The Big Spring City Council got its first look at budget issues facing the municipality as it prepares to begin work on its 2013-2014 fiscal plan, a budget that will likely target infrastructure needs and efforts to stop the turnover of much-needed city employees.
Part of a rather lengthy council meeting, Tuesday night's budget work session included a presentation from Interim City Manager Todd Darden, who highlighted some of the city's most pressing needs moving into the coming year.
At the top of the city's list of expected challenges for the 2013-2014 budget is employee recruitment and retention, which has plagued the municipality in key service positions since the recent boom in the oilfield began, according to Darden.
“We simply can't compete with the oilfield companies when it comes to salaries,” Darden told the council. “Our vacancies have averaged 10 percent of our total workforce, which is made up of 265 full-time employees. Our CDL (commercial driver's license) drivers and specialized equipment operators are just a few of the positions which have been hard hit.”
Darden said the constant poaching of city employees by oilfield companies has taken its toll on a number of city departments, from water distribution and collection to sanitation truck drivers.
Another fiscal challenge facing the city is construction of a new landfill facility, according to Darden.
“The properties are currently under purchase contract,” he told the council. “We've begun the soil testing process and are still in the process of getting all of the necessary permits.”
Darden said his office would like to see the 2013-2014 budget include funding for a route survey for the sanitation department, as problems surrounding the way the city picks up garbage and transports it to the municipal landfill continue to plague the department.
Meetings between the city and Howard County officials are still under way, according to Darden, as local officials look at how the county will assist with funding for the proposed landfill.
“I think the mayor will agree with me on this, but those meetings have been going on regularly and have been very positive,” Darden said. “The county officials have made it very clear they want to fund this project in a fair way.”
Darden presented a number of other issues facing the city in the coming budgetary year, including:
• The Senior Center — The center, which is currently located on the McMahon-Wrinkle Airpark, is facing the prospect of either moving to a new building or major renovations. Proposals to relocate the center at the Malone & Hogan Clinic — which was recently turned over to the city — are expected to run approximately $1.8 million.
• The Municipal Auditorium — A major overhaul of the auditorium's sound, lighting, rigging and draperies systems is needed, with estimates currently at $880,000.
• Water and sewer line replacement — The city recently received a $350,000 grant for replacement of municipal water and sewer lines, in addition to the budgeted $500,000. Unfortunately, the funding won't go far toward replacements, which are needed more and more each year to help the city's already ailing infrastructure.
Also during the meeting, council members were afforded a chance to tell the city administration what projects and improvements they would like to see.
Mayor Larry McLellan echoed many of the concerns presented by the city administration, with employee recruitment and retention at the top of his list. McLellan also voiced concerns regarding maintenance at municipal facilities.
“I feel like maintenance at the new sports complex and the Comanche Trail Golf Course are two things we need to look at,” McLellan said. “The city has invested a lot of time and money into both facilities and we're going to have to look at spending money to maintain them. Also, I'd like to look at the McEwen Family Aquatics Center and the volleyball court that was planned for it.
“Above all, our infrastructure should be a major concern moving into the new fiscal year and sanitation pick-ups are a big part of that. I really feel like people want to see some progress. This is an exciting time for the city of Big Spring, and our citizens want to see us make progress in the coming year.”
Newly elected District 5 Councilman Raul Benavides said staffing issues, sanitation pick-ups and law enforcement are three concerns he'd like to see addressed.
“We don't want to see more fatalities on our roadways,” Benavides said, referring to increased traffic spurred by the boom in the oilfield. “If we save 10 lives or just one life, an increase in law enforcement is something we have to consider.”
District 3 Councilman Glen Carrigan agreed, listing traffic issues as his top concern for the coming budget sessions.
“I feel like traffic fatalities have to be a major concern,” he said. “We need to talk to the Texas Department of Transportation about possibly getting some delays in the traffic lights on Gregg Street. We also need to look at how long the green lights are for the east-to-west traffic. There are also a number of roadways in the city that need clarification of the right-of-ways, especially at several high traffic intersections.”
District 1 Councilman Marcus Fernandez encouraged the city administration to look at staffing issues, mainly with the city's emergency services.
“We need to look at our fire department and police department and what their needs are,” Fernandez said. “Also, infrastructure has been one of my pet peeves since day one. Plastic surgery is good, but if the arteries underneath are no good, then it's not really going to help to make the outside look better. We have to look at the arteries of the city first.”
District 6 Councilman Marvin Boyd said another concern the administration should look at in the coming year's budget is better fencing for the Comanche Trail Golf Course.
“We need to protect our city's assets and the golf course is certainly an asset,” Boyd said. “I'd hate to see somebody get a car into the course and destroy the greens.”