By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer
“It was a stable 2013,” said City Manager Gary P. Hinkson. “We’re projecting a stable 2014. That enables us to put funds toward infrastructure improvements and also some needed major equipment.”
City commissioners last month approved a tentative budget that proposes no tax or fee hikes, and shows healthy growth in earned income tax.
The budget is an increase of $103,000 over this year, a less than 1 percent hike.
Revenues and expenses largely show little difference from last year, with the notable exception of earned income tax expected to grow by nearly $1 million to $6,550,000.
Hinkson said part of the reason for the jump was officials were conservative in last year’s projection because of the transition from the city collecting the wage tax to a private company, a move mandated by state law that affected all wage taxing bodies.
“We’re pleased that it’s been stable and shown growth over the last few years,” he said he said of the wage tax.
That stability is allowing officials – should the budget be approved next week – to move about $2 million into street, stormwater and recreation projects and for the purchase of equipment.
While infrastructure improvements have been a priority for Hinkson, and the commissioners have supported him, he said he keeps all of the city’s needs in his sights.
“We’ve got a lot of streets in the city and a lot of areas we can address in the Neighborhood Investment Program,” he said. “Our challenge is producing a high level of municipal services day in and day out and addressing these capital needs to keep the quality of life in the neighborhoods where they should be.”
Officials expect to spend $850,000 in the Neighborhood Investment Program, mostly for street and stormwater work, for Block 5, north of Highland Road and west of North Buhl Farm Drive.
As part of the Block 5 work, officials will be paving pedestrian connections into neighboring Buhl Farm park, probably using walking paths informally established by residents.
“You build the trails where the grass is worn down,” Hinkson said.
Hinkson said he believes it will take at least three years to complete work in Block 5, which also will include sanitary sewer line revamping by Hermitage Municipal Authority.
Other projects include paving and sealcoating Candy Lane; Hahn Hill Road; Clearview, Fester, Gail and Pleasant drives; and part of Easton Road.
The ongoing street-sign replacement will be accelerated to replace signs beyond just the streets slated for work.
Using federal Community Development Block grant funds, officials hope to repave two more streets in northern Patagonia.
In stormwater projects, officials plan to work in the areas of Butterfly Lane, Maple Drive, Rombold Road and Fester.
Officials have expanded the scope of an already planned project at the athletic complex on South Darby Road. The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is providing a $100,000 grant and the city expects to put in up to $200,000 to install lights at one of the softball fields, build a playground, improve and extend walking trails and expand the parking lot.
Some work should begin this year at the Stull Farm Community Environmental Park, Sample Road, possibly a memorial garden in the footprint of the farmhouse, which was torn down in August. The master plan for the park and design for a multi-purpose building should be completed in 2014, although construction based on those plans likely would occur later.
The trails and parking lot at LindenPointe, South Hermitage Road, and Whispering Pines Community Park, East State Street, will be sealcoated.
Major equipment purchases include three police cruisers, a truck for the street department and computers.
At the municipal building, the exterior lights will be replaced by light-emitting diode technology, the parking lot will be sealcoated, and curbs will be repaired.
The number of city employees will not change, although officials will hire a project manager to replace the part-time employee who recently left the city, and a finance supervisor. Sherry Iversen left the finance supervisor position to become finance director, and her old job will be augmented to include coordination of employee benefits.
In the police department, a patrolman and an office clerical employee will be hired, both to fill vacancies.
The contract with unionized city employees who are members of the American Federation of School, County and Municipal Employees expires April 30, and the first bargaining session will be held by the end of the year or in early January, Hinkson said.
The initiation of employee premium sharing in recent contracts has helped control health care costs, which have averaged 3.8 percent a year for the last four years, Hinkson said. The budget projects a 7-percent hike in 2014.