On page A8 in the April 6th, 2017 print edition of the City of Ludington Daily News (COLDNews), an article by veteran reporter Kevin Brasiczeski continuing from the front page stated:
"Ludington City Manager John Shay said maintenance costs for Stearns Park-- including the Loomis Street boat launch-- that includes costs for patrols, cleaning of the beach, tables, grills, benches, skate park, shuffleboard court, restrooms and everything is about $497,000 a year."
Maintaining Stearns Beach each year is just under a half of a million dollars?! That's what up to 6600 COLDNews readers and their families read the day after just a dozen citizens went to the early special meeting where the beach parking issue and other ways to fund the growing city budget were discussed by the council.
Since the April 5, 2017 LCC Special Meeting wasn't video-recorded like most normal meetings, we will have to take the COLDNews reportage as an accurate portrayal of Shay's words, particularly since the newspaper claim has not been challenged for accuracy, nor was it in my FOIA request for "detailed accounting records and supportive documentation" to back up Shay's $497,000 figure.
In the response, I was given back three simple pages from the 2017 Budget without anything else in this file: Expenditures Budget.pdf. It described expenditures for "beach safety", "parks" and "launching ramps for the past three years and future three years, the 2017 budgeted figure totaled in each category were $29,600 and $389,500 and $77,700 respectively. These three figures add up to $496,800 and is how Shay arrived at the $497K figure (see the sixth column in the table below).
Now John Shay wants us to believe that almost half a million is spent on maintenance costs just for Stearns Park by adding these three different budgets, but when you look at the three cost allotments for each, we find a lot of that money doesn't go for beach maintenance. The 'truest' allotment comes from the category "Beach Safety", which encompasses the 'beach patrol'.
The $12,000 in wages suggest they cover the 100 days in between the Friday before Memorial Day to Labor Day by two people working full-time seasonally for about $10. Both would work eight hour shifts for five days a week, and they ideally would have double coverage on the beach-busy days. What concerns me with this is the abnormally high equipment rental rate each year (for what exactly does $9000 rent?), and the addition of fringe benefits at a near 20% rate for guys who work maybe 70 days a summer with the added fringe benefit of having a load of eye-candy most days.
Yet with another patroller at $6000 more (+ $1050 in fringes), they could double coverage all days and be able to conduct any kind of day-to-day maintenance anywhere in the park without leaving the beach area unattended. Since they are not for beach rescue, they technically could do that with just keeping to a two man rotation. As has been noted, they regularly leave the beach unattended anyhow. But consider the next category as pertains to Stearns Beach:
Like me, you are probably surprised that in the city's park department, we pay two or more full-time workers over $100,000 in salary alone coupled with $72,700 in fringe benefits (over 71% of their salary!). Who are these people? Why do they serve full-time for parks which are effectively closed over half of the year? What do they actually do which would not be redundant with the DPW?
If you think they may help run the Cartier Park campground, you'd be wrong, for those workers are found in another section of the budget, nor do they have anything to do with Stearns Park anyways. Do they place and remove the sand fences at the appropriate times and groom the beach? Nope, that's the DPW's job. The City contracts out for grass cutting services and fertilization of city-owned property. The main task, it would seem of the Parks Department would be dealing with cemetery issues and has nothing really to do with Stearns Park that's quantifiable in the budget.
If our city leaders were actually interested in cutting fat, the parks budget with over a sixth of a million dollars invested in unjustified full-time employees would be a good start. The City can't even fake any justification of the whole Parks Department on the city website. The city fudges the amount it spends on its parks mainly because it helps them score higher on MI DNR grants; in reality, these full time jobs have nothing to do with maintaining or running city parks.
As for launching ramps, we see more common themes:
Again someone is doing what amounts to very part-time seasonal work and getting well compensated for it, plus fringes amounting to over 71% of their salary. Some of our city's hardest workers (in the private sector) can work full-time for the whole year at difficult jobs, and not get the $17,400 somebody gets for dealing with the launch ramps at the Loomis Street boat launch. There's nothing keeping the DPW or even the beach patrol from doing maintenance of these.
Several other line items in this budget raises concerns. The city spends $6000 each year for contractors to haul away fish guts at their cleaning stations. Wouldn't it be more practical to encourage interested local parties to do the service for a lot less, and get some great fertilizer for their farms and gardens? Much of the contractual services in this part of the budget has to do with dredging, which should not really be a problem at the current ramps due to the recent constructions making that a rarely needed task.
If we tack on another seasonal worker to the beach patrol, open up their job description to include routine beach maintenance (cleaning beach restrooms, policing area trash, etc.), then beyond the occasional replacement of piers at the launch and the variety of tasks performed already by the DPW (which aren't figured in the reckoning of costs, but could easily be quantified by the amount of time they spend grooming the beach and putting up fences), you get a figure that would be closer to $50,000 rather than $500,000 for what the city invests in Stearns Beach each year.
