City Finance Update

The City is starting the 2011 budget process. The community is well aware that we are experiencing challenging times, as are many local businesses and individuals. We welcome the community’s input during budget work sessions and public hearings that will be held during the coming months.

One part of the budget process is to review requests for funding community projects. Little, if any, funding will be available in 2011. However, we desire an open and fair process for any organizations interested in bringing requests before the city council. Last year, we received requests for over $383,000! We were able to provide about $40,000 in funding, primarily for projects that demonstrated a broad community benefit and substantial matching funds from other sources.

We are reviewing all areas of operations to identify cost savings. A few changes are underway. As with many changes, some people will view them positively while others will find the adjustment difficult.

We recently introduced our new website. Many people are using the internet to find information, complete application forms, and do other types of business electronically. The City can now accommodate many more requests through the website. We updated forms to editable pdf versions so they can be filled out online and emailed to the appropriate city contact. We have added more information and many questions can be answered with a quick search of the website at any time. New posts are added several times a week and current information about all City business can be easily accessed by the public. The “services and information” is still under construction, but more content will be added as we have time to work on it.

During these difficult economic times, citizens may question why the City is investing in new projects. We were very fortunate to have a community member volunteer his professional services to develop the new website. Normally, this would have cost thousands of dollars for the consulting hours. We are very appreciative of this donation!

We have a new temporary staff member at City Hall through the Senior Community Service Employment Program at no cost to the City. The police department is also utilizing this program to supplement staffing needs and provide a training opportunity for a senior worker. Our new assistant, Maria, is helping greet customers, sort mail, file, transfer phone calls and provide a variety of other administrative assistance. If you come into City Hall, please welcome her!

Another change you will soon notice is that phones at the Touber Building will be answered by an “auto attendant” unless callers use the direct dial number of the person they are trying to reach. All direct phone numbers are available on the City’s website.

Some changes at the City will require an adjustment for residents. We recognize that different goals are sometimes not mutually possible. For example, personalized customer service and efficiency do not always go hand in hand.

Residents need to realize that the use of direct dial phone numbers is more efficient than using a staff member’s time to transfer phone calls. Filling out a form online and emailing it takes less time than driving to city hall to fill it out in person. Processing payments in a batch is more efficient than recording individual payments for people who come into City Hall in person.

We will do our best to serve the needs of community members in the way that works for them. Not everyone is comfortable paying their water and sewer bill through an ACH or filling out a change of address form online. If that is the case, please do not hesitate to come in and see us. For those who want to take care of more business with the City electronically, we want to get the word out about how much can be done through the website.

Some changes conflict with a strong value in the City, which is a “small town” community focus and excellent customer service. However, some process changes are an unfortunate reality during a difficult financial time.

The City has been accused of doing nothing to tighten the belt during these difficult economic times. This is not accurate. A hiring freeze and salary freeze are in place, and operating costs and capital projects have been cut from the budget. We appreciate the community members who volunteer their time and who do what they can to help the City operate more efficiently.