Danville’s newly elected government has to act fast on important decisions

Former Danville mayoral candidate Donald Crews, left, chats after a city council meeting Tuesday, April 2, 2019, where the city code-enforcement inspector urged aldermen not to make reductions in his department that could cost him his job. Photo by Tracy Crane via The News-Gazette.

Rather than celebrating a campaign victory, one mayoral candidate is now campaigning to keep his city job. Meanwhile, new Mayor Rickey Williams Jr. is tackling an urgent to-do list topped by a new budget and some key personnel decisions.

Donald Crews Jr., who finished last in the four-way mayoral race, publicly asked the Danville City Council on Tuesday night to refrain from cutting the city’s code-enforcement staff from four positions to three.

Crews said it would be his job as city inspector on the chopping block if the council carries through with a staff reduction discussed during budget talks this spring.

“Cutting my position is a terrible idea,” he told aldermen, encouraging them to ride along with inspectors to get a feel for what they do and explaining there is much to do to clean up the city from a code-enforcement perspective. “When we’re out there, it’s unreal what we see.”

Whether the city forges ahead with one fewer inspector will be determined in the next two weeks.

“We have to make some cuts and then increase some revenue in order to balance the budget and to be able to offer the public safety initiatives that are critical for our community,” Williams said April 3.

Williams, who will drop his “acting” title when he’s sworn in as mayor May 7, has little time for celebration. The council must approve the city budget April 16, ahead of the new fiscal year that begins May 1.

Aldermen have tinkered around with various revenues and expenses in the budget for weeks — partially in anticipation of the mayoral election — and now face a final deadline.

Two budgets are currently on public display — one with a 1 percent increase in the city’s hotel-motel tax, and one without.

“Uncertainty is about the worst thing in the world,” Williams said after his big win Tuesday night, adding that there have been many things he has wanted to do while acting mayor, but the council has been hesitant to move forward until after the election.

Williams said he’ll immediately work to write job descriptions for police and fire chiefs, and he hopes to hire additional officers within two to three months to reinstate a problem-oriented-policing unit that can target crime around the city, whether it’s in a specific area or a specific illegal activity.

Williams said he also plans to repost an opening for a full-time in-house corporation counselor. David Wesner, who previously held that position is now pursuing private practice but continues to consult for the city on an hourly basis.

Here’s a look at what’s on tap for the April 16 budget finale:

— Still a possibility is a 1 percent boost to the city’s hotel-motel tax, which estimates say could generate an additional $100,000 in revenue. The tax was on the council’s agenda Tuesday night, but Ward 6 Aldermen Steve Nichols and Jon Cooper asked that it be tabled until April 16, partly because organizers of the NJCAA men’s basketball tournament held at Danville Area Community College are currently negotiating to continue that event in Danville. College teams and fans from out of the area stay in local hotels throughout the one-week event.

— Both budget proposals include a reduction of code-inspection staff from four to three positions. Williams said that would save the city $60,000 to $70,000 a year, including benefits.

— Both proposals would also eliminate a community-development position currently held by Amanda Vickery. Williams said that would save the city about $56,000 a year, including benefits. Among other responsibilities, Vickery organizes the city’s First Friday events, a monthly lineup of downtown activities that draw people to the business district after hours.

Williams proposed a $1,000-a-month stipend for someone in the community or a city worker to continue the First Friday events, but aldermen did not support that idea. Williams said he plans to re-introduce the stipend on April 16.

— Major solid-waste pickups. Aldermen did vote Tuesday night to enact an increase in the fee for all major garbage pickups — generally large piles of multiple items set out when a resident or tenant moves out. City staff reported 70 percent of these pickups are the result of landlords at their rental properties, and current fees are not covering the city’s labor hