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— A number of Gentry committees met within the last week to outline needs and projects to be included in the 2010 budget preparations for the city.

With incoming tax revenue down, Gentry Mayor Wes Hogue encouraged departments and council committees to meet and determine needs and priorities for next year so that the city's finance committee can help him prepare a budget for 2010 which will meet the needs of the city but also stay under income projections for next year.

The water and sewer committee met last Wednesday, and public works supervisor David McNair outlined a number of water system projects and sewer system projects his department hopes to complete in 2010.

Upgrades to water lines included small projects on Pleasant Street, West Arkansas Street, Hastings Street, North Little Street, North Byers Street, South Rust Street and Second Street. Sewer system repairs and improvements included the Pine Street lift station, three manholes on South Little Street, and rebuilding a grinder and pump at the wastewater treatment plant.

McNair said the money for the maintenance projects would come, not from tax revenue, but from money received from water and sewer bills for operation and upkeep of the system. The order of the projects and whether or not all of the projects are completed in 2010 will depend upon other maintenance issues with the two systems.

Hogue said Western Recycling - formerly Academy Industries - has proposed a plan to provide once-per-week curbside pickup of recyclables within the city. This, according to Hogue, could provide a great service to the residents of Gentry and also result in a cost savings to the city by reducing the number of loads for which the city must pay to haul off recyclable materials dropped at the recycle trailer behind city hall.

Western Recycling would like to take over the recycle trailer, too, Hogue said. The trailer contents are already taken to Western. Hogue said he would prefer to "take baby steps" and see how Western does with its curbside pickup before turning over the city's recycling program to the company.

The personnel committee will be recommending a 3 percent raise for city employees in the new year and will ask the city to invite a representative from the Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System to explain the retirement program to employees and council members and answer questions.

Even though no cost-of-living increases in Social Security payments are anticipated for 2010, personnel committee members would like to see the city give at least a small raise to city employees.

"I'd like to give at least 2 to 3 percent to tell employees we do appreciate them and are doing what we can for them," said committee member Kyle Jordan. "I'd rather trim the fat from the budget and give raises, even though some department heads may want other things," he added.

"I'd be very happy with 3 percent," committee member Jason Barrett said.

Committee members also decided to recommend that the council invite a representative of APERS to explain the program to them and to city employees. If the city were to switch from its current retirement program to the state program, the total increased cost to the city was anticipated to be between $12,000 and $13,000 per year. The program would provide tax savings for employees on contributions and a more stable and predictable retirement.

"We're saying, 'Let's look into it.' We're not saying, 'Let's do it,'" Jordan said. "I'm 100 percent for looking into APERS," he said.

The last time the question came before the council, it declined to invite a representative to come and explain the program - much to the disappointment of most city employees, Jordan said.

Also discussed at the personnel committee was city policy regarding employee leaves of absence. The committee will recommend to the council that employee policy be modified to allow up to one year of unpaid leave after five years of service, with the granting of such leave to be decided administratively based on the length of service, job performance and whether or not the city department is able to function without the position filled for the requested period of time.

The recommendation will go to the city attorney for review and then be brought to the city council for a decision.

Current city policy has no provision for the granting of unpaid leaves of absence beyond paid sick leaves, vacation time and holidays.

The possibility of a fourday workweek for the city was raised, with arguments both for and against presented. The committee decided not to recommend any change at the present time.

Budget considerations for the fire department included no big projects for 2010. The only additional anticipated expense for next year, according to Gentry Fire Chief Vester Cripps, will be the addition of the Cherokee City Fire Station to the mowing contract.

Cripps told committee members the department was in good shape on trucks, but that at some time in the future the chief's car would need to be replaced because of its age and mileage.

Future projects suggested by Cripps included a driveway around the west side of the fire house - the 15-foot driveway base was completed during the recent fire station additions. He anticipated the driveway would cost about $14,000 and would provide a clear way for trucks to exit the station if cars are parked along Smith Street next to the station. Cripps also suggested someday completing the balcony off the second story of the new firehouse addition. He estimated the cost at a couple of thousand dollars.

Cripps told committee members he had requested the use of the old water department building on Main and Smith Streets for truck parking after the current park project materials are removed. The building, he said, could be used to park brush trucks and the antique fire truck, and the fire department's use of the building would keep it from falling into disrepair.

The possibility of yet another future substation in the area of Marion Lee and Taylor Orchard Roads was reported. With the expansion of Gentry to the south, the additional substation would help the department provide fire protection to the Ozark Adventist Academy, the Flint Creek Power Plant and newly annexed areas and help with the department's ISO ratings.

Cripps said the department had applied for another ISO grading this winter and expected the rating to improve two to three points, making it possible for residents to obtain lower insurance rates. He anticipated the department to receive the best rating possible without the department having a fully-manned, 24-hours-aday station.

As a first priority to help the city as a whole - before adding any new equipment - Cripps recommended hiring a second part-time firefighter to add to the department's coverage. Another part-time firefighter could share in the work load of the department's current parttime firefighter and make it possible for the stationed to be manned for more hours each week, he said.

News, Pages 1, 2 on 09/30/2009

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