Council begins with a retreat

January 31, 2013

By Christina Corrales-Toy

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City Council retreat discusses budget, Parks Commission

The Newcastle City Council met for its annual beginning-of-the-year retreat at The Golf Club at Newcastle on Jan. 24.

The City Council was not allowed to take any action during the retreat, but council members used the five hour meeting to discuss city business in a more informal setting, with City Manager Rob Wyman and Sara McMillon, the city clerk, as the only other city officials in attendance.

The topics ranged from a brief exploration of police level of service, to discussion of the city’s pavement management policies. A proposal to restructure the Parks Commission and talk about the city’s budget policies dominated most of the discussion at the meeting, though.

Mayor Rich Crispo spearheaded an effort that would reserve a certain number of spots on the Parks Commission for members of the city’s major volunteer groups, the Newcastle Historical Society and Newcastle Trails.

The proposal went further and suggested that money gathered through donations or grants for the particular volunteer groups would be stored in city accounts to be used by the organization that generated them.

Crispo’s suggestion would bring the groups “under the umbrella of the city,” but would still allow the organizations a chance to maintain their own identity and structure.

The proposal was part of an effort to get more out of the city’s Parks Commission after its members’ attendance records showed too many absences. Council members suggested that Parks Commissioners were unhappy with the commission’s duties and the way it was utilized as it stood. Parks Commissioners and Planning Commissioners are all volunteers.

“When they look at even the things that they did get done, they don’t see much value,” Crispo said, based on discussions he has had with the Parks Commission.

The majority of the council agreed that something needed to be done to reinvigorate the Parks Commission, and offered a multitude of suggestions including redefining the group’s mission and duties.

“There’s nothing worse that someone can do, than make a volunteers’ time that they dedicate not feel valuable,” Councilman John Dulcich said.

Another hot topic of conversation was a suggestion by the city manager to alter or eradicate the city’s financial policy that requires him to bring the council a balanced budget, with no new revenues.

Ultimately, the council didn’t reach consensus on the idea one way or another.

“I felt like the last couple of years, how we go about creating the budget and getting to an initial preliminary budget, this policy really binds my hands because I’m not able to talk to you guys about any kind of increases, only cuts,” Wyman said.

Councilman Bill Erxleben, one of the policy’s original authors, was not a fan of changing the requirements.

“I just don’t want to lose the discipline of the process,” he said. “Legislative bodies need crutches in order to do the right thing. Why? Because they love to spend money.”

Councilwoman Carol Simpson disagreed with Erxleben, saying that she was not a fan of the council’s most recent status quo budget, and would be open to seeing what Wyman could produce when given more leeway.

“I would like to see him have some more creativity,” she said. “He had no ownership over what he brought forward [last year]. I want to see his ownership on that. I want to see his recommendation.”

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