By Bob Robinson
Part 2 of a two-part series
The City of Elizabethton has implemented a robust strategy of repairing, replacing and expanding an aging infrastructure that dates back more than 100 years to meet demands over the next 50 years. Various departments are striving to improve productivity and reduce operating expenses under the direction of City Manager Fred Edens.
Edens met recently with the STAR to outline productivity improvements and cost-savings measures that have been either undertaken recently or planned for the future.
The City of Elizabethton will realize an annual savings on liability insurance because the Elizabethton Police Department (EPD) has been accredited by the Professional Standards Division of the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police, according to Chief Matt Bailey.
The main police department building is connected by fiber optic cable to City Hall, the Criminal Investigation Division officers in the Elizabethton Public Library building (the former U.S. Post Office on Sycamore Street), the Carter County Jail, and the 911 Communications Center. This has made for much faster and dependable communications and improved efficiencies of operation, Bailey said.
The EPD in-car videos of traffic stops and arrests are automatically downloaded to a server located inside the police department. It saves a tremendous amount of time for the officers not having to download the video manually, Bailey said.
Field reporting has been enhanced with the use of a handheld Personal Digital Assistant to complete all reports in the field, as well as issuing citations electronically. “The officers have full remote access to the NCIC (National Crime Information Center) database to query driver licenses, wanted persons, etc.,” Bailey said.
Elizabethton Fire Chief Barry Carrier, like other department heads, is striving to improve productivity and reduce costs for taxpayers. The Elizabethton Fire Department (EFD) is a member of the Northeast Tennessee Fire Chiefs Association and, as a result, can take advantage of group purchasing for expensive items such as fire hose and other firefighting apparatus, according to Carrier.
Membership in the Northeast Tennessee Regional Fire Training Association allows all new hires to attend a comprehensive training school at a cost of $500 each. This is the only authorized “rookie training school” outside of the Tennessee Training Academy, which costs approximately $3,000 to attend.
To minimize training expense, EFD is using the Internet to set up training classes by video conferencing. “By using this technology, it allows us to meet the training standard while keeping crews in their assigned zones for (emergency) response. We can use this for some but not all of our requirements. Fire type incident response is based on teamwork and in some cases the training must be done as a team,” Carrier said.
Recently EFD took delivery of a new fire truck, a triple combination pumping apparatus, to replace a 30-year-old pumper. “Initial cost estimates were around $350,000. However the City of Elizabethton was able to utilize the manufacturer’s stock program and purchased only the basic pumping apparatus that meets National Fire Protection Association standards with no extra options. The City of Elizabethton was able to get a bid price of $297,000 on the new truck, a significant savings to taxpayers.
In the future, EFD plans to continue to work on reducing insurance rates for homeowners by improving the Insurance Service Office (ISO) rating used by insurance companies to determine the premium for homeowners insurance policies. Currently, the City of Elizabethton is rated a four ISO. “The goal for the fire department is to get the City of Elizabethton to a three ISO rating. It is commonly believed that the cost to taxpayers to get to a two or one ISO rating would outweigh the benefit that they would see as a reduction in their homeowners insurance,” Carrier said.
There are many factors involved in the ISO rating, such as the water supply, type of pumping apparatus, water pressure at the location of the response, available manpower, levels of training and certification, among other criteria. “Some factors are within the control of the fire department staff and some factors are not, but we strive to reach the highest level we can in the areas that are within our control,” Carrier said.
Planning & Development
Jon Hartman, planning and development director, assumed his present assignment in October of 2011. Since then, Hartman has been working toward streamlining the development process to provide “one stop service.”
The process includes a strategic plan for the City of Elizabethton, planning and building codes, community development and cultural services, the latter which includes Parks and Recreation and the Elizabethton Public Library.
The overall strategic plan is being developed with input from a Visioning Committee, which identified goals and objectives to be included in the plan. The general public has been asked to prioritize the goals before the strategic plan is finalized.
In a cost-savings measure, Hartman said the City of Elizabethton contracted with the First Tennessee Development District to provide planning services, including studies and grant writing, to supplement activities undertaken by him. “This resulted in a 2/3rds savings to city taxpayers,” Hartman said.
