ST. GEORGE – City department heads each addressed the St. George City Council during a multi-hour strategic planning meeting at the Dixie Center in St. George Thursday. The purpose of the meeting was to apprise the council of what various departments are doing and what their plans and challenges are moving forward.
While the departmental reviews will aid elected officials in what to prioritize for come budget time, they will also be applied to a strategic five- to 10-year plan for the city in the near future.
“This meeting’s been very helpful today to talk to the City Council and the mayor about our challenge and our needs for the future as we deal with quality of life issues here in St. George,” St. George Police Chief Marlon Stratton said.
To watch videocast, click play arrow in center of video at top of story
This is the second meeting of its kind under the administration of Mayor Jon Pike. He instituted the first meeting last year, which at the time also doubled as a crash course in city government for three newly elected council members.
The City Council heard from the municipality’s 12 departments over roughly eight hours. Before the departments took the floor, though, City Manager Gary Esplin gave the council a review of the city’s current economic outlook and projections for the 2015 fiscal year.
The general fund portion of the city’s budget is estimated to be $56 million. The largest percentage of the general fund comes from sales and property taxes the city collects, Esplin said. The city government has no control over how much property tax it receives, as it is parceled out to the counties and municipalities by the state.
The majority of the tax – 62.3 percent – goes to the Washington County School District. St. George receives approximately 12 percent of the revenue, Esplin said.
What the city does have control over is sales tax, he said. Sales tax revenue makes up a large part of the general fund and goes toward various city services like public safety and public works. City staff keep a close watch on sales tax trend reports, Esplin said, so they can help prepare for any potential financial upset that would impact the city’s budget.
“Sales tax drives us,” Esplin said. “If that goes, we go.”
Water Services Director Scott Taylor said his department delivered 10.2 billion gallons of water to city customers last year. Along with that, the department also treated 4.1 billion gallons of waste water.
A challenge facing the water department and the state as a whole, he said, is aging infrastructure. Over the next 20 years, 170 miles of culinary water lines and 145 miles of sewer lines will need to be replaced.
The estimated costs: $44 million for the culinary lines and $30 million for the sewer lines, which could run about $3.5 million per year.
As for public works projects on the horizon, Public Works Direct Cameron Cutler said work on River Road in the area of Fort Pierce Wash is the big project for the time being.
The city is planning to widen parts of the road, as well as widen the bridge over Fort Pierce Wash. A traffic signal is also planned for the River Road-Horseman Park Drive intersection.
The work is being done to accommodate the growth taking place in Little Valley, Cutler said.
Cutler’s department oversees SunTran, the city’s public transit system. He said the city is looking to continue adding routes while also making the existing ones more time efficient. Each individual SunTran route is currently a 40-minute loop, so a possible redesign may take place in the future to help save travel time.
On the public safety side, Stratton said the Police Department recently had to retire one of its K-9 officers, Buster, due to medical issues. Though the police received a new K-9 officer, Rambo, in September, Stratton said the department could benefit from the addition of one more police dog.
“They are a very, very good tool for going out on the street,” he said.
The Police Department is currently hiring new officers, as well. Prospective applicants can visit the SGPD website for more information.
Concerning crime the police deals with in the city, Stratton said drugs are an ever-present problem, adding that heroin is among the heavier used drugs right now.
“We can associate drug crimes with many other crimes,” he said.
Among other issues the police have dealt with are instances of graffiti, prostitution and fraud, though Stratton said he believes the public is becoming more informed about potential fraud schemes.
As the meeting progressed, Pike said it was good to hear what the status of the various departments was and where they were as far as planning and associated needs stood.
“That’s the kind of thing we’re looking for,” he said.
Data from the planning meeting will be applied to an overall document – an outline of the city’s strategic plan – that will be posted online for public review at some point in the future, Pike said.
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