MOUNT VERNON — The value of the city’s membership in the Area Development Foundation and the benefit of filling the city engineer position were topics in the city’s Budget and Finance Committee meeting held prior to the City Council session Monday. Councilwoman Rebecca Jordan said that in light of budget meetings come up, she felt council should look at those two areas.
Jordan said that when Steve Waers of ADF spoke to council earlier this year, he mentioned transportation issues as being problems in area development. She therefore invited him to attend transportation committee meetings, but said he did not attend in September, October or November.
“The $20,000 a year that [the city’s] been giving, I don’t feel we’ve been getting a good return on our investment,” she said. “I would recommend not giving the $20,000 next year.”
Regarding the city engineer’s position, Jordan said Cameron Keaton has been doing a wonderful job, but it was her understanding that part of the reason for filling the position was to cut down on the amount paid for outside engineering contracts. She said the city paid more in 2009 than in 2007 for outside engineering services.
“It seems like we’re spending a lot more on outsourcing, and that’s why we hired a city engineer,” she said. “Five thousand for grant writing — we can’t write our own grant?”
“Those costs are pretty much dictated by the projects — they will vary from year to year,” said Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Mavis. “Cameron has to review all of the plans done by outside agencies. ... If we don’t have an engineer, we’re pretty much having to take their word for it.”
Mavis said Keaton also reviews change orders and pay orders on projects.
“I can’t say enough about the work he does,” said Mavis. “Even though he plays an integral part ... he probably doesn’t have the manpower to do all of the engineering work.”
Keaton said that since coming on board, he has seen a number of things that previously were not getting done, such as asphalt testing.
“I am the only engineer,” he said. “As far as doing heavy design work, we don’t have the staff.”
He said a lot of what is paid to outside agencies is for work such as surveying and collecting samples.
Councilman Derk Demaree questioned whether training staff and possibly hiring an engineering tech would be of value.
“We have some people who will be retiring,” said Keaton. “When that happens, we’ll bring people in with some of the qualifications we’ve been looking for. The people that are there now, we’ll get them some technical training.”
“With our funds going to be a little short [next year], I think we need to look at how much we are outsourcing,” said Jordan.
Regarding ADF, Councilman Burt Hanson said it sounded like Jordan had looked into the issue, and asked whether she had any alternative solution other than ADF.
“I’m not sure what the exact solution is,” she said, “but I don’t see why our city and county can’t work together better.”
The county pays $50,000 a year to ADF. Mavis and Council President John Booth represent the city on the ADF board.
Councilman John Fair questioned the distinctions between ADF and the Chamber of Commerce; City Auditor Terry Scott said ADF concentrates on light industrial, the chamber on retail business.
Scott said one of the responsibilities Waers has is to make sure all of the companies in the county which have a tax abatement are complying with that abatement.
Mavis said the alternative for the city, if not a member of ADF, would be to have its own department devoted to development. He said Waers has been involved in development projects such as on Blackjack Road and with Rolls-Royce.
“I think that the city of Mount Vernon needs to continue to have the ability to deal with those kinds of issues,” he said. “It never hurts to question, but I think that is a positive $20,000.”
“I think you have a lot of misinformation,” Booth told Jordan. “I am disappointed [the ADF] has not met yet this year. I think Mr. Waers is not real diligent in that regard.
“There are a lot of leads he works on that never happens,” he continued, “but to jerk the rug out, that would not be the thing to do. They work hard on things that we don’t always hear about, but perhaps this is a wake-up call to Mr. Waers.”
“If this is a wake-up call, then I think I have done something good,” said Jordan.
According to Mavis, the ADF has met this year, but apparently Booth did not receive notice of the meetings. Mavis also said that due to the economy, there has not been much growth of late in the county.
“In a year where there is more growth, we see more of [Waers,]” he said.