With the last Fiscal Year in the rear view mirror and a new Fiscal Year set to begin Oct. 1, Enterprise City Council President Perry Vickers sat down with The Southeast Sun for a year in review and a look to the future.
A review of city fee structures was among the first orders of business the council tackled upon taking office in 2016 and one that continues, Vickers said.
Garbage and sewer fees, business license structure, recycling cost and recreation center fees were among the items that had not been reviewed for, in some cases, decades.
“Business licenses had not been looked at in several decades,” Vickers explained. “At the recommendation of former City Clerk-Treasurer Bob Dean we hired PremaCorp to review our existing business license fees and process.”
The independent consulting company discovered that some 300 businesses doing business in the city did not have licenses. “They do now,” Vickers said, adding that is expected to generate at least $25,000 annually.
PremaCorp also found that the existing business license fee structure had elements that were not equitable. “They made adjustment recommendations,” Vickers said. “But we didn’t have the updated license fees set to begin until 2020 because we knew that we were going to have to take 2019 to identify the problems and try to correct the problems.
“PremaCorp helped us to identify the problems that we had with the existing license fee structure,” Vickers added. “My concern when I ran for office is what was being done with the tax monies and what was happening was that money was being taken to prop up city services that were losing money.
“The city is not in the business of making money,” he said. “But the city is not in the business to lose money either.
“As far as garbage and sewer are concerned, we’ve made strides to put them on a self sustaining basis,” Vickers said. “Doing that will help free up funds for things such as infrastructure, industrial development and just about every other thing the city does—whereas taxes had been used to offset the costs before.
“For instance, we were losing $300,000 a year on picking up recycling that wasn’t actually being recycled,” Vickers said. “I think some of the public didn’t realize the fact that technically the city was picking up the recycling but, due to a variety of factors, it was not being recycled.”
Expansion at Yancey Parker Industrial Park and improvements to the municipal airport are among Fiscal Year accomplishments Vickers cites. “We were at a point that if we had a business or industry that wanted to come to Enterprise and needed a lot of acreage, we were out of the picture.
“When economic development prospects look at coming in to Alabama, the acreage is the first thing they are looking at. There are certain perimeters you have to meet to be attractive and the airport improvements will contribute to economic growth into the future.”
Dean, a former Anniston Public Works Director, was hired in 2016 as City Clerk-Treasurer for his experience in city operations, finding waste and cost savings with efficiency improvements. He is responsible for many of the Fiscal Year accomplishments, Vickers said, citing the fact that Dean saved some $80,000 a year through identifying and eliminating obsolete job positions.
Dean also recommended combining the public works and engineering departments with a single department head in Fiscal Year 2021. If the council decides to approve that recommendation, that is expected to result in savings of over $60,000 a year based on previous salaries, Vickers said.
Dean also generated some $325,000 by sending out-of-use public works equipment to auction. “The city had never used a public auction of equipment before,” Vickers pointed out.
Vickers said Dean developed a plan to purchase vehicles at specific intervals to create more predictable expenses while reducing yearly maintenance cost and down time. “Instead of purchasing 15 patrol cars every three years, we plan to purchase five patrol cars and two unmarked cars every year,” he said. “Another example is to purchase a fire pumper truck every five years to prevent an over-aged fire fighting equipment situation that has existed.”
Auditing costs for Fiscal Year 2018 were reduced some $56,000 and sales tax collection fees were reduced some $85,000 due to Dean’s negotiations with service providers.
The 2016 Enterprise City Council inherited an interim clerk and interim treasurer situation when they took office due to the retirement of longtime Clerk-Treasurer Steve Hicks in September 2016.
In May 2017, then-Mayor Kenneth Boswell was serving a fourth full term as mayor of Enterprise when he was appointed to a state level post, resulting in the longtime District 1 Councilman William “Bill” Cooper, who was serving as council president at that time, being named mayor.
In November 2017, Dean was hired as City Clerk-Treasurer. Dean learned that the 2017 audit was still not completed for a variety of reasons, to include the fact that the assistant city treasurer resigned, and recommended hiring an outside accounting firm to help the city until a finance director could be hired.
“I want the citizens of Enterprise to know that we knew that those situations (in the finance department) existed. It wasn’t news to us,” Vickers said, adding that at a July 2018 council work session Dean told the council that the “train was off the track” in the finance department. “The city had already taken steps to correct it and get it squared away,” Vickers said, adding that a previous auditor had identified problems that went back to 2009.
In December 2018 Certified Public Accountant Stephanie Crowe was hired as the city’s Finance Director.
Crowe resigned in July following the audit report to the council. “I am proud of what the Finance Department has accomplished in the last seven months including the completion of the audits three months ahead of last year, bank reconciliations up to date, timely monthly financial reports and discovering and correcting large errors with the bond refunding,” Crowe said in her resignation letter.
“Yes, there was disgruntlement but there was no formal complaint ever made,” Vickers said about Crowe’s resignation, that was ultimately posted by some media outlets. “This occurs sometimes in organizations when there is a change in leadership. Any problem should have been addressed at the mayoral level.
“The council is a policy making body—much like a state legislature—and as such is not allowed to deal with the day-to-day operations of the city,” Vickers said, adding there was no written complaint by Crowe made to the Human Resources Director.
Vickers said that under the current policies and procedures, the mayor is responsible for making the department head appointments. Some of the current challenges may be alleviated for the next city council because with the next election, department heads will be appointed by the council as they have been in the past, Vickers noted. “Bob Dean was hired because of his experience with public works—that was his job description. One of his first questions he asked (during the initial interview process) was, ‘Do you have a strong finance department?’ and the answer from the mayor was, ‘Yes.’
“It is the mayoral responsibility to know that every employee there knows what their job is in relation to what every other person’s job is,” Vickers said. “Hire the people and let them do their job.”
Message to citizens
“The City of Progress continues to progress,” is the message that Vickers said he would send. “Sales tax revenue has increased more than 6 percent this year over last year,” he said. “A stagnant city will not grow like that.”
Improvements to infrastructure continue to be a priority, Vickers said. Hiring a firm to ride each road in Enterprise and evaluate the condition will give the council a “worst first” priority list.
“Enterprise has always had a lot to offer,” Vickers said. “If nothing more, Enterprise has always offered their heart. That’s the key to Enterprise.
“Are there some things down at city hall that need to be corrected?” Vickers said. “Yes. It’s going to take leadership down there at city hall and if that leadership doesn’t happen it is not going to be corrected.”