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Buchanan selects new city treasurer

BUCHANAN – The city of Buchanan has a permanent city treasurer, but it did not come without some discussion.

Stephanie Powers has been serving as the acting city treasurer since last summer and the City Commission confirmed making her the permanent treasurer Monday.

Powers has been acting city treasurer since August when she was appointed to the post after Traci McGrath resigned after just a few weeks on the job. Powers had been the bookkeeper and has been doing both jobs in the intervening months.

The city had been working with consultant Larry Nielsen to find a new city treasurer in late 2020 and early 2021 without success. Nielsen had not been able to find external treasurer candidates despite advertising the position regionally, statewide and even nationally.

City Manager Heather Grace reiterated Monday that Nielsen had reported that he couldn’t find any candidates interested in the position and had told her the market was tight for people with those skills. She asked for Powers to be named the permanent treasurer so Grace can move forward with filling the vacant bookkeeper position.

Grace noted that Powers will continue to get assistance from the city’s auditing firm, Plante Moran, through the end of June as well as from the county treasurer’s office. Powers will also be attending trainings to get the skills she needs to do the treasurer’s job. Grace said she will develop a request for proposals later this spring to extend the assistance for Powers.

Commissioner Cameron Downey was the only commissioner to vote no on hiring Powers. He said he was concerned whether they were setting her up for failure and being overwhelmed. He did congratulate Powers at the end of the meeting and said he was sure she would do a good job.

Other commissioners said they favored following Grace’s recommendation.

“I think it’s just as important to have the right kind of person in that role,” Mayor Sean Denison said. “If someone has a good work ethic and is willing to learn, you grab them and train them to have a good person on your team.”

Grace said that other actions taken Monday to buy new software programs will help not only Powers but other staff at City Hall. Grace, Powers and other city hall staff all reported to commissioners Monday that the new software programs will bring efficiencies and more transparency to city government.

Commissioners voted to convert the city’s financial and payroll systems to the BS&A software package at a cost of $78,250 for the initial conversion plus $7,710 annual maintenance. They also approved buying the Municode software package for meeting agenda preparation and website services at an initial cost of $9,600 plus annual fees of $6,800.

A department report from Fire Chief Mike Adams also brought a lot of discussion from commissioners. While Adams gave an overview of the department’s needs going into budget talks for the next fiscal year, commissioners were concerned about what they saw as the department’s lack of fundraising in the community.

The fundraising question came up after former City Commissioner Dan Vigansky raised it in public comments. Vigansky questioned why nearby fire departments in Bertrand and Buchanan Townships host successful fundraisers while the city fire department doesn’t.

Denison and other commissioners said they have been hearing similar questions from residents they talk to. For his part, Adams said he was confused about the talk about fundraisers when he was talking about the need to set aside money for large ticket items such as new trucks and other equipment.

Commissioner Larry Money agreed with Adams. He noted that a lot of fundraisers had been tried during his own time with the fire department where firefighters have spent a lot of time on fundraisers without getting much support from residents. He noted that Adams does more work than past chiefs on only part-time pay.

“I hear what you’re saying, but one of the things I’m hearing is that we don’t do enough fundraisers,” Denison said. “If they did a few of them, they could get a couple of thousand dollars.”

He said at the end of the meeting that he felt the conversation had gotten mixed up.

“None of us thought that the fire department needs to raise money for large equipment,” he said. “It’s more how it’s perceived by the public. We hear that the fire department is never doing fundraisers but always having their hand out. I’m sorry if it was misunderstood.”

As for the department’s needs, Adams spoke of everything from fire station upgrades and increasing firefighter pay to replacing the fire truck ladder, which is almost 30 years old, to asking voters to approve a half-mill levy for new equipment. He noted that the city’s firefighters are some of the lowest paid in the county.

In action Monday, commissioners renewed nine medical and adult-use annual permits for Redbud Roots for their facilities on Post Road and Terre Coupe Street. Community Development Director Rich Murphy said he had reviewed the applications and found everything in order.

Commissioners voted to remove “no parking” signage around Victory Park on the city’s north side at the recommendation of the Northside Reunion Community Group. They also voted to bid out trash services. The current contract with Republic/Reliable Disposal runs through May 31.

In other reports, Grace noted that she has started getting requests from organizations for spring and summer events. Commissioners expressed their desire to see events take place if possible. “I’m frankly tired of seeing money going down to Indiana, we should leave these wide open and deal with them as they come,” Mark Weedon said.

Events mentioned included the Michiana Cruisers cruise in on July 22 at Centennial Park, Relay for Life on July 10 at the Common, the Summer Thrill on the Hill in early August and the annual community-wide yard sale the third weekend of June.

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