The two-year renovation of the historic Covered Bridge, which spans Doe River in downtown Elizabethton, was completed in April 2012 at a cost of $450,000. The renovation was covered by a TDOT Enhancement Grant for $400,000 requiring a 20% match of $80,000 from the City. The $400,000 covered the costs for construction and just over $50,000 was spent by the city on engineering and plan design work to prepare for the construction. The City paid approximately $130,000 for a project which cost just over $450,000; bringing $320,000 of State and Federal money back to the Elizabethton community, Hartman said.
Other recent projects nearing completion or approved by the planning department include:
• The Linear Path in downtown Elizabethton is to be completed in the fall of 2013 with TDOT’s approval.
• A Certificate of Occupancy will be issued to the new Dollar General Store on State Highway 19E located next to Snap-On Tools.
• Expansion of Snap-On Tools is expected to be completed in 30 to 60 days.
• Construction of the Waffle House near the new Medical Care Building at West Town Shopping Center.
• Construction of the Quality Oil Automatic Gas Station, across from Grindstaff Chrysler-Dodge- Jeep-Sprinter Vans on West Elk Avenue.
• Construction of the Family Dollar Store on Broad Street that replaced three blighted houses.
• Renovation of the former Raceway Convenience Store on Broad Street.
Parks and Recreation
In a transfer of maintenance duties with the Street Department, The Parks and Recreation Department now maintains Edwards Island, the Covered Bridge Park and Walter Curtis Park. No additional staff members or revenue have been added to take care of this additional responsibility, according to Michael Mains, park and recreation director. For the first time in history of the Elizabethton Twins Baseball Team, advertising sales have exceeded $30,000 to benefit the recreational program, Mains said.
According to Mains, capital projects are always constructed by staff with labor provided by the Carter County Work Camp.
“This partnership has saved taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Mains said.
Elizabethton Public Library
The Elizabethton Public Library joined the Mid-Atlantic Library Association and, as a result, will receive up to 45 percent discount on some books. In addition, the library received a Library Services & Technology Act grant which doubled the available funds for technology upgrades, according to Melodi Goff, library director. Library furniture was purchased through the State surplus program, resulting in considerable savings to the city, Goff said.
City Manager Cost-Savings
Cost-savings measures have also been undertaken by the City Manager. Edens has reduced expenses in the City Manager’s budget by $60,000 by combining the duties of the Deputy Clerk with the Administrative Assistant in planning and development. “I do not take trips unless they are necessary. I usually take one trip a year to Knoxville or Nashville. My travel expense budget is $2,000 to $3,000 per year. Elizabethton City Council approved a two percent pay increase, totaling $142,000, for city employees. However, there was no pay increase for senior staff,” Edens said.
City of Elizabethton employs 286 employees
There are 286 employees, including seasonal, part-time and full-time personnel, employed by the City of Elizabethton, according to the Personnel and Risk Management Department. By department, the number of employees are:
— Elizabethton Electric Department (36 – administration, engineering, finance, line service, metering);
— Police Department (42 – administration, patrol and criminal investigations);
— Fire Department (33 – administration and suppression);
— Water Department (26);
— Wastewater (22);
— Street Department (15);
— Finance (20 – includes customer service representatives in the water/electric business office, customer billing);
— Park and Recreation (8 full-time, 3 permanent part-time – administration & maintenance); Franklin Pool (16, all seasonal); Appalachian League/ Twins Baseball (10, all seasonal);
— Library (5 full-time, 5 permanent part-time);
— Sanitation (8);
— Meter Services (5);
— Fleet Maintenance (4);
— Building & Code Enforcement (4);
— Engineering (3);
— Warehouse (3);
— Personnel & Risk Management (2);
— Planning and Development (2);
— Payroll (1);
— Building Maintenance (1);
— Animal Control (1);
— Purchasing (1).
The remaining departmental listings are the City Attorney, (1-appointed by City Council, part-time); City Council (7-elected, part-time); and City Judge, (1-elected, part-time), in addition to the City Manager (1-appointed by City Council, full-time).
The telephone number to call the Elizabethton Electric Division is 542-1101. The emergency number after hours and on weekends is 542-1111. To report water leaks, sewer line problems and street repairs, call 547-6300 (24 hours a day, seven days a week).
The City of Elizabethton website, www.elizabethton.org, has a complete departmental listing of telephone numbers to call to either obtain city services or to report problems.
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