Latrobe officials eye ways to save based on consultants' recommendations
By Stacey Federoff
Published: Tuesday, July 9, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
From better security at the police department to increased use of the street sweeper, Latrobe City Council is studying recommendations from consultants aimed at making the city more financially efficient.
Officials from Delta Development Group Inc. of Mechanicsburg included 67 recommendations in a plan offered under the state Department of Community and Economic Development's Early Intervention Program.
A number of firefighters attended council's June 24 meeting to discuss the plan because a review of the six-station fire department suggested consolidation to four stations to save on utilities and resources.
Also among those recommendations were suggestions such as working with neighboring communities to provide police services.
“I believe Latrobe has a lot to offer in terms of policing services for other communities,” said police consultant John Daley.
He suggested that the department should continue to work on achieving accreditation, as 120 standards are assessed for an eventual reduction in liability insurance.
The department has taken steps to improve how overtime is tracked in order to analyze schedules and save the department money, Daley said.
To better supervise officers, the department could hire or promote another sergeant in order to hold subordinate officers better accountable, he said. Two of the three daily shifts have a sergeant that oversees others.
Daley also commended police Chief Jim Bumar for his work in putting a five-year plan in place in order to secure funding and help improve the department.
“Chief Bumar is doing a very good job of setting up goals for the department,” he said.
Because the department is attached to City Hall, it should be better secured from unauthorized visitors, Daley said.
City Manager Alex Graziani said any city department could benefit from the example Bumar has set, allowing long-term planning to help explain goals and earn funding.
When stimulus money is available, “those who are ready with their plans will be rewarded, and those who have not done the planning will miss the boat, and the opportunity passes,” Graziani said.
Consultant Michelle Nestor analyzed the transfer station and solid waste collection for the city.
She reviewed the uses of the transfer station like a private business and found that because the operation is in a landlocked city with not much room for growth, the amount of garbage is not likely to increase.
Nestor said increased revenue from the hail storm in 2011 should be the exception, not the rule, for developing future budgets.
“Yes, it helps, but you can't manage to the exception; you have to manage to the norm. That's what contingency plans are for,” she said.
City residents may not be using the transfer station as often as those in neighboring townships who do not have a designated garbage hauler.
Graziani said perhaps a commuter tax could be imposed on outside residents dumping at the station in order to account for that.
Because the transfer station requires a predetermined amount of staffing in its permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection, sometimes other public works projects go understaffed or unfinished, said consultant David Soboslay, who analyzed the public works department.
The street sweeper sits idle in the garage, and projects such as facilities upkeep, curb repair and line painting are left out of daily operations because of it, he said.
“They're basic public works functions that don't seem to get done because of the priority at your transfer station,” Soboslay said.
Other recommendations from the consultants to improve finances over the next five years include:
• Outsourcing real estate tax collection to an outside agency rather than a city-run office.
• Maintaining the sustainability coordinator position, primarily because of the value brought to the city funded without taxpayer money.
• Examining city positions when vacated to determine if a new hire is necessary.
• Updating software management systems for the city's various departments, including possibly hiring an information technology supervisor.
• Adopting the property maintenance and single-family residential Uniform Commercial Code to improve building inspections.
• Expanding occupancy inspection program with trained firefighters or police officers who could check for basic fire safety requirements and collect fees.
The final draft of the report will be available on the city's website or in the office, Graziani said.
The recommendations do not need immediate action but should be considered by council over the long-term, said Councilwoman Rosie Wolford.
Act 47, or the Financially Distressed Municipalities Act, calls for oversight by a state-appointed receiver who manages the city's finances.
Delta Development said Latrobe is “trending negatively” but predicts no imminent fiscal crisis between 2013 and 2016.
Based on a budget projection, Latrobe will run a deficit of $531,268 by 2016.
Graziani said he plans to use the recommendations to prepare next year's budget and plans to stave off that debt.
Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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