I think it’s time that our elected officials let the citizens in on what the score is with the fieldhouse at Raymond James Stadium.
Are we gonna find the money to build the darned thing, or are we not?
Is the plan to turn the athletic field properties – which we negotiated so hard to obtain in 2017 – back over to Hamilton County and let them deal with it? If so, tell it.
The mayor and at least four of the council members have stated time and time again that they are behind the city building a fieldhouse. Yet, with the roll-out of the 2019-20 budget, not one cent was appropriated for the project.
On Friday afternoon our elected officials and city staff gathered at City Hall to participate in a budget workshop. For more than two hours they sat around a group of tables and talked big, big numbers and government accounting principles.
A million bucks here, a million there. How about a million – including $500,000 from the city’s surplus fund – for a playground/splash pad to replace Pioneer Frontier?
Seriously? Do the citizens of East Ridge really want a million dollar playground when so many vital services – a new ladder truck for the fire department for example – go unfunded?
The proposed police department budget ($4.4 million) actually shrunk by more than 100 grand. The reason given during this budget workshop was that last year the city dipped into its surplus fund to buy new weapons and body armor for the SWAT team after a big union squabble.
During the budget workshop, a 3 percent raise for all city employees effective July 1, was simply a given. Every one of the 130 or so employees will get the bump, whether they are hard-working, over-achievers or not. Total cost to the taxpayer … $191,000.
Last year the city borrowed a million bucks to build a new communications tower for our fire and police departments. This was supposedly critical to fill in “dead zones” where the radios don’t work. Then, over the course of time, the whole deal was reconsidered. The city decided to spend $300K on radios and aborted the whole tower idea.
During the budget workshop the finance director explained to the mayor and council that we’ve got the remaining $700,000 in an account, but we’re going to return it to get out from under that debt.
Then there’s this. The city has budgeted $200,000 for a new garbage truck. I don’t know how many garbage trucks we have. They seem to be everywhere. Some side-loading, some rear loading, some with booms. They run helter skelter all over the city seemingly in a random schedule.
When Acting Sanitation Supervisor Robert Parker took his seat at the table during the budget workshop, a certain gleam came into Councilman Jacky Cagle’s eye. He said he knew all about garbage trucks.
Cagle asked Parker about the two garbage trucks we have sitting down in “Georgie.” Presumably, Cagle was playing up his country bumpkin accent for the video of the meeting.
Parker’s reply was surprising. He said that the real issue in the sanitation department is that the city doesn’t have enough drivers.
Ok, let me see if I understand this. We’re going to buy a new 200 grand truck, but we may let other trucks sit idle because there’s no one to drive them?
I give these examples of budgeting city money to spend on various projects to get to my point: There’s money for a fieldhouse … if the council really had the will to build one.
Maybe they know something that all the rest of us don’t; that the City of East Ridge is going to give the athletic fields back to the county. If that’s the plan, just say so and stop saying one thing and doing another.