Jan 042012

By Teri Walker–

Asked what’s in store for the City of Holbrook in 2012, City Manager Ray Alley doesn’t hesitate for a moment:

“My biggest priority is a balanced budget,” said Alley.

Alley is already working within a balanced budget with the $9.6 million 2011-12 city budget; a result, he’s said in the past, of Assistant City Manager and Finance Director Randy Sullivan’s sharp budgeting skills, and his own willingness to cut unnecessary fat and do work in-house that can be accomplished for less than it would cost to contract with outside vendors.

A major undertaking that Alley has brought in-house in recent years is road reconstruction projects throughout the city, which will continue to be a major part of the city’s 2012 activities.

“Our biggest public works project will be (reconstructing) 12th Avenue,” said Alley. “We’ll do that whole subdivision because the road is just crumbling,” he said.

The city road crew has repaved several miles of road throughout Holbrook this year at a significant cost savings to the city. Alley explains that some of the road projects have taken longer than residents may have anticipated because before completing resurfacing, he takes advantage of the opportunity to do any additional infrastructure work needed related to water or other utility lines under the roads, fixing curbs or drainage issues.

“We’re not just repaving, we’re trying to take care of as many things as we can so we don’t have to rip the roads up for repairs anytime soon,” he said.

Alley said municipal water will also be a focus in the coming year.

A new well on McLaws Road was set to be tied in to the city’s water system late last week, and once a well house is constructed in the spring, the new well will be operational, providing a new drinking water source for the city. The well house will be constructed at a cost of about $4,000; that’s cheaper than the city could build it, so this is one job Alley will be contracting to an outside vendor.

This year, Alley is going to work toward putting money into a capital investment fund to drill a new well and replace a water tank in Sun Valley, which he anticipates will happen in 2013.

In the realm of basic infrastructure, the city will also complete its sewer model and flow study early this year. Alley expects a good outcome from the study, since a review of the existing sewer system revealed sewer lines that had not been accounted for in the first flow study, which significantly increase capacity.

“I think we’re going to be in good shape,” said Alley of the study, which the city undertook to assess whether the system could handle anticipated growth over the next several years. Currently, the city’s wastewater facility is only operating at about half-capacity, leaving room for supporting increased demands on the system.

Wherever possible, Alley said he and Sullivan look for savings opportunities so they can shake money loose in the budget for some of the major infrastructure projects the city requires.

“I’d like to try to build our reserves to over $2 million this year,” he said.

Alley says the city is poised to do well financially, which gives him confidence that some of the costly projects on his drawing board will be accomplished without having to raise fees on any municipal services.

“I think sales revenue will be up this year, so I don’t foresee any need for any fee increases,” said Alley. “I feel like things are turning around.”

Increased revenues have been a help to the city, which has been hit hard by state budget decreases, especially in Highway User Revenue Funds, as well as increased state- and county-assessed fees. For instance, this is the first year the city has had to pay a portion of the cost of housing inmates in the Navajo County Jail who were arrested by the Holbrook Police Department. Eventually, the city will be assessed for the full cost of such incarcerations.

Given the city’s ability to budget on a shoestring in the face of severe funding cuts, Alley continues to be optimistic about achieving what he views as the city’s most critical infrastructure and operations needs.

Much of what is planned for 2012 has already been approved by the city council in the city’s current budget.

Alley also has a wish list of items that he has not yet taken to the council. On that list are new police vehicles, as the current fleet includes several cars that have more than 150,000 miles on them.

He’d also like to install a wireless security system citywide to aid in crime deterrence, but also to improve the city’s ability to capture information about crimes on camera.

The item at the top of Alley’s wish list is pay increases for city staff.

“If at all possible, I’d like to get raises for our employees. It’s been a long time since they’ve had one,” said Alley.

Four years, to be exact, according to Sullivan; and, the last cost of living increase city employees received came at the same time that the cost of their employee benefits were also increased, so more money in the pocket wasn’t realized for most employees.

While employees have gone without raises the past few years, Alley said there has been another increase in the cost of employee benefits, but those costs were covered through the city budget so there wouldn’t be a hit against employee take home pay.

Still, Alley would like to see employees receive a modest increase, since it’s been so long since any have had one.

Already on the books for the coming year are major improvements in the city parks system.

Currently, the city pool is undergoing a renovation of the showers and changing rooms.

“The walls were literally rotting,” said Alley.

New walls, showers, faucets and tile are being installed in the pool house.

“We won’t open the pool this summer until everything is done,” said Alley.

At Hunt Park, the concrete slab of the basketball court will be replaced and new bleachers will be installed for spectators, as well as in the dugouts of the John Barrow Little League field.

Alley said he would continue to work this year to bring a driving range at the city-owned Hidden Cove Golf Course closer to reality.

The city has applied for a Federal Aviation Administration grant to install a fuel pump with a credit card reader at the Holbrook Municipal Airport, hoping to eliminate the need for a city employee to be called to the airport each time a pilot needs to refuel. The city also hopes to secure funding to install a lit beacon at the airport, which is required for all airports that have a lighted runway. Part of the grant request applies to upgrading the airport’s fuel farm. If the FAA grant is approved, the airport improvements would move forward in 2012.

Finally, Alley will recommend the city continue to support the Navajo County Fair. The $40,000 contract between the city and the fair runs out this year.

“But if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” quipped Alley. “The fair does so much good for Holbrook, I want to keep supporting it financially and with city assets.

“We expend a lot of effort with equipment and manpower each year, helping the fair get ready, and I think we should continue to do so. It helps our community.”

Alley is optimistic about the city’s prospects for 2012.

“I expect it will be a good year,” he said. “As a matter of fact, I think it’s going to be even better than this year.”

Photo by Teri Walker

Cody Cline (left) and Pat Serna (right) of the Holbrook Parks and Recreation Department are renovating the pool house at the Holbrook Public Pool, replacing walls, showers and tile to upgrade the deteriorating structure in time for the summer swim season.