East Ridge is set to turn the big “nine five” this year and the city is planning a bash to celebrate.
The idea has been mentioned in various forms since late last year. However, ideas actually began to take shape when the Mayor had it added to the agenda of the Decembers City Council Meeting. At that time the Mayor proposed using the money from the city’s share of Christmas Night of Lights _ about $30,000 _ to pay for the party. The council decided at that December Meeting to hold off action until January when the actual light fund amount would be known.
Early last month the Council learned that the check came to $30,310. After some discussion the Council decided to allocate $25,000 to the 95th Birthday Bash.
Councilman Larry Sewell was the lone voice of dissent. He stated that at the last city birthday party only 100 folks showed up, if that. He couldn’t see paying $25,000 for a party that no one would come to. He said if $25,000 was going to be spent he would rather it be on something tangible for the citizens rather than on a party. He also said he would rather see the money go to the animal shelter being asked for by a group of citizens than a party.
“If you advertise it, they will come,” was the rebuttal of Parks and Recreation Director Stump Martin. He said that in order to have a crowd you needed a top name act. Those acts aren’t paid for on shoe-string budgets. He said he was trying to land 38 Special and Confederate Railroad for Saturday and was planning a pot luck and gospel groups for Sunday.
My question is should the party even be happening? Is this the best use of taxpayer money? Is a $25,000 party what this city needs most?
Let me start with Christmas Nights of Lights. We received a check for $30,310. However that money isn’t a pure windfall. First of all, in order to host the Christmas Lights this year we had to use the end of the park where the soccer fields are located due to road construction. This meant we lost $6,600 from the Chattanooga Football Club Academy that would have paid us $3,300 in November and $3,300 in December to use those fields. That $6,600 was budgeted and that money is not there any longer.
If you popped out your calculator and did the math with me you would see this leaves $23,710. In order to ensure orderly traffic we had to assign officers to direct traffic. Due to the congestion on Frawley Road, we had to assign a fire engine to sit at the park so response times wouldn’t suffer in case of a fire or medical emergency. We also had to assign a city employee to go to Camp Jordan Parkway to stop cars from trying to navigate the closed road in an attempt to go to the park. All of these things came at the expense of manpower, and overtime, causing that $23,71o figure to probably dip south of $20,000.
The leaders of this city hear conflicting opinions about various issues all the time. In a city of 20,000-plus people we will all rarely agree all the time.
Except when it comes to taxes. There is a clear and ever-present mandate to the City Council that we expect them to work within their means. Sometimes that will mean forgoing $25,000 birthday bashes if there is a better use for that money.
Last year the city had to adjust its monetary policy in order to make a million dollar incentive payment to the developers at Exit 1. We also had a last-minute expense to clear the deed on the Bass Pro property of $600,000. In fact the additional spending between the original budget and the final amended budget was $3,227,739. In order to cover these additional costs we took on additional debt in the form of a $3 million dollar bond.
At the end of fiscal year 2015, despite receiving an additional $3 million from the issuance of the bond, the city ended with a net gain of only $500,000 in its general fund.
This year we already have a road project that was close to a million dollars over budget from the very first estimate. We also have a project with TDOT to rework the I-75 North Bound Ramps. Don’t forget we also have yet to break ground on a Fire Hall that may cost upwards of a million dollars.
We have a codes enforcement department that is extremely understaffed. They currently inspect and deal with permits and projects all over the city with a staff of just three. Yes, three people, and one of those is actually the Fire Marshal. Administration is in desperate need of help and requesting a position to be made. Interim City Manager Mike Williams has indicated that he feels that the Police and Fire Department are understaffed as well.
Finally as little as two weeks ago the ERPD lacked the ability to search for property stolen from East Ridge residents nation wide because the $2,400 cost to access to a national database wasn’t in the budget.
In my opinion the City might need to consider delaying its Birthday Bash until we are old enough to have Willard Scott read our name off a Smuckers Jar. After all, 100 is a much better reason to celebrate than 95. Let’s take this fun money and use it to shore up some leaks in the dike. Let’s use that $25,000 in a position where it can better effect the lives of East Ridge citizens by providing service that protect our lives and properties with the tools and manpower they need.
I would like to thank City Councilman Larry Sewell who has for two meetings sounded off about the use of these funds. The other gentlemen on the dais didn’t respond to Councilman Sewell’s concerns. I want to encourage everyone to E-mail, call, or come to the next council meeting and voice your concerns. Let our elected officials know that you expect them to use strong conservative principles with our money. That means squeezing every last taxpayer dollar to get the most efficient use and not wasting money on parties when there are other more pressing needs for those funds.