“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” is the new mantra for the Ballinger city council. Mayor Dawni Seymore and interim city manager, Sidney “Buck” LaQuey, made an appearance at the weekly Rotary meeting and updated the club on the city’s plans for recovering from the financial debacle of the last lustrum. LaQuey said that the city’s Moody’s credit rating would eventually improve and that the city is working to becoming solvent. The duo spent 30 minutes filling in the Rotary club on the progress being made to reach that financial solvency.
Seymore, LaQuey and the city council have taken a proactive approach to informing the community members of the actions that they’re taking to recover financially, rather than waiting for the bimonthly council meeting to update everyone.
Seymore and LaQuey not only gave a presentation to Rotary, they then went over and made an appearance at the Runnels County Republican Party’s event. Also at that event were city councilwoman Kristi Goetz and city councilman Rick Morrish. The city is no longer depending on social media and word-of-mouth to get information to the community. City councilman Jeff Smith has been using his morning radio show to keep the public informed.
LaQuey said that the city’s financial situation is improving, “It’s not that bad. The city has very little long-term debt. Our bond packages will be paid off in 2023. The bond underwriters put together packages and want to keep you going along. We’ll pay them off in 3 years and be done with it. Once a month I’m going to tell people where we are and where we’re headed. Going forward, we’re going to clean up the finances.”
The city has also sold off equipment to replace it with equipment more in-line with the city’s needs, “We had a Bomag roller that was too heavy on some streets and could cause damage to underground utilities. We had a grader with a blade that was too wide to get down many of the alleys.” On Thursday, January 30th, the city sold the grader, dozer and Bomag roller for $200,000.00. LaQuey said some of that money would be used to purchase new equipment, “The guys need a forklift, a D3 dozer and a haul truck. If we can get that equipment, they can work with it easier and more efficiently. I like to buy new equipment because you tend to get a (financial) break right up front.”
LaQuey credited streets supervisor Barrett Smith with facilitating the sale of the equipment, “Barrett took it upon himself to go out there and find a buyer. He took the reins without waiting for someone to ask him to or waiting for someone else to find a buyer. That’s the entrepreneurial spirit we need around here.”
Another issue that LaQuey is dealing with is the track-hoe/excavator that the city had leased-to-purchase from Yellow House under former city manager Tommy Turney, “One of our main issues is getting out from under that track-hoe. Yellow House won’t just take it back so you have to trade it in on something. We may trade it in for a smooth drum roller but it has to go through council first. Dawni (Seymore) has done a fantastic job. She contacted Yellow House before I was ever hired and started working a deal out with them to take the track-hoe back. Then she went up to Abilene and spoke with the city manager and mayor about our water deal with them to ensure everything stayed on track. After Tommy left, she also met with Republic to make sure the trash pickup wasn’t interrupted. $123,797 was due to Republic. Dawni spoke with them and we’re paying that off.”
The city is also looking at contracting with an IT company to handle their computers. The city employee who had been handling the IT work resigned a few weeks ago. The council has said that they believe it would be cheaper to contract the work out rather than have a full-time employee handling it since the city doesn’t have a great demand for IT work.
According to LaQuey, the biggest financial issue the city is facing right now is their accounts payable, “Our laser focus is on getting these AP (accounts payable) paid. I have a long-term relationship with Republic. They know when I say that we’re going to pay them that they’re going to get paid. I’m trying to have blinders on, not look back because I want to move forward. Some people are comfortable lying down next to a rattlesnake, which in this case represents our debt. Dawni, Rick, Kristi and Jeff are not comfortable doing that. They want to get it all taken care of. The problem is that Tommy was behind the 8-ball when he started here. The city already had financial problems.”
One aspect that is in LaQuey’s favor is the lay-offs that Turney implemented and the resignation of other city employees, “I came in after the budget was set but people leaving saved us hundreds of thousands of dollars. We have a $500,000 bond payment due in June. We already have $250,000 of that set aside.”
LaQuey and the council have worked to reconcile all of the city’s accounts and bring it all current as well as working on other aspects of the city governance, “We’re working on the employee handbook.” Turney started the handbook work and LaQuey has taken the helm. The credit card abuse and use of the city’s Amazon account by city employees facilitated the city creating policies and procedures to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
LaQuey is also seeking public input, “I want the people to create a wish list for capital projects. We can go over it and see what is important to them and work on accomplishing it. I know one thing is getting new hangars at the airport. A hangar comes to about $230,000 but people want hangars so that they have protection for their aircraft. Right now though, streets are our priority.”
When it comes to reconciling the financials, there is still much work to be done. LaQuey had a large box of envelopes on a desk containing deposits and financial documents, “Kristi and Dawni have volunteered their own time to come in here and help me go through those. That is a lot of work. We have a strong mayor and council. I haven’t seen many mayors who stepped up the way Dawni has.”
The Ballinger city council meets on the 1st and 3rd Monday of every month (unless it falls on a holiday) at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall. The agenda of each council meeting is posted on the city website 72 hours prior to the council meeting. Anyone who wishes to address the council is given 5 minutes to speak. The videos of the council meetings are posted on the City of Ballinger website.