City looks at ways to save money, add jobs, work more efficiently

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

By Karen Hall

Staff Writer

Lewisburg's industrial development director may be out of the country, but the work of promoting the city to manufacturers continues without him.

"They sure are getting interested in Lewisburg," said City Manager Tommy Engram, explaining in Greg Lowe's absence he will be making a presentation in Atlanta.

Lowe is in Japan to take part in the 35th annual Southeast U.S./Japan Association (SEUS) meeting to promote trade, investment and understanding between Japan and the southeastern region of the U.S.

Gov. Bill Haslam, business leaders, and economic development officials from across the state are representing Tennessee. They join delegations from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and North and South Carolina.

Since 2003, the seven SEUS member states have accounted for almost one-third of all Japanese investment in the United States. In 2012, the seven SEUS states exported almost $7 billion in goods to Japan.

There are 133 Japanese companies in Tennessee, representing more than $14 billion in capital investment and making Japan Tennessee's No. 1 direct foreign investor. Japanese companies employ 33,000 Tennesseans, with companies like Nissan, Bridgestone and Denso leading the way. Last year, $1.6 billion dollars in Tennessee goods were exported to Japan, the state's fourth largest export destination in the world. Tennessee also ranked in the top 10 of all U.S. states for Japanese exports.

Meanwhile, Engram continues to search for ways to save city money.

"We are bleeding ourselves dry" paving streets in subdivisions, the city manager said.

He explained that the city council accepts a subdivision street when the development is more or less complete. In Lewisburg, the city has then been paving the street.

"Legally, no cities pave subdivision streets," Engram said. He went on to say the city should require developers to pave the streets, including curbs, gutters and sidewalks, and only accept them as city streets when this has been done. The only street waiting for paving now is Southview Drive, which Engram estimates will cost $35,000.

There are no other subdivisions in progress, so this is the right time to make a change in the regulations regarding street paving. The change is also necessary to be in compliance with stormwater regulations.

"It's important to let people know we're doing this to get into compliance with stormwater regulations," not just putting more on the developers, said Councilman Steve Thomas.

Looking at ways to save the city money by working more efficiently, Engram proposed the purchase of a GEO Pin-Point system to help identify and plan work that needs to be done around the city. Engram suggested starting with three handheld units, two to be carried on the recycling or garbage trucks, and one for the code enforcement officer. As the city employees go around town, they use the units to note what needs to be done, such as grass to be cut, junk to be picked up, and so on. Then each evening, the notes download automatically to a desktop computer. Thus Public Works Director Kenny Ring can see what needs to be done, and plan the work of his department. The units can also take a photograph, useful documentation if a homeowner has to be taken to court for a codes violation.

"The more you use them, the more other departments will want them," said Engram. "It's a very nimble system." He even suggested police officers carry the units during night patrols to note where streetlights are out.

GEO Pin-Point costs $14,250, Engram said.

Another computer program he suggests the city use is free for the first year. Maintenance Edge is a facility management data administration system.

"It's a great inventory and tracking tool," Engram said. "It's an accountability tool. You will love it when you have a year's worth of data."

Thomas reminded the group they were trying to work toward linking pay with performance for city employees, and a necessary part of this was the ability to quantify what each worker did.

"I think this is a really good way to do this," Thomas concluded.

"I think it's a great idea," agreed Mayor Barbara Woods.

Finally, Engram reviewed revenues and expenditures for the month of July, the first month of the new fiscal year.

"Pretty much everything's going the way you wanted it to go," Engram said, complementing the councilmen on the good job they did with the city budget.

The city manager said he would like to review budget numbers with councilmen once a month, as they become available, and also intends to conduct quarterly reviews, with councilmen and department heads present. The first quarter's figures should be ready by mid-October, Engram said.