College Photographer. Knox Alum. Young Photojournalist.

Keeping the City Working Despite Shrinking Budgets

GALESBURG – With the economic downturn, the Public Works Department and the Recreation Division find ways to get the city ready for the spring despite smaller budgets.

As snowy roads and parks turn to green grass and cracked pavement the Public Works Department (PWD) brings in more employees and builds to it’s ever ending list of jobs that require their attention.

“What we do in the spring time is get ready for construction season,” said Director of Public Works, Larry Cox. “Theres kind of a mix there where we are ready to fight snow and ready to make repairs in the streets and street improvements. So they overlap, it’s not like we one day shut one thing off and get ready for another.”

“Some of the first things to get ready for the construction season are summer maintenance equipment. Street Division operates street sweeper and it is winterized … so it’s the first thing we get out,” said Cox.

During the winter months the Street Division makes temporary road repairs. Once spring rolls around more permanent fixes are put in place.

Other parts of the PWD, work on switching over with the warmer weather. Divisions like the Parks Department as well as the City Engineers both have to change mindsets as construction season moves closer.

“We have been picking up our sod damage from our plows … We have been checking inlets for rain and snow melt. Try to finish up picnic table repairs and getting ready to put them out in the spring,” said Parks Superintendent, Don Miles. Some other springtime duties include making sure equipment is ready and tree trimming in the parks.

Despite the lengthy list of tasks for PWD, the budget for the department has remained very stagnant over the past four years. For example, the parks operation and maintenance budget has only gone up $46,260 since the 2007 budget. That may seem like a large amount, but it is only 4.22% of the 2010 budget.

The growth comes in large part from items that undoubtedly grow due to higher prices. Items like heating and electricity are big factors. This growth is offset by cuts in other regions of the departments.

This past winter the PWD has had a large unforeseen budget increase due to the snowstorm in February. “We are looking at potentially $125,000 worth of expenses over that 24 hour period,” said Cox. “We hired some contractual services that we don’t normally hire during even a pretty heavy snow storm.” The PWD has turned in the $125,000 bill to the state to hopefully get reimbursed because it was proclaimed a natural disaster.

The Parks Department has figured out one way to save a few bucks in these rough times with less flowers and having no need to buy mulch.

“They use to plant annuals in the flower beds. As we have been going along trying to save money… on labor we have been doing a lot of perennials and so we probably don’t spend 100 bucks on annuals anymore,” said Miles. “Typically we get the mulch from our forestry division who chips brush all year long.”

The shrinking budget has forced the PWD to shrink staff size and this has caused a backlog of things needing attention. “We have one less maintenance worker in our Street Division right now,” said Cox. There is also one less staff member at the airport, growing numbers of part-time employees.

“We have several years of requests for curb and sidewalk repairs in our system,” said Cox. This backlog also affects how many roads can get repaired during the construction months.

The stagnant trend in budgets can be seen in other departments. “I think it has hurt all municipalities in the state of Illinois as far as that goes,” said Recreation Superintendent Roger Sensabaugh. “We are affected but probably no more or more less than the Street Department or the Parks Department or Police and Fire. I think everyone takes a hit.”

For the Recreation Division (RD) the troubles are the same.

“[The recession] has gone on for so long right now it really is affecting our capital improvements,” said Sensabaugh. “We really haven’t done anything in capital improvements in the past few years and this year, as well as next year, we will probably be running on an operational budget alone.”

Running on a minimal budget, Sensabaugh has had list of improvements that keeps growing. He hopes to get them started at some point in the future. “One thing we wanted to do for a long time would be another play feature at the water park to try to reinvent the water park a little bit,” he said. “Some ascetic things too … We have some insulation that needs to be basically redone … So some energy conservation things too … Not many things make the cut. That’s just kind of where we are at.”

The RD could have raised fees to use their services to make up for the losses, but so far increases have been minimal.

“We try not to make any major fee increases if we have too,” said Sensabuagh. “But lately we just kind of felt like we really haven’t wanted to rase fees or anything if we don’t have to just for the simple fact that people are having a hard enough time to make ends meet, not to cut our own throat either, we still want people to participate and take advantage of the programs and facilities.”

The adopted budget for 2011 goes against the trends from the past few years. If kept the same, this will bring much needed boost in funding to the PWD. The RD is not so lucky, with many locations receiving minimal extra cash for this year.

Despite the budget troubles both the RD and the PWD are moving forward to get the city ready for the spring.

The PWD looks towards the first of April as a change over date, but this date can change and there are some jobs that start before or after that date. The RD also sees this day as the beginning of spring, but the start of summer is a more important date.

The RD eyes Memorial Day weekend as the start of summer and a large amount of jobs for the division. This day marks the opening of pools and the beach for patrons.

“With the way the school schedule they not even letting kids out of school till the first part of June,” said Sensabaugh. This problem has caused the RD to look at changing the start date, but so far no changes have been made, due to maintaining tradition.

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