By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers
LINCOLN PARK – Although restored autonomy remains months away and a state-appointed Regional Transition Advisory Board maintains authority over municipal spending, city officials continue filling open positions and planning future budgets to restore local authority in a new era of solvency.
Last month’s meeting with the RATB to approve expenditures included confirmation of eight personnel appointments – two full-time, three part-time and three public safety positions – that either replaced departing staffers or promoted current employees.
City Manager Matt Coppler said the positions had been covered in the approved 2016-17 budget, and ensure that the city’s public works, police and recreation departments maintain existing staffing levels.
Also approved was the purchase of a vehicle for the city’s Animal Control Division, which had two 2001 vehicles that are no longer operable. Coppler said fire and DPW vehicles had been used as a short-term solution, but a designated vehicle specific to that department is necessary.
Funds will be drawn from the police equipment budget to cover the cost. Likewise, purchase of a 2016 Ford F-150 pickup truck for police use was approved at $22,000 to maintain the department’s fleet.
The monthly RATB meeting reviewed each city department’s accomplishments and outlook for the near future. Reports submitted to the state oversight panel reflected a city living within its projected budgets while working to meet the ongoing demands.
In some cases, department heads indicated that additional staff will be needed to ensure a sustained level of service. Requests for more hours included the clerk’s office, which has struggled to meet its obligations and faces a presidential primary election in November.
On the plus side, Finance Director Lisa Griggs reported more than $140,000 in water taxes were collected after completing a “transfer to tax” process for delinquent accounts. Collection of delinquent personal property taxes will be an ongoing challenge for the city, Treasurer Patricia Lulko said.
Improving the city’s revenues remains the highest priority in order to meet service demands. In spite of approved promotions and replacements, both the police and fire departments remained understaffed.
Police Chief Ray Watters said the detective bureau is short two officers, a reduction that had been made to fill road patrol shortages and eliminate overtime spending.
Likewise, DPW Director John Kozuh said manpower shortages leave the department unable to do preventative maintenance work on city equipment and facilities.
Coppler said city management’s priorities before the next RATB meeting include filling any vacant positions – either on staff or on city boards or commissions.
(James Mitchell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)