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October 25, 2009 - Ray Hall (Archive)
Whoever said two things a person should not see is a law or sausage being made was referring to a messy process that creates a product with little or no resemblance to its ingredients. Jamestown’s budget process is like that since the public hardly ever sees what goes into it.

Although the Mayor explained in his letter of transmittal to the City Council how his budget is assembled there is a fair amount of confusion that circulates throughout the community. There is the distinct impression that the budget city council is now working on has already been cut by the Mayor with Department Heads left to plead with council members to have funds restored.

Case in point and as reported in Friday’s edition of the Post Journal Jeff Lehman, the city’s public works director appeared before City Council asking that his budget be increased to include overtime pay, a part time summer employee and $12,000 for equipment and maintenance for city hall that the Mayor allegedly cut. To be precise, the Mayor has not cut the budget; he is asking for a $1.50 per thousand increase in property tax. Jamestown’s property tax rate for 2009 is $19.12 and if the Mayor’s proposed 2010 budget is adopted the rate will increase to $20.62 per thousand.

Besides, the Mayor prepares his budget in cooperation with the people who work for him--his department heads; they know what’s in the budget, they helped the Mayor prepare the budget. If Mr. Lehman can wheedle more money out of city council for his budget so much the better for both he and the Mayor.

Although not exactly a charade Jamestown’s budget process more resembles a Japanese Kabuki Dance filled with drama and wildly complex dance routines. Public Works Directors and their elected superiors across the state know well that they have the most secure budget of all. They know that money, even if it’s all overtime money, will always be available especially during the worst of winter storms.

Mr. Lehman, however, might have used the occasion to explain how the county could finish milling and paving Baker Street from the City Line to Barrett Avenue in hardly a weeks time while Camp Street remains a work in progress. Likewise Hunt Road; the county, or some other contractor has finished paving Hunt Road from the City Line to Ashville. As of Saturday, Oct 24, 09 only incidental work at intersections was incomplete and the pavement had not been lined and painted.

Those projects may not be an apt analogy with Camp Street or other city streets--Camp it can be argued had to be rebuilt, but that doesn’t apply to that three or four block of Hallock that took nearly two months to complete a few years back. I don’t suspect city workers either; every time I have come across city workers they are always working. If street workers aren’t to blame it much be management or a wrong headed policy that is the difference.

I have heard that the county frequently makes use of both public and private sector contractors to expedite road projects while the city almost entirely relies upon city workers. The city should take advantage of private sector contractors. A private sector contractor has a built in incentive to finish a job with efficiency and speed in order to move on to the profitability of another job.

Regardless, the county is doing the street work quicker and perhaps cheaper than the city. The city ought to take a page from the county’s book.


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