MICHIGAN CITY – After being accused in September by a City Councilman of failing to report missing or stolen equipment – and presenting documentation to refute that claim earlier this month – two Central Services department heads reappeared before the Common Council with a revised inventory schedule.
City Forester and Vector Control Director Jessica Arnett said her department will conduct inventory every spring prior to the hiring of seasonal workers, and again in the late fall or early winter after those seasonal workers leave. Street Department Director David Farmer will conduct inventory in May and December each year.
“We discussed the possibility of specific dates for an inventory, but given the unpredictable nature of street department and vector control work, it’s not really practical,” Arnett said. “Most of what street department and vector control does is entirely weather-contingent.”
The discussion came after Councilman Sean Fitzpatrick said he had been told some 40 pieces of equipment were lost or missing, which Arnett previously said was incorrect.
Council President Don Przybylinski, who ordered the new schedule be reported after learning inventory analysis had been conducted only three times in the past eight years, seemed satisfied with Arnett’s plan. However, the forester said she wanted to “tie up some loose ends” while she had the council’s attention.
"I think and strongly believe that the residents of Michigan City need to have accurate figures when they're considering the effectiveness of our departments and the way that our departments operate," Arnett said.
First, she addressed the question raised at the previous council meeting about why the department needs 46 functional chainsaws on hand.
Arnett said she consulted with previous city forester Frank Seilheimer, and learned that in 2010 and 2011, winds coming off Lake Michigan at 100-200 mph caused more devastation than the city was prepared to handle. Because of this, Seilheimer made the decision that one or two extra chainsaws would be purchased annually if funds were available.
“So, it's a matter of preparedness that they bulked up their chainsaw inventory,” Arnett said.
Next, she addressed Przybylinski’s previous comment about budget requests.
She quoted him from the record as having said, “Every year, the city gives the street department 30 grand to go out and burn money on tools and nobody has any idea where they’re at.”
“And it was further implied that those funds were being routinely misused to the detriment of other funding possibilities, such as playground equipment,” Arnett continued. “He also stated that every budget cycle, these departments – I’m assuming you still meant vector and the street department – come before council and ask for another $20,000 in tools because we don’t know where our tools are.
“I believe my reporting from last council effectively demonstrated that we have control of our inventory. But what I really want to set straight for the record tonight and for the people of Michigan City are the actual amounts that street department and vector control are allotted in the budget and what we request.”
According to Arnett, the street department receives between $2,500 and $3,500 annually for small tools and minor equipment. Vector Control receives around $750 each year for the same.
Since 2012, Arnett said, the two departments have spent $1,079.85 on chainsaws, $3,519.68 on blowers, $719.88 on trimmers and $2,079.84 on pole saws. Combined, that’s just $7,399.68 on small tools and minor equipment over eight years.
She suggested Przybylinski may have confused Central Services with Central Maintenance, which is responsible for maintaining the entire fleet of city-owned vehicles and requires a far greater allotment in the budget.
She said that even if the larger equipment from Central Services were to be factored into the equation, the two departments have spent only $22,857 on mowers since 2012, and it was to replace mowers that were between 10 and 15 years old.
Przybylinski asked whether Central Services had worked with the city’s IT department to determine the cost of upgrading surveillance cameras at the facility, and Arnett confirmed they had and that to do so would be about $50,000.