ROGERS -- The city's proposed 2021 budget includes money for new staff, equipment and projects for some departments, while others will continue to operate as they are or receive funding for minor projects. Some department heads said they wanted to be conservative in light of the covid-19 pandemic.
The budget projects about $66.4 million in revenue and about $66.1 million in expenses, leaving a surplus of more than $336,500. The projected expenses and surplus are calculated as if all employees receive 3% raises, Mayor Greg Hines said.
The council voted 6-1 in favor of 2% cost-of living adjustments for all employees and for allowing department heads to give employees additional 1% raises based on performance Monday at a committee of the whole meeting. Council member Clay Kendall left the meeting, which lasted all day, before the vote, and council member Mark Kruger voted against. Kruger said he was not in favor of the additional 1% given the uncertainty of the pandemic.
The Parks and Recreation Department asked for the most in new expenses with about $789,000 worth of requests, all of which got the green light from the council. The park budget includes $150,000 to add lights to the trail between the Railyard Bike Park and Frisco Springs Road, $120,000 for paved walking trails and $58,500 to replace equipment such as the audio system at the Rogers Aquatic Center, for example. More than $65,000 is to pay for salaries for four maintenance equipment operators, two of whom will start in March and two of whom will start in October.
Council members approved the Community Development Department's proposed budget, which includes about $614,000 worth of new staff, equipment and funding for projects, after much discussion.
The department hired its first arts and culture coordinator, Anna Watson, earlier this year, and has arts and entertainment-related projects such as the the downtown Railyard Park renovation in the works. The department asked for $330,000 for arts and culture projects, including $150,000 for "stage programming." The money would go toward music contracts for hopefully weekly downtown concerts, said John McCurdy, the department's director.
Another $100,000 is to pay for work on the city's alleyway project, which entails making the alleyways between First and Second streets from Cherry to Maple streets more pedestrian-friendly by repaving and adding lighting and outdoor dining space. Designs for the project are to be complete in September, McCurdy said. Kruger voiced concerns about allotting money to a project for which the council hasn't seen designs. He also made a motion to cut the stage programming to $100,000, but the motion failed for lack of a second.
The budget also includes $80,000 for the city to be a member of the Creative Arkansas Community Hub and Exchange, an organization under the Northwest Arkansas Council focused on developing the region's arts and culture community.
"I think of this as very similar to our dues that we pay for the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission. This is the cost of having a seat at the table," McCurdy said.
The immediate benefit of the membership will be completing the city's arts and culture master plan, he said.
The department also plans to create three new job positions -- engineering technician, planning technician and engineering project manager -- for about $41,000 to $44,000 each. The engineering project manager position is not to be filled until July.
The Fire Department plans to create a new position for infection control, although the exact job description is yet to be determined, Fire Chief Tom Jenkins said.
About $48,000 is allotted for the position's salary in 2021. The department will not fill the position until April, saving the city money and giving the department more time to write the job description, Jenkins said.
"We are a city of enough size and magnitude that we need somebody with the Fire Department who is looking beyond the immediate. Think of it almost as a position that will have a touch of analyst in it, a touch of emergency preparedness, domestic preparedness. We need a position that focuses on the future, that's able to plan long before things are on our radar," he said.
The department also plans to spend $245,000 on a new ambulance and $10,000 on software to track narcotics given to ambulance patients electronically instead of on paper to allow less room for error, Jenkins said.
The budget also includes about $275,000 for 53 computers for Police Department vehicles and about $451,000 in information technology equipment for the department's new emergency dispatch center, which is under construction.
The City Council may vote to adopt the 2021 budget as early as its meeting set for Nov. 24. Regular council meetings start at 6:30 p.m.
Source: NWA Democrat-Gazette
Alex Golden may be reached by email at [email protected]