Metro-East News

Collinsville City Council interviews city manager hopefuls, approves 2017 budget

Collinsville City Council members criticize city's 2017 budget

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The Collinsville City Council moved forward in the search for a permanent city manager over the weekend, and at its Monday night meeting, council members adopted the city’s 2017 budget.

City Manager search

The search for a permanent city manager has entered the interview stage for two candidates.

The city council on Sunday held a special meeting to interview the candidates in closed session, according to Mayor John Miller.

Miller declined to give details about the candidates except to say that they were among four or five candidates presented to the city council by an independent consultant for the city. Council members then narrowed down the candidates to the two who were interviewed over the weekend.

“This doesn’t mean we’re going to hire one of these people,” Miller said. “... That’s a ways away.” Even if the city council likes a candidate, Miller said it will likely schedule a second interview, give the candidate an offer, negotiate the salary, etc.

He said the candidates were also interviewed separately on Sunday by a “stakeholder” group made up of people from the community. That group would then discuss their impressions of the candidates with the city council, Miller said.

People hoping to apply for the city manager position were given until Nov. 14, 2015, to send their resumes to the consultant.

Former City Manager Scott Williams held the position until July 2015. The city council voted 3-2 not to renew his contract, and he was placed on administrative leave four days later. Community Development Director Mitch Bair has held the position in the interim.

The position has had frequent turnover in Collinsville. Robert Knabel, who served before Williams, had the longest term at five years.

City council vote

On Monday night, the city council approved Collinsville’s $37.1 million budget for 2017 with a 3-2 vote.

Miller, Councilman Jeff Stehman and Councilwoman Cheryl Brombolich voted for approval of the budget. Councilman Jeff Kypta and Councilwoman Nancy Moss, on the other hand, voted against approval.

Kypta, reading from a prepared statement, said prior to the vote the amount work the streets department has been able to do in the last few years had been understated in previous budget discussions.

“It’s been stated that we have not done any road work, sidewalks or capital improvements,” Kypta said. He cited examples of sidewalk work and road repairs that he said had been completed.

“We did a lot of work that we said we didn’t do,” Kypta said.

Miller said he didn’t believe anyone had said the city hadn’t done any work, and the work that was done, he said, was not funded by the city.

“We did a lot of work on grant programs that provided funds for us to do those. It did not come out of the capital (projects) fund,” Miller said.

The issue of the amount of work the streets department had been able to accomplish came up in budget workshops regarding the department’s need for additional staffing and regarding the need to increase the city’s capital projects fund to improve infrastructure.

Kypta expressed concerns about the additions in city personnel included in the 2017 budget.

“None of these positions should be voted on unless there is a documentation provided to the entire council and to the public. If these are legitimate needs, there should not be an issue with providing supporting documentation,” he said.

He questioned whether the positions, specifically three laborers in the streets department and a city engineer, were actually needed. These additions were included in the 2016 budget that was approved in December.

“Is this a nature of want or need? Is there an issue of public safety regarding this?” he said.

The additions in the 2017 budget include a police officer, firefighter, code/zoning compliance officer and a staff planner.

Additional employees in the police and fire departments would come with extensive costs to the city in pensions and benefits. Bair suggested those positions specifically be subject to council approval before a new city manager could authorize them.

From 2016 to 2017, the budgets include a total of 10 new employees and the elimination of one position Bair has said was “overpaid.” Because of the increased costs to the city in salaries, the general fund’s reserves are expected to dip slightly below the city’s target by the end of 2017.

Despite that, Finance Director Tamara Ammann has said she is comfortable with the budgets because it is unlikely the city would spend 100 percent of what is budgeted.

“We budget conservatively, and we spend even more conservatively,” she said previously.

Kypta argues the city could save “millions of dollars” by outsourcing rather than adding employees.

“I would like to know what these new hires would cost the city and public for the next 20 year because this includes not only salary, but insurance, holiday and sick leave, retirement, etc.,” Kypta said.

Moss echoed Kypta’s sentiments regarding the long-term costs.

“I really believe this 2017 budget is overblown, bloated and unsustainable. The cost increases associated with the additional personnel and the other spending measures that we’re taking cannot be financed even with property tax increases of more than 5 percent per year,” she said. “The proposed utility tax increase, more than tripling our utility tax rate, these things will not even make a dent in this budget.”

Moss went on to call the budget “unwise and unfair to the citizens of Collinsville.”

Like the budget for 2016 that was approved by a 3-2 vote in December, the 2017 budget includes revenues based in part on the increase of residents’ utility tax rate.

The proposed increase is from 1.25 percent to 4 percent, or $4.67 per month for the average residential user. The utility tax funds capital projects, which will cost an estimated $12.4 million during the next two years, with almost $2.9 million coming from grants.

The council is split on whether to raise the tax, so the hike remains uncertain. A majority of the council has expressed support, however, with Miller, Stehman and Brombolich defending the increase. Moss and Kypta do not support the tax increase and voted against approval of the 2016 budget.

In other business, the city council also approved:

▪  Appointing Stehman as mayor pro tem, allowing him to act on the mayor’s behalf when Miller is unavailable. Stehman has served on the city council for nine months. Moss and Kypta voted against the appointment. Before the vote, Kypta asked the mayor why this appointment was taking place.

“I think it’s time for change,” Miller said.

▪  Spending $81,208 from the capital projects fund on three 2016 Ford Utility Police Interceptor vehicles for the police department. The city would also be agreeing to five trade-ins of older vehicles as part of the contract.

▪  Selling city-owned property at 126 Blackjack Road for $10,000 to brothers John and Tim Calandro. The property is a home in “a state of disrepair,” according to a report by City Clerk Kim Wasser.

▪  Adopting the city’s 2016-2017 strategic plan. Moss and Kypta voted against adoption. Moss said she voted against the plan because it is tied to the 2016 and 2017 budgets, which she does not support.

▪  Approving a resolution urging members of congress to take steps to reduce dumping of foreign steel in order to protect domestic steelmakers, like the Granite City steel mill.

The city council meets next at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 25 at City Hall, 125 S. Center St.

Lexi Cortes: 618-239-2528, @lexicortes

Utility tax rates

A sampling of the rates of area municipalities:

  • Belleville: 5.15
  • Swansea: 5.15
  • East St. Louis: 5.15
  • O’Fallon: 5.15
  • Maryville: 4.12
  • Edwardsville: 3.61
  • Alton: 3.09
  • Wood River: 3.09
  • Hartford: 3.09
  • Caseyville: 3.09
  • Collinsville: 1.25

Source: Interim City Manager Mitch Bair