Press-Republican

August 19, 2013

City Council denies pricey travel request

By JOE LoTEMPLIO
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Concerned about facing another difficult budget year, City of Plattsburgh councilors denied a pricey travel request for a national conference.

Recreation Manager Steve Peters asked for funding so he and employees Justyn Gordon and Jessica Shields could attend the National Recreation and Parks Association Conference in Houston, Texas, from Oct. 7 to 10 at a cost of no more than $4,600.

In his request, Peters said the trip was budgeted for, and in the past it has yielded many cost-saving measures and ideas for more recreational activities.

“These (conferences) are very valuable, but they are also very expensive,” Councilor James Calnon (I-Ward 4) said at a recent council meeting.

SEVERAL INITIATIVES

Peters said he and staffers attended the conference last year in San Diego, Calif., and came away with several initiatives.

He said using city employees to referee youth soccer games saved about $1,600; golf lessons with a pro golfer brought in more people to the indoor driving range, increasing revenue by more than $5,000; increasing the number of birthday parties hosted at the Crete Brothers Gym upped revenue by about $1,800; and offering a family fun night at the gym brought in about $2,250.

In a report to the council, Peters said they came up with several ways to improve service as well as increase revenue. Expanding the Recreation Department’s presence on social media and adding more adult/senior programming were among the ideas gleaned from the conference.

‘EVERY OTHER YEAR’

Calnon said the ideas Peters and the staff brought back are great, but there are still some that have not been implemented yet. He suggested they attend the national conference every other year instead of every year.

Councilor Mark Tiffer (D-Ward 2) agreed with Calnon.

“Our most valuable asset is our employees, and it is great to have them trained and informed, however, we have to find ways to save, and this is an expensive trip,” Tiffer said.

Councilor George Rabideau (R-Ward 3) said he felt all city travel should be frozen for the rest of the year unless absolutely necessary because the upcoming budget sessions will be difficult.

“They should travel only if they (employees) need it for certification or something they absolutely need,” he said.

‘NOT A PRIORITY’

The council voted to deny Peters’s request by a 5-0 count, with Tim Carpenter (D-Ward 1) and Chris Jackson (D-Ward 6) joining Tiffer, Calnon and Rabideau in opposition. Chris Case (D-Ward 5) was absent.

Mayor Donald Kasprzak agreed with the council’s decision.

“Due to the continued cost increases in retirement, unfunded mandates, health insurance and personnel, the 2014 budget will be a tremendous challenge,” he told the Press-Republican.

“With that being said, the Recreation Department travel request was simply not a priority this year.”

BILLING TRAINING OK’D

While the council denied Peters’s request, it did approve two other trips.

Assistant Fire Chief Randy Stone requested that Kathy Leavine, who handles the Fire Department’s ambulance billing, attend the Ambulance Billing, Coding and Compliance Fall Conference in Pennsylvania Oct. 21 through 25 at a cost not to exceed $2,200.

Mayor Donald Kasprzak said the conference is vital in terms of learning the new laws regarding healthcare-related bills.

“She (Leavine) definitely needs to go to this,” he said.

“With all the changes about to take place with Obamacare coming into effect, she needs to be there to find out how to handle things.”

The council also approved a request from Municipal Lighting Department Manager William Treacy to attend the Independent Energy Efficiency Program annual meeting in East Syracuse Sept. 26 and 27 at a cost not to exceed $324.

Email Joe LoTemplio:jlotemplio@pressrepublican.com