Lakeland weighs investments in streets, software, personnel

Three hours into the FY2017 budget retreat Monday night, Lakeland’s Board of Commissioners were still going strong with no signs of slowing down. They were working out the fine points of items they will vote on at the next business meeting on June 9.

Here are a few tidbits:

  • The current version of the budget funds a part-time intern to conduct a more detailed analysis of the city’s streets.
  • There were back-and-forth discussions on how to bring the city’s roads up to a better state economically, and City Engineer Emily Harrell suggested bituminous surface treatment, or BST, which that is about one-third the cost of the traditional mill and overlay. It would be appropriate for 70 percent of the city’s streets, she said. Board members discussed whether to spread the repairs out over several years as proposed or to invest some of the proposed $2.5 million going to reserves for repairs now.
  • Harrell outlined a five-year capital improvements plan. FY2017 would pave Salem Road, patch streets citywide, do BST treatment for Fairway Meadows, fill street cracks at Stonebridge, and instal a guardrail in a sharp turn at Stewart and Old Brunswick roads. FY2018 would pave Stewart Road, patch streets, do BST for Stonebridge and fill cracks for Plantation Hills.
  • Lakeland is adding much-needed public works personnel so the city can be proactive rather than reactive, Harrell said.
  • Park donations are way up, more than $4,000 over the budgeted $14,000.
  • One big change is an investment in tablet devices and specialized Beehive-brand software that allows detailed management of the city’s infrastructure, work in progress and the city’s assets. City Manager Jim Atkinson and Harrell view it as a game changer. This will allow efficient creation of precise regular reports, evaluation on how efficiently employees are working, planning for pending tasks and progress on work currently underway. The vendor will have the city’s entire infrastructure mapped into the software when it launches in July, according to Harrell. Board members prioritized using the system to increase transparency to the public about the work the city is accomplishing, too.
  • The board discussed ways to ramp up code enforcement for the small percentage of residents who avoid their responsibilities. The goal is to work toward compliance, but some commissioners believed the city needs to wield a bigger stick in some cases. They even discussed Lakeland’s ability to create its own city court at some point. Currently, the city of Memphis gets a percentage of any fines because their court system is used.
  • The budget includes a new roof to replace the leaky old one at Lakeland City Hall, upgrade the building’s access control and make other improvements.