SALEM - The city Parks Commission agreed Wednesday to participate in the performance audit proposed for the city, saying the parks department has been running lean for years.
"We pride ourselves in the parks of being good stewards of the taxpayers' money," Parks Commission Chairman John Panezott said.
He also clarified a concern raised by city Councilwoman Cyndi Baronzzi Dickey and city Councilman Clyde Brown, who both wondered if the levy money the parks department relies on could be used to pay for the parks' portion of the audit. He said as long as it's for the parks, the levy money can be used.
The audit will look at operations in city administration, public safety, public works and parks and recreation.
The state estimated the audit could cost up to $71,700, but under the arrangement, the city would only pay the amount of expected savings identified through audit recommendations up to $71,700, meaning the city could pay less. As it stands now, the costs will be paid by the departments where savings are identified.
For example, if they found a possible savings of $5,000 in the parks department if the department follows their recommendations, then the parks department would only pay the $5,000.
Panezott told Dickey, who attended the Parks Commission meeting, that one of their concerns was what if the state auditors told them they could save money by closing the pool. He said there's no way the department would close the pool, so if the department doesn't follow a recommendation, can they be held liable?
Dickey said the recommendations are suggestions to save money, not mandates.
No final decision has been made on whether council will direct Mayor John Berlin to accept state funding to cover the audit cost upfront and go forward with the performance audit. The two sides are still working on finalizing the language for the terms of the audit.
Parks Director Steve Faber and Panezott forwarded some questions they had to James Pyers, senior performance project manager for the state Auditor's Office, regarding the audit process. They also met with the mayor. Some of the their questions dealt with the cost to the department, what information is used to make the recommendations, what happens if the department disagrees with the recommendations and how much input the department has in the recommendations.
Pyers explained in a return email that recommendations can only be changed based on factual information and the city will be kept up to date on the information gathered and what the recommendations could be before they'll be made public.
Faber said he doesn't think they're going to find anything.
"We think that we run a lean budget," Panezott said, adding they want to save the taxpayers money.
Parks commissioner Terry Hoopes said anything that benefits the city is positive.
"We have nothing to hide, and possibly something to gain," he said.
In other business, the Parks Commission agreed to request City Council increase the starting wage for the still-open recreation supervisor's position. According to the current wage ordinance, the position would begin at $7.87 per hour at step one, but what Faber recommended and what the commission agreed to request is an hourly rate of $10.87 for step one, $11.30 for step two and $11.63 for step three.
He said that lifeguards currently make $8 per hour, a starting teacher salary is around $28,000, the deputy auditor wage in the city is $15.40 per hour and the wage for the health department registrar is $12.36 per hour.
"We're not out of the ball park. We're still on the low end," he said.
Faber also said the increase is already allowed for in the parks department budget, so no additional funding is being requested. The parks department relies solely on tax levy funds for operations, along with rental fees for park facilities. The city gives no money to the parks.
The position has been vacant since June and is a 40-hour a week job with benefits but no overtime. According to Faber, the position is exempt from overtime, per the policy manual, but could receive comp time.
The Finance Committee of city council is expected to discuss the issue during its meeting at 4 p.m. today on the city's 2013 budget.
The commission also changed the date of its regular meeting in December, moving it to 5 p.m. Dec. 19 instead of meeting on Dec. 26.
Mary Ann Greier can be reached at email@example.com