Rogers officials look at yearly budget

Posted: November 5, 2017 at 1 a.m.

NWA Democrat Gazette/SPENCER TIREY Karen Minkel, director of the Walton Family Foundation Home Region Program talk to a crowd Friday during a groundbreaking event at the Thaden School, an independent school in Bentonville. Construction of the school's campus is underway and the first buildings are scheduled for completion in 2018 with the rest to follow by 2020. The school opened this fall in temporary classrooms and offices that will be decommissioned as permanent buildings become available.

ROGERS -- The city's continued growth will bring $1.5 million more into the upcoming year's budget, city officials say.

A proposed 2018 budget for Rogers will be presented during a public, all-day meeting of the council at City Hall on Monday.

Equipment

Equipment purchases under consideration in the 2018 Rogers budget, according to Casey Wilhelm, Rogers finance director.

• Truck for Fire Department

• Police dog and equipment to convert Tahoe into a police dog unit

• 13 police vehicles

• Ambulance

• Three fire department staff vehicles

• Cardiac monitor for ambulance

• New security system, library

• Painting, wall mats for Recreation Center

• Repairs to Aquatics Center slides

• Parks equipment, including a groomer, Skid Steer loader, three mowers, two four-wheelers, a truck and a van

• Playground equipment at three possible parks locations

• Phone system for Information Systems

• HVAC system for Adult Wellness Center

• Mower and front end loader for the Street Department

• Truck and various repairs for airport

Source: Staff report

The city's general fund is budgeted at $40 million for the new year, after a $800,375 surplus is spent on pay raises for city employees and $25 million is placed in reserve, said Casey Wilhelm, Rogers finance director.

The money in reserve is expected to be up again in 2018, said Betsy Reithemeyer, chairwoman of the council's finance committee. "It's critical to have that funding if opportunities come about. It adds to our budget so we don't have to rely on tax increases to manage the city effectively."

"That's a lot of money," resident Michelle Tolly said, while she was grabbing coffee with a friend in downtown Rogers. "I'd like to have $25 million."

Tolly added it would likely take a long process or lots of people to change the practice of collecting so much money.

Wilhelm said the city could operate for six months on the reserves in the event of an emergency.

Tracy Bullock, who was visiting Rogers on Friday, initially said the city definitely owes its residents an explanation for collecting that much money without marking it for a specific purpose. On second thought, she said it would be nice for the city to have in the event of an emergency or in another economic downturn.

The proposed budget includes eight new positions based on a projected 4 percent increase in sales tax collections.

"I estimated those collections will increase by $700,000 from city tax and $800,000 from county tax," Wilhelm said in an email Thursday.

The tax rate won't change. The city collects a 1 percent sales tax, as does Benton County, and a portion of the county tax returns to city coffers. Continued population growth and development in the region is expected to bring in the additional money.

The new positions include a street equipment operator, two equipment operators for the Parks Department, a GIS analyst, a museum assistant and part-time guide for the Rogers Historical Museum and a fitness media coordinator for the Adult Wellness Center.

The budget also includes the potential hire of a city planner for the Community Development Department, Wilhelm said, but the decision will be made in July 2018 once the city assesses whether it's needed.

Both new positions for the Rogers Historical Museum are also planned to begin midyear, once the museum renovation is completed and the restored Hailey building is opened. Wilhelm said the museum will need more people to handle the expanded campus.

The fitness media coordinator will select an on-site worker to guide wellness center members in lifting weights and engaging with fitness equipment properly. The position is required by Medicare, Wilhelm said.

The city already employs one GIS analyst for mapping purposes, but needs two to keep up.

All three equipment operators are needed to maintain and upkeep the expanding road system, parks and trails, Wilhelm said.

Neither the Fire Department nor the Police Department are requesting additional staff for 2018. The Police Department is requesting $40,000 for expenses in reworking its recruitment system. The new outreach contacts potential hires straight out of high school to become community service officers. The new recruits will be between 18 and 21 years old and won't be armed. They will be trained to man parades and other entry-level police work.

"Police have to be more creative, because they can't get people to apply" to the open positions, Wilhelm said. "They are trying something different."

Reithemeyer said the city clearly supports first responders. A recent City Council meeting approved funding for armored plates and helmets for police.

"We want them to be well equipped in handling crises and do all we can to keep them safe," she said.

Discussions during the 2017 budget meetings included encouragement by an alderman to move pay raises for city employees to a merit-based system, but the budget contains only across-the-board raises for now, Wilhelm said.

She said the city does merit-based promotions throughout the year, but also wants to bring salaries up to market standards to remain competitive in the workforce. Washington County is doing the same, she said.

Thomas Dunlap, director of human resources for the city, said he's been discussing potential changes to citywide promotions with Mayor Greg Hines. Merit-based promotions would require measuring performance, Dunlap said. The private sector is moving away from the traditional job evaluation and toward monthly or quarterly check-ins, where goals and performance are discussed, he said. That's given the city time to consider something similar, he said.

"We've dabbled in check-ins and goal setting," Dunlap said. "But we haven't settled yet. If you don't measure productivity, you can't promote based on performance."

Dunlap added the area's low unemployment rate and the level of compensation from other public and private employers makes finding and retaining workers a challenge. Across-the-board raises would help the city stay competitive, he said.

Large projects throughout the city, such as the $17.5 million construction and renovation of Lake Atalanta, are paid for with cash from the general fund or reserve or covered through a bond issue with a tax dedicated to paying off the bonds.

Two large projects within the city are closing out. A $6.6 million runway rehabilitation project for the Rogers Executive Airport was completed in June. The $5.5 million renovation and construction at the historical museum is expected to be completed by July.

Both projects relied on funding primarily from sources other than the city, Wilhelm said.

The runway project was eligible for federal funding and will receive the last $400,000 of state funding reimbursement in 2018. The city approved $33,700 in expenses from the airport fund reserve and $266,800 from general reserves for the runway project.

The museum relied on grants and donations from the Walton Family Foundation, among many other benefactors. The city recently dedicated up to $2.5 million of reserve funding toward the completion of the museum renovation project, but doesn't anticipate the full amount will be used.

"It's a testament to the soundness of the city," Reithemeyer said. The airport is critical to regional infrastructure since the Wal-Mart fleet is housed there, she said.

NWA Democrat Gazette/SPENCER TIREY Ted Huie, with Rogers Parks and Recreation, works on a bike jump Friday at the Railyard in Rogers. Rogers growth is...

NW News on 11/05/2017