Wednesday, March 06, 2013

TOP STORY >> Officials want to change time off

Leader staff writer

Too much comp time for city employees was the topic of a lengthy discussion Monday night during a Cabot City Council committee meeting.

Matthew Hood, the city’s human resources director, called the 2,800 hours of comp time that was carried over into 2013, “an absurd amount of comp time.”

He recommended a change in the handbook that would require employees to use the time in the year it is accrued and to use the time before taking vacation time.

But to clear the 2,800 hours from the books this year, he proposed paying the employees for any hours they haven’t taken off by the end of the year.

Using an average wage of $15 an hour, paying for the comp time would cost Cabot $42,000.

The only real objection to the proposal among councilmembers came from Alderman Angie Jones, who said some employees almost certainly saved the hours to use during hunting season and counted on continuing the practice.

Fire Chief Phil Robinson also cautioned that an abrupt change could cause a morale problem among his firefighters.

Council members meet as three distinct committees: Budget and personnel, fire and police and public works. And even though most aldermen participate in discussions during every committee meeting, only the members vote to send proposals to the full council.

Hood said he wants to implement the comp-time policy immediately so the budget and personnel committee voted to send it to the full council.

During the public works committee, Mike Wheeler, head of animal control for only a few months, gave a progress report on his department. Wheeler said the number of animals brought into the shelter is up but the “animal release rate” is also up, thanks in part to the mobile adoption unit and a new electronic sign and message center on South First Street.

Accomplishments in the first two months of this year include developing procedure manuals for cash and asset handling, as well as drug handling, and moving the shelter technician — who worked the desk at the shelter into the field.

But the changes that will make the shelter more inviting to the public and possibly further increase the release rate are all part of a $15,655 donor-funded shelter makeover expected to be completed by March 15.

Those changes include stained concrete floors in the lobby, meet-and-greet room and customer hallway; custom-built benches in the customer seating area; canvas artwork of recently adopted animals in the public areas that will be auctioned and replaced every year; plants and trees in the public areas; professional signs on all doors with room information and safety instructions; new guest registration station; and landscaping.

Wheeler said he can’t take credit for the professionally framed and matted artwork from Cabot students that will hang in hallways and be replaced each spring and fall to increase foot traffic from mothers and grandmothers.

He got the idea from the artwork that hangs at Children’s Hospital in Little Rock, he said.

The unveiling of the new and improved shelter will be April 13 during the spring open house and yard sale complete with grilled burgers and hotdogs and a bounce house for kids.

“We want to be the premier shelter in central Arkansas,” Wheeler said. “We’re working hard toward it.”

Council members also heard from Jack Odom who wants the city to build an airport. Air transportation is integral to industrial development, Odom said, adding that Conway’s airport cost $30 million but 90 percent of that amount was paid by the federal government.

In other business, the budget and personnel committee voted to appoint Nancy Cohea to the planning commission. Ron Craig, planning commission chairman, said Cohea already attends most planning commission meetings and that she would be an asset.

The fire and police committee heard a report from Jon Swanson, director of MEMS, which provides ambulance service to Cabot. Because of Medicare cuts, the city will need to pay an $11,835 subsidy for the service, Swanson said.