RICHWOOD — The interim city manager could get the job full-time depending on a consultant’s assessment of her performance since taking over as Richwood’s top administrator almost two months ago.

City Council voted this week to hire Ron Cox, a consultant on local government, to complete a gap analysis on Lindsay Koskiniemi’s work as interim city manager. He will present his findings to city council at their August meeting.

Koskiniemi, who joined the city as finance director nine months ago, took charge after former city manager Michael Coon left for a job in California. Koskiniemi expects to receive her master’s degree in public administration from the University of Texas at Arlington this summer.

One of the tasks Lindsey Koskiniemi is overseeing is the city’s 2019-20 budget. The preliminary spending plan, presented to council during its meeting Monday, includes many cuts and adopting the rollback tax rate to bring the budget into balance.

The city’s bottom line depends on an expected reimbursement of about $152,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the next fiscal year for direct administrative costs. It’s not clear when that money will arrive, however.

“If we do not receive that reimbursement in this fiscal year, we could potentially be facing an $8,200 deficit in our general fund,” said Koskiniemi, who said she has been told she can expect to see $11,000 of the reimbursement by Aug. 31.

The proposed budget presented to council members did not include the FEMA reimbursement.

However, she proposed that in the case they do receive the reimbursement in time for the next fiscal year, the money go toward paying off the deficit, then the remaining funds can go toward creating a master drainage plan.

Koskiniemi and her staff are emphasizing the importance of the master drainage plan because it will help the city be approved for grants.

The proposed budget is based on the rollback tax rate of 71.49 cents per $100 of appraised property value. The rollback rate is the highest rate a taxing entity can assess before requiring voter approval. It is set at 8 percent above the effective tax rate, which is the rate that will bring the same amount of revenue from properties listed on the tax rolls both years.

If the rollback rate is adopted, it would support a general fund budget of about $2.87 million, a roughly $137,000 increase from the current year. This is despite the actual rate being lower than the current year because of higher property values.

Koskiniemi also proposed money-saving measures including cutting the general fund spending toward street repairs since voters approved a bond issue for that purpose, and contracting out animal control and code enforcement services.

Councilman Mike Johnson objected to the proposed tax rate and street repair cut, saying it would be a step back in the city’s efforts to improve infrastructure after voters approved the $3 million repair bond in November.

Johnson asked Koskiniemi to create a budget using the effective tax rate and have it ready for council’s special meeting July 29.

Koskiniemi said such a budget would result in about a $130,000 deficit and require additional budget cuts to offset it. Among the likely targets are the master drainage plan and the master park plan, both of which are important, she said.

Renovations to the P.K. Forrest Community Center also could be abandoned, and council discussed whether it is worth the expense to refurbish the building. According to the proposed budget, renovations would cost about $20,000 and the building only generates about $5,400 in revenue a year.

“Decommissioning that building as a public building may presume savings in maintenance fees and using it as a storage place for public work stuff would provide some space that public works can use,” Koskiniemi said.

Mayor Steve Boykin has a personal attachment to the building and quickly opposed its decommission. It is the only place for residents to gather, he said.

Councilman Mark Brown II asked that Boykin to set his feelings aside and look at the business aspect to make a responsible decision about the building’s fate.

“It’s not even benefiting the citizens of Richwood,” said Brown, referencing that only about 30 percent of people who rent the building are city residents.

Staff said they don’t want to take the amenity away from residents, but if they need the space and money to reduce the proposed tax rate, it might be necessary.

Miriam Jewell is a reporter for The Facts. Contact her at 979-237-0145.

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