Written by Patty Decker Tuesday, 26 February 2013 11:33
With his second month in the position nearly completed, Shane Marler has been hard at work as the new city administrator and clerk for Peabody.
The Peabody City Council appointed Marler to the job after Mac Manning Jr. retired from the position at the end of December.
Marler’s first day was Jan. 2. Since then, he’s worked on long- and short-term goals, pulling from his experience, but also asking a lot of questions.
“Addressing our infrastructure is key,” Marler said about the city’s primary long-term goal. “We need to minimize unnecessary costs so we can maximize our dollars and reinvest in ourselves to increase our longevity (as a community).”
Marler said the revenue generated by the local mill levy has been flat or decreasing slightly over the past five years.
“It’s been a while since Peabody has seen an increase, while other taxing entities (school district and county) have gone up,” he said.
Although everyone wants to lower taxes, Marler said sometimes an increase is necessary for a community’s vitality.
“I am a champion for lowering taxes,” he said, “but at the end of the day the infrastructure is failing and we haven’t had the resources to improve it.”
Marler was quick to add that the infrastructure problems were not the fault of any one city council or mayor.
Marler said the city’s water and sewer lines. are major issues that need to be addressed.
“Aside from the occasional leaks, collapses and other repairs addressed, it is assumed the lines will work.”
Marler said he believes the city needs to take a more proactive stance.
“It’s time to invest in ourselves,” he said.
Water lines are the biggest concern, Marler said, with sewer lines as the secondary issue.
“We did a project to receive water from Hillsboro,” he said. “We buy the water and the city has all new water lines coming into town.”
The problem, he said, is that few of the city water lines have been replaced, and some have been in place for 80 years.
“The lines are still functioning, but the quality of the product we deliver is degraded due to the age of the vehicle delivering that product,” he said.
Sometimes the water from the faucet has to do with the city’s infrastructure, but sometimes it has to do with the water lines in someone’s house.
“We can do a brand new line to someone’s house, but if the plumbing is old, there is a chance the quality of the product isn’t going to be as good as someone would like it to be,” he said.
The out of sight, out of mind mentality can only work for so long, Marler said.
“For better or worse,” he said, “we need to pull the trigger and make some improvements. Unfortunately, we don’t have the funds or resources to replace all (the lines) at once.”
Marler said it could be done as a single project, but he doesn’t want the community saddled with overwhelming debt.
“We are in a quandary,” he said. “There are monies available that we can leverage with our local resources to get more bang for our buck and start taking bites out of the bigger picture.
“I know it’s hard to justify spending money, but selling water is a big portion of the our revenue and, if we cannot do that, it would be a massive revenue loss and ultimately there could be no city of Peabody,” he said.
Marler said he credits a lot of his experience in city government to serving on the Hillsboro City Council.
“I gained a wealth of information,” he said.
Marler also benefitted from serving as director of Peabody Main Street and local economic development.
For now, there are no plans to fill the position Marler held before accepting the city administrator position, which means he is doing both jobs.
“Financial restrictions wouldn’t allow us to find a replacement,” he said, “but in most communities, the city administrator and economic development director work closely.”
One person can do both, but Marler said he admits it isn’t easy and is more than a full-time job.
Streets are always important to residents, and the city has been more proactive in that area, according to Marler.
“We have a half-cent sales tax until 2014 that generates money for streets,” he said. “I am actually hoping we can renew that initiative because the costs are not getting any cheaper and streets don’t last forever.”
In the past couple of years, the city has been able to repair four streets, but Marler said the city could leverage funds with the Community Development Block Grant program.
“We would get more bang for the buck,” he said. “If we are spending the money anyway (to repair streets), why not try and multiply that dollar instead of just spending a dollar.”
Marler said he has the council’s support in looking into a CDBG for a larger scale street project.
Another challenge is the city’s equipment reserve fund, which has dwindled over the past few years. Equipment maintenance is a priority.
“If something fails, we cannot replace it,” he said. “Due to flat revenues and increasing costs, the reserves have just dwindled.”
Marler said it’s important for city employees to treat budgeted money as if it were their own.
“Some of us live paycheck to paycheck and some of us build reserve,” he said. “It’s the same concept, but not carte blanche to go out and buy something just because it is taxpayer money.”
The city of Peabody employs eight full-time people and about the same in part-time staff, Marler said.
“We have employees in public works and the police departments, along with multiple part-time staff for the swimming pool, seasonal and city hall,” he said.
Stephanie Ax is the city clerk and Leah Ottensmeier is part-time municipal court clerk and part-time city treasurer.
Overall, Marler said, the staff does a great job.
“The staff cares about the community and, that to me, makes a big difference.”
For Marler, a positive attitude goes a long way in interacting with citizens.
“We are also lucky to have good council members in Peabody and each of our communities,” he said.
“There may come a time, a year from now or maybe tomorrow, the council doesn’t want me,” Marler said. “If that happens, I will still live in the area because I have a vested interest in seeing the survival and growth of this community.