My intention in last week’s column was to provide the citizens of Commerce with a short list of city entities requesting funding from the City Council.
In this week’s edition, I hope to describe and explain the options available to the council and their current reasoning concerning those funding options.
There have been a number of suggestions made by council members and members of the city to facilitate the evolutionary changes noted last week. First, the library needs to find ways to help supplement its budget.
Some have suggested more fundraisers; some, the city not fund any of the library expenses as it does not own the library and leave it up to the library to fund itself; and still others suggest the city take over the library and float a bond to pay for it.
The last option would give the city an opportunity to see if the citizens of Commerce are willing to fund the library on a yearly basis.
With respect to the Emergency Management Preparedness Grant to fund city emergency management personnel I believe that was clearly spelled out last week.
However, it bears repeating that money for an additional law enforcement investigator for the city will come from budget funds currently allocated to emergency management that will no longer be a budget item as money from the Preparedness Grant will pay those employees.
Why the consideration for exchanging a spray park for an outdated, broken, and virtually beyond the expense of the city to repair city pool? There are members of the community who have offered to raise funds to build a new spray park. Others have offered the same to restore the pool. It is conceivable that the total cost of the new spray park would be zero to the city as private funding will be responsible for the spray park construction. The cost to the city for maintaining the spray park would be negligible as no life guards or expensive chemicals would be required for its operation.
Ideally we would like to be able to offer both alternatives to prospective consumers. That is a pool for those interested in swimming as both recreation and exercise and the spray park for those wanting to cool off and play with water cannons, sprays and showers.
Refurbishing the city pool and making it usable for residents, and visitors as well as our summer swim team will take some serious fund raising or city bond.
Let’s look at what has transpired over the last few years that has led to this current conundrum. Quite simply the city will be losing 18 to 20 percent of its annual income by December 2013 when the Covidien Corporation leaves Commerce.
If there is one slightly positive note here it is that Covidien has been rumored to be leaving for a few years and Marc Clayton, city manager, has been adjusting the budget each year so that the city will not be hit so hard in 2014.
These adjustments have included cross training city personnel, not filling jobs of retirees, and cutting the budget by attrition. So to say the city is not planning for the 18 to 20 percent reduction in revenues is not correct either.
However, it should be noted that each department funded in the city budget that has been reduced or will be reduced be by an equal amount and not that one be cut while another increases its budget and wants more.
We can expect lean or leaner times ahead and the city must prepare for that. It should also be noted that the reduction in the city budget has not included those departments responsible for emergency management, police and fire.
This leads back to the metaphor provided last week. The city of Commerce is facing a hit to its budget potentially reducing revenues by 18 to 20 percent while the city’s largest employer is growing by 7 to 10 percent. Texas A & M University-Commerce, has been growing and is now reporting 12,000 students enrolled and 25,000 expected in 2032.
The university is hiring new faculty and although many of the 12,000 students enrolled are taking classes on line the number of students physically present on campus in Commerce is growing and will continue to grow.
The university is planning for this growth as witnessed by new construction on campus. The city needs to plan for businesses and activities that will keep these students and new faculty in Commerce on weekends and holidays and permanently as new residents.
The university is making plans for its growth and evolution and the city must do the same. New businesses and the remodeling of others are observable in Commerce.
There are plans for other new businesses to replace older ones, the hospital for instance. The construction of the new hospital would not be an expense to the city.
Our retired and senior citizens and others must not fall into the Chicken Little paradigm, “The sky is falling,” and realize that a new normal is not necessarily a bad thing, but rather a different way of conducting business.
We must work together to solve the problems currently facing the city in an attempt evolve and become productive in the 21st century.
Feb. 28, 2013
Dr. R John Ballotti, Jr. Ph.D.
Mayor, Commerce, Texas