Trenton City Council discusses, but takes no action, on establishing a cash reserve policy for the city

City of Trenton Website

The Trenton City Council discussed, but took no action Monday night, on a proposal from the City Administrator to establish a cash reserve policy for the city. Discussion also was held on possible wage increases for city employees as well as potentially establishing steps of advancement within the police, fire, and street departments. This topic is to be discussed further when the finance committee meets tomorrow.

A couple of years ago, minimum cash reserves were established for each of the three departments within Trenton Municipal Utilities. City Administrator Ron Urton used the same concept to establish a potential minimum reserve for the city general fund.

For TMU, 25 percent of the annual operations and maintenance was used as a minimum reserve. For the city, Urton proposed 35 percent to be conservative, meaning a cash reserve minimum for the city of $1,139,000. Two members of the council, Larry Crawford and Brad Chumbley expressed concerns about having a minimum reserve. Councilwoman Cathie Smith and councilman John Dolan said the figure could be used as a target to strive for without putting it into policy. Unlike TMU which uses utility rates to cover expenses, the council generally felt the city has no viable method to increase revenues since it’s based on the taxes collected.

In a memo to the city council, Administrator Ron Urton proposed wage increases of $210,000 for the city of Trenton employees and the same amount for TMU employees in the fiscal year 2020 and 20’21. The next fiscal year begins in May.

Urton recommended funds be allocated as a lump sum to each department, based on the number of employees. The department heads would be given authority to distribute the increases based on their knowledge of employee experience and job performance. Figures were provided on how much a 25 and a 50 cent per hour increase would cost in wages plus benefits without considering health insurance. The city has 42 employees and TMU 33.

Presented for review was a proposed plan to establish incremental wage increases within the police, fire, and street departments as an incentive toward additional training and/or certifications. Involved in discussions with the council were Fire Chief Brandon Gibler and Police Chief Rex Ross. Some of the council expressed a strong desire for the city to do what it could toward increasing wages in an effort to be competitive.

Urton told of what he called difficulty in getting qualified applicants to apply for some positions, particularly for a water plant operator as well as a police officer. He noted applicants who do get hired often have little to no experience so time and money are spent with the necessary training.

Figures shared with the council show the entry-level or base pay for a firefighter is $11.39 per hour, the police officer entry-level or base pay is $14.97 per hour and for the street department, pay begins at $12.50 per hour. Also to be considered is the new minimum wage which goes up 85 cents per year through 2023. Over the past two years, that wage has gone up to $1.70 while the wages for city employees have not kept pace: increasing by 75 cents per hour.

In the only action item of the council meeting, unanimous approval was given by the seven members present (Danny Brewer was absent) to adopting procedures to solicit bids and proposals for Tax Increment Financing projects at Trenton. The only one presently being pursued is for Orscheln’s Farm and Home for the 28th Street and Highway 65 location.

Megan Miller of the public financing law firm of Gilmore and Bell told the council the policy, by way of a city ordinance, was needed to conform to state statutes. One property owner attended the council meeting and she was invited to come to the Planning and Zoning meeting on Monday, March 16th when there would be more discussion on the TIF project and Orscheln’s plan.

The council also heard an update from a representative of Strategy which the city is using to bolster its Internet Security involving computers and servers. Jordan List reported there’s a balance between security and convenience. He also described the average cost of a security breach involving municipalities is $3,500,000. The city has updated computers, installed firewalls, developed backup servers, and moved the city of Trenton website to a more secure host.

Fire Chief Brandon Gibler said that the trainer this past weekend had high praise for the Trenton Fire Departments’ fire training tower, describing it as perfect to be a regional center for multiple classes. One of the next developments at the site is to install fencing for security purposes around that tower. Bids will be advertised for the fencing.