Instead of immediately looking to the pockets of Danville residents, our city commissioners and mayor need to take a hard look at cost-saving measures. Making a greater effort to take care of projects in a timely and efficient way could save considerable money.
Take the new fire station. It started off as a $200,000 building on a free lot with the city paying $500 for the right of way. Today, our commissioners are discussing a building that could cost as much as $600,000 on a lot purchased for $75,000.
The price of that lot doubled because of the time it took the project to get the go-ahead. Why did it take so long? Why didn't the commission push harder to complete the sale? Why was the free lot accepted if it wasn't usable?
The delay, also known as foot dragging, cost taxpayers at least $37,500. The final cost could be as high as $157,000, if the $600,000 fire station is built. (From the beginning, the $200,000 figure was only a rough estimate for budgeting purposes.)
The $157,000 could fund the merit raises proposed for city employees, with lots of change to spare.
With revenues beginning to straight-line, the Danville City Commission needs to show some restraint in its spending. A serviceable building works well on a beer pocketbook, so why opt for a Taj Mahal-esque fire station just because it is on a major highway. If appearance is driving the cost higher, we would have been better served by the commissioners buying the land that lies across the bypass and behind other buildings.
They also need to look at their own salaries, benefits
The commissioners also need to look a little closer to home at their own salaries and benefits.
Ten years ago, the commission saw to it that they never had to take a public stand on their own salaries. In 1994, the City Commission adopted an ordinance that automatically raises the salaries of elected officials each year by the cost of living. Maybe the time has come to do away with that ordinance and have elected officials put their necks on the line each year. Why should they be guaranteed a pay raise each year?
When the ordinance was adopted in 1994, commissioner salaries were $4,450 and the mayor received $7,500. According to city staff, as of July 1 pay will be raised to $5,779 a year for the commissioners and $9,803 for the mayor.
Commissioners also are eligible for free health insurance for themselves and their families. Can they give up that perk and save the city even more money?
Another source of money is the city's capital improvements program. It never is a bad idea to have money set aside for big-ticket items. Making those expenses an on-going budget item and not just lumped as "surplus" makes sense.
If money is tight, however, the commission needs to take a look at capital expenditures and see if any can be postponed two or three years.
Why spend $100,000 planning for new city hall?
Why spend $100,000 in the next year planning for a new city hall and police department when the city has no money available in the foreseeable future to build it? Is $20,000 for a drug dog an absolute necessity when the city is scrambling to find money to give employees merit raises?
Our elected officials also need to take a look at another taxing decision. Danville commissions traditionally have steered away from increasing taxes. Consequently, the city has missed out on gradual property tax increases that could have generated more revenue as the city grew and given it a brighter financial forecast today.
While increasing taxes is not high on anyone's list. As residents we have to realize that if we want it, we have to pay for it. A slight increase each year is easier to take than the sudden imposition of some fee.
On second thought, make that a tax increase every other year. In reality, "more taxes" is not a phrase that easily comes out of a candidate's mouth.