which insurance funds received from the burning of the community center.
Lara also provided, primarily for the sake of the newer councilors, a look at where the city gets its income. By far, the largest revenue stream is sales tax. Lara said it dictates each year’s budget. Through January, Lara said sales tax revenue is about 10 percent above what she budgeted for the year.
Over the course of the evening, the council decided to not provide a single step pay raise (3 percent) for city employees. The city will provide $500 toward each employee’s health savings account and will consider later in the fiscal year a one-time $500 pay supplement. None of the decisions are final until the city passes its budget later in the spring.
Lara provided the council with overtime data from each department. The Lander Police Department historically spends the most on overtime. In Fiscal Year 2012, LPD wracked up $142,699 in overtime costs. This year more than $85,000 has been spent so far. The second highest department was the Water Treatment Plant with more than $16,000 of overtime in FY2012. This year more than $9,000 has been accrued.
Much discussion surrounded how well thought out all overtime costs were. Councilor Cade Maestas said high overtime is “evidence of a systematic problem,” adding that either departments have too much work to go around or someone’s taking advantage of the system. Some suggestions were raised to possibly allow the police department to hire another officer, since the overtime costs amounted to more than another officer’s salary and benefits.
The council also discussed the need for departments to be willing to help each other out. When one’s in a crunch, another should be willing to step up and help out in an attempt to curb overtime.
Lara gave the council details of water accounts that the city would need to write off in the coming months. Nine have been done so far, three more are coming, and there are five liens in place against other delinquent customers.
A problem with shutting non-paying customers’ water off, Lara said, is many of the curb stops are broken. Curb stops are owned by the property owner, and Lara said city crews are hesitant to inventory locations and workability of stop for fear of them breaking during the check. She said when the water department has encountered broken stops in the past, they hire a plumber to do the work and then adds the bill against the delinquent customer. She said the employees won’t fix it themselves.
“That’s ridiculous,” Councilor Monte Richardson said.
Mayor Mick Wolfe said he was concerned this was the first time he was hearing of this issue and asked why the department wouldn’t just pull the meter to stop the water.
Lara said she wanted the water department to survey the curb stops around town so in the winter when water needs to be shut off they know where to find it. There was also discussion about who should be responsible for paying for a broken curb stop when the city discovers it.
No department heads were at the meeting to address the council’s concerns. Clerk Robin Griffin said they were not given notice about the meeting until earlier that day.
The council also decided to start saving for future employee retirements. Lara said 2o people in the next eight years will be eligible for retirement. If all of them have fully accrued vacation and sick pay, the city council could be looking at a total payout of $600,000.
The council also directed Lara to look into providing health insurance for 12 months for seasonal benefitted employees who are currently filing for unemployment while not working.