If City Manager Shay really wants to get the budget under control, he has over $400,000 in potential cuts to 'maintaining Stearns Park' to work with if he wants it. But will he even justify the Parks budget to the people of Ludington, or just exploit the high price tag that comes with it?
....And your'e only looking at 1 area of the budget. Imagine savings (overspending..) if all areas of budget were looked at in this manner...
If it takes 500,000 a year to maintain Stearns Beach then the beach should be closed and handed back to the Stearns family. Shay is a crook and he should be thrown in prison head first!
City hallers can throw out numbers like this to justify taking more of your money to keep up with the rising costs, but ask them to justify their costs, then they point to the budget.
As noted, the beach patrol could attend to all seasonal maintenance at Stearns Beach for under $36,000, adding a seasonal worker. The City DPW could itemize the cost of doing the various jobs they do at Stearns by tracking hourly labor, contracted services, and applicable equipment costs. If we take their yearly duties under inspection, as noted in their annual report starting on p. 73 of the April 24 packet. You would have them doing nothing at Stearns during winter (other than the negative action of dumping excess snow in the Boat Launch parking lot).
I assume that labor is done by one DPW crew leader for operating heavy equipment ($30/hour) with a crew of two grunt seasonal staff ($10/hour) with lesser tasks done by the grunts, and the cost per hour of heavy equipment (payloader. excavator) to be $100, tractors and smaller at $60. I also assume special event fees will be paid by the one holding the special event. I am not assuming a 71% fringe benefit to wage ratio or that they would take their time.
Check whether boat ramps need dredging: $50
Removal of sand fence: $500
Initial Cleaning leveling beach: up to $2600
Open Loomis Street ramps: $1200
Stripe Loomis lot: $500
Put out picnic tables at Stearns: $80
Install seasonal boardwalks: $120
Beach cleaning (assumes 2 hours of leveling with tractor, twice a week for 14 weeks): $4000
Sand fence installation: $1000
Close beach fish cleaning station: $40
Pull docks at Loomis: $1200
Take batteries out of rock piles at Loomis, remove kiosk: $160
Add this $12,000 to the near $36,000 for the expanded beach safety budget and the total is $48,000 to keep Stearns Park running each year, perhaps even better since there are two patrollers every shift in my amended plan.
Add another $450,000 to get Shay's figure and you can see why our budgetary needs is fat-trimming. I invite any city official to tell me why we need a half million to run this park.
I saw some evidence that the city manager, the DPW supervisor Joe Stickney, and Sexton Kirk Caithamer had read the concerns of this article last night at the council meeting. In my recap, I will address some of those official comments.
And to what credence is there to employees speaking up for something that could help pay their wages and (above average) benefits..?
Don't forget about the council meeting tonight at 6:30 in city hall.
Very good analysis X. And like you stated, who are the 2 employees for Parks that get over $100K per year and what is it they do that deserves that kind of pay? What kind of equipment rentals costs $75K per year? Water utilities at $31K per year? Heat $1K? Where's the heat? In bathrooms, no, they are not heated nor a/c. Then contractual services at $41K/yr.? A lot of explaining to do with these figures imho, because most are way over-priced and/or non-existent, and have no basis for Stearns Park expenses at all!
Several on this forum run businesses that deal with some of the same issues that the city faces with its beach and its marina, however, they accomplish their necessary tasks with a lot less dollars and with a city acting as a competitive force to them, even with all the benefits they receive as a public facility, such as not having to pay property taxes, gas taxes, and receiving aid from State agencies.
Shay's model is to pay off the rest of the city with high salaries coupled with fringe benefits over 70% of those salaries. That buys a lot of loyalty, and that's why we get more and more city officials coming to meetings to preserve their payoffs, as happened last night with two members of the "parks" department coming to advocate for parking kiosks..
Yeah it must be nice to sit up there all high and mighty and say, "we need x amount of dollars to have the marina dredged!" And ALL jump on board! But let some private business owners be damned 9 years ago and they sit mum! None of us can afford to do what the city should have done long ago! Its not our stuff that was spewed onto our area!
Les thinks its bad now, well many are piling on to social media here and facebook! DDA freaking seriously? Are they gonna build a wall? Why does the whole city not matter? As I said before it should be a LDA, including the 4th ward! If we only had representation on the council!
Les needs to resign immediately, a shame how he attacked that up and coming woman! Never heard him say that to a male? Comments.......
Holman, Johnson, Castonia, Rathsack, and Winzcheski are all against social media. Probably the rest too. They don't like thousands of people knowing what they are doing behind closed doors, and making opinions about it. Hell, if they can talk behind the taxpayers backs, why can't the taxpayers? And still like Holman said about the Stearns Park parking fees, "we're not done with this yet". Like I said, write emails, attend mtgs., call them, and still, their fixed agenda is going to rule in the end, pitiful and unethical in all respects. If we could start a recall on just one person there, and make it work, it might wake the rest up to start behaving better.