OT, rates on city radar

Published 12:32 am Friday, December 16, 2011

Among the priority issues Washington’s City Council plans to address in the coming days, months and years are reducing expenses and increasing revenues.

Some of those priorities are on the immediate radar (six months to a year), others are on the short-term radar (two to three years) and the remaining priorities are on the long-term radar (five to 10 years).

The council cobbled its priorities list during its meeting Monday. Those priorities were placed in three categories: improving the city’s economy, improving the city’s finances and improving the community.

Mayor Pro Tempore Bobby Roberson broached the subject of overtime paid to city employees.

“I’m looking at these numbers, too. I don’t want to throw them out, but our overtime … is going to be extremely high (this fiscal year). I know we had the hurricane. I understand that. If you discount that, I really think we need to take a look at, you know, the overtime expenses that we are experiencing,” Roberson said. “I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know those numbers are continuing to increase even though we discounted Irene. … I am looking at the overtime report, and we, as a team, need to think about the overtime.”

Mayor Archie Jennings weighed in on the overtime matter.

“I think we’ve been looking at things like overtime, and it’s a symptom rather than the ailment,” Jennings said.

Roberson and Councilman Doug Mercer suggested the city consider placing limitations on overtime, not only for fiscal reasons but also for safety and productivity reasons. Roberson said he couldn’t understand why two or three people in a department with 20 employees are getting the bulk of overtime pay.

“The reason you see one or two or maybe three people working most of that overtime is because the others don’t want to work,” said Councilman Richard Brooks. “I’ve been through that same problem (as an employee in the private sector).

Some people don’t want to work (overtime). All they want to do is work their 40 hours and go home. Other people want a little bit more, so they work more hours.”

Although the council has said it wants to continue efforts to reduce Washington Electric Utilities’ rates, Mercer wants to broaden that effort.

“Every person in this room, at one time or another, has said that we want to reduce electric rates,” Mercer said. “Obviously, that’s going to improve your economy and it’s also going to improve your community, but it’s broader than electric. We need to look at all of our utility rates.”

Some Washington water/sewer customers are paying for more water and sewer service than they use. That’s because the city charges a minimum fee for providing water and sewer services. Mercer wants the city to reconsider that policy.

Brooks said he wants the city to further explore signage on the U.S. Highway 17 bypass at Washington, especially the blue signs on major highways that inform motorists which exits to take to access fuel, lodging and food.

“Out there on 17 bypass, I don’t remember seeing anything about there’s a motel, a Hardee’s,” Brooks said.

Council member William Pitt weighed in on the matter.

“I had someone talk to me the other day about that. As you do drive the bypass, you don’t see anything saying welcome to Washington, this is where you go get a sandwich or a hamburger, this is where you go get gas,” Pitt said.

“The problem that we’re having is we can’t get approval by NDCOT because it’s on a state-maintained system,” Roberson said. “Lynn (Lewis, the city’s tourism director) is working on that. I forgot what the timetable is.”

“My recollection is that it’s April or May,” Mercer interjected.

“That’s the kind of thing that if it was a priority of ours, we could bring all kind of resources to bear to help Lynn out, but that’s why things like that drag on and on and on. Who knows how important that is to the city? We haven’t identified that.”

Brooks said he believes the lack of those blue signs on the bypass is hurting some area businesses.

“I think we’re missing a lot,” Brooks said.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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