Photo by George Lauby
Dan Mauk speaks to the council
Last year, the city council cut its donation to the North Platte Chamber and Development Corporation. This year, Director Dan Mauk wants it back.Mauk asked the council Tuesday for $25,000 more than last year, aiming to capitalize on a relatively rosy city fiscal picture.
The chamber received $75,000 a year ago, down from the $100,000 previously and $120,000 a few years ago.
This year, the city’s finances are in better shape. Income outpaced expectations and expenses were trimmed. The contingency fund grew nearly $2 million during the fiscal year. City Administrator Jim Hawks said the budget calls for about $260,000 less property taxes in the coming year.
“We held the line,” Hawks said. “If we have another good year, we can start putting money directly into cash reserves.”
When it came to donating to the Chamber, Mauk compared North Platte with Kearney, Fremont, Hastings and Norfolk.
He said the city of Kearney gives its development office $160,000 a year; Norfolk $150,000; Hastings and Fremont $100,000 each.
Mauk said the chamber has made some operational changes and he listed the new developments in North Platte since he arrived in 2009 -- Plains Equipment, North Platte Metals, Paulsen's cement plant, Greenbrier Rail Services, Inland Truck, Peterbilt and Hobby Lobby.
He also noted that Pinpoint Network Solutions built a high capacity fiber optic cable terminal on the south side of the city, which led to Allo Communications coming to town with $9 million in investments. And, the “big pipe” fiber put North Platte in the running for a new $1 billion data storage center for Facebook. North Platte was said to be third in the race, behind Kearney and Altoona, Iowa. The data center was built in Altoona and Facebook is making plans to build another one there too.
Mauk said it takes money to recruite businesses. The average cost of a recruiting trip is $3,000. The registration fee alone can be $1,000-$1,500, he said.
Mauk also said a couple of new major developments are imminent, which would be game changers if they come through.
The council, in a work session, took no action on the request, but Councilman Jim Carman favored a $100,000 donation. Councilmen Tim Barrett and Andrew Lee agreed.
Earlier, Lee asked for $15,000 for Rail Fest – up from $12,250. He said Rail Fest would get a big bang for the buck with extra money for advertising.
Lee’s suggestion did not fly.
“They’re doing a good job with what they have,” Larry Campbell said.
The council seemed supportive of continuing to give $12,250 to the Lincoln County Community Development Corporation for low income housing and $12,250 to Nebraskaland Days.
In other budget discussions, Councilman Tim Barrett said some expenditures are budgeted every year but not spent, so they should be cut.
“I mean, if we are not going to do them, let’s get them out of the budget,” Barrett said. “It’s a good goal, but if it’s not reasonable to expect it will happen, we need to pull them out. There is a chunk of money right there.”
Barrett noted $250,000 every year for transformers and $500,000 for new accounting software as examples.
But electric department supervisor Scott Standage said more transformers are bought every year and would be needed if a new company comes to town.
Les Green of the city Information Technology department said he intends to get new accounting software installed this year. Green said the new city website took a bunch of time this year, on top of day-to-day jobs.
Green said he’s only had 2-3 complaints from 2,000 people paying their utility bills online, thanks to the city website.
This year, new accounting software is the only major job on his plate, he said.
Councilman Glenn Petersen said the city is doing the right thing.
“If a transformer goes out, we have to have one ready,” he said.
Barrett didn’t give up.
“We seem to find a lot of dollars in small cracks (in the budget,)” he said. Councilman Jim Carman agreed.
“We have carryover every year,” Carman said. “If we don’t use it, it ought to go into the general fund, that’s what I’ve said. Otherwise, the budget does not accurately represent what we’re doing.”
Barrett also said the city pays too much overtime.
“That needs to stop,” he said. “I hear a lot of complaints.”
Hawks offered to show Barrett overtime reports from each department.
“I’d really like to see them,” Barrett said.
Barrett also suggested the city recruit more volunteers to help at Nebraskaland Days, which would reduce overtime to some city employees.
Public Services Director Wes Meyer said the Game and Parks used to help, in the spirit of the statewide celebration, but not anymore.
Councilman Larry Campbell said the Halsey Trails Club puts up barricades for the big parade, as well as for 5K runs, at no cost.
“We’ve saved the city a bunch of money. We enjoy it,” Campbell said.
The council also discussed giving employees a 2-percent cost-of-living pay increase.
Mayor Dwight Livingston asked the council to reach a consensus about changes before the budget is published in the Telegraph on Aug. 23, which is long before a public hearing is held Sept. 2.
Barrett said he’d like to consider everything for another week or so and get together again early in the week. It remains to be seen if that will happen.