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City Seniors speaking out
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MONROE - A group of senior citizens are challenging the idea of making the Behring Senior Center an independent, self-supporting entity, and even noted a few thousand dollars that City Hall could trim from its budget.

Allowing the center to become its own entity is not financially feasible at this time, said the center's director Tammy Derrickson, who spoke for the group when it went to City Hall Thursday to speak to officials meeting as part of Monroe's Ad Hoc Committee to restructure the city government.

"Fees would have to become so exorbitantly high, none of these (people) could afford to come," Derrickson said. "We'd essentially have to become fundraising fulltime."

Derrickson said the center came out of a building expansion project in 2006, and opened its fitness center that was generating fees for the center. But then the city determined the center should pay for the benefits of its wellness center employee.

That money, Derrickson said "could have been re-allocated into the endowment fund to grow" for future investments in the center.

"Being good stewards of the city property," the center has put more than $100,000 into its 9th Street building since 1996, she said.

"No other department has to fund raise," she added.

But if the city needs more money, it could quit spending more than $3,000 a year on a contracted service to wash its door mats, according to Derrickson and the senior citizens who were seated behind her. Every month in the claims report, the Common Council approves $273 for cleaning door mats for City Hall, Derrickson pointed out.

The center had a similar service at $65 a month, Derrickson said, which she cut out of her budget, and replaced the mats with plain $50 rubber mats that can be hosed off.

The Ad Hoc Committee immediately placed the suggestion on its list of ideas, and expanded it to remind staff to look for more little things to cut out of the budget.

Monroe's Ad Hoc Committee to restructure the city government has already sent two ideas to the City Council for consideration, and has discovered that a couple of ideas probably are not workable. One of those idea - to upgrade the city website - was approved by IT Committee and funding for the project approved by the Common Council Tuesday.

The ad hoc committee sent its second proposal to the Salary and Personnel Committee Thursday; this one is to merge the water and wastewater utilities.

George Thompson, the wastewater utility superintendent and a member of the committee, and Mike Kennison, the water utility supervisor, prepared the plan to combine the two city utilities.

The restructured utilities would operate under one director and would share an administrative secretary and billing clerk. Operators, possibly working under one supervisor, would be cross-trained and licensed to work in either of the utilities.

According to the Thompson-Kennison proposal, the two entities, although established separately, do not operate independently.

Facing the same challenges of aging infrastructure, the utilities would combine project planning and long-range capital planning for more efficient work projects. Overhead expenses would be reduced by combining administration, operation and maintenance staff. Cross-trained employees would facilitate work and vacation schedules, as well as accommodate for sick leaves.

Mayor Bill Ross said the Public Service Commission would approve such a merger, as long as the utilities keep separate accounts.

The Ad Hoc Committee learned that a four-day/40-hour work week isn't as workable as the committee had hoped, with problems scheduling employee hours and maintaining customer services being the main factors.

And the cost of contracting trash pick up is about 75 percent more expensive than the city doing it. Unless more research reveals a better way to implement the ideas, those may be abandoned for now.