By Greg Ritchie
CROCKETT – Rome was not built in a day, and it takes a lot to run a city. Various departments, employees, budgets – not to mention all the laws and rules both local and from entities beyond. City mayors, police and fire chiefs all perform very public functions. However, the city administrator sometimes operates beyond the view of the public. This job requires a knack for numbers and a careful eye on every move a city makes.
Crockett City Administrator John Angerstein has been in his position for almost 6 years. He was Crockett Fire Chief when there was an opening to become city administrator. The Crockett City Council approved him, and Angerstein was off and running.
Among his chief duties is keeping budgets balanced, overseeing the city personnel and warning the city council what effect different policies would have on the city. Another job Angerstein has taken on is to eliminate waste as much as possible.
“My job is to be the ‘checks and balances’ to make sure we are staying on course. My biggest priorities when I started were to identify and cut waste. Whether is was in personnel, in our procedures, in how we purchased things from vendors – every once in a while we need to just erase the board and take a fresh look,” Angerstein explained.
Angerstein soon realized that there were other venues for finding funding that did not involve cutting waste or raising taxes.
“Grants. Federal money, state money,” Angerstein said. “Sometimes we lacked the initiative to apply for much of this money. There are quarterly reports to be filed, deadlines – it’s a very big task to take on trying to bring in these monies. We qualify for a lot of these grants. Low interest loans, zero interest loans. If we don’t go after that money, other cities will.”
Angerstein and the city have received over 10 million dollars from secured and near completed projects this fiscal year. Being the “bean counter” and the one who asks the difficult questions hasn’t always helped Angerstein win popularity contests. It’s never fun being the parent who often has to say “no.”
City personnel is not only the biggest expense, but many times has the biggest effect – positive or negative – on the work done. The city is trying to organize and formalize the hiring process and job duties across departments to retain and attract the right kind of people to work for the city.
“Getting people that are in here for the right reason,” Angerstein said. “They are working for the city because they love the city. They want to see the city do better and thrive. That’s when you get people who are all on board. They are not here just for the paycheck.”
Part of eliminating waste was acquiring a small fleet of heavy equipment over the years. The city is now able to do many jobs that were previously contracted out at a fraction of the cost. Recruiting the people to do those jobs are why Angerstein is seeking additional funding.
“We can’t do the work we now know we can do without adequate personnel.” Angerstein said. “It requires good, capable employees. We need to be competitive – if not against other cities – at least within our own local job market.”
There is a proposal to increase water rates and property tax rates in order to bring city salaries in line with the marketplace. A public hearing will be held on the matter Friday, Aug. 15 at 6 p.m. at the council chamber.
Asked his response to someone who does not understand why taxes could go up in a difficult economy Angerstein replied, “I understand the concern. I would say, we as a city are asking the citizens – not telling them – we are asking them, ‘What is your decision?’ Ultimately the people have to support us. We work for them, and if that’s not the direction they want us to go, then it’s up to them to let us know.”
Angerstein acknowledges that getting the word out about city projects and accomplishments is an important part of the job. Recently the city has hired a community liaison to work and communicate with citizens. Angerstein says most people don’t realize how much the city does.
“We might be working on a huge project in one part of the city, and the rest of the city may think we are doing nothing.” Angerstein noted. “We want to develop some neighborhood committees and get the word out. There’s so much going on behind the scenes that our public needs to know what we’re doing. Where is my money going? What’s coming next? When will it be done? To be more involved with their city.”
Greg Ritchie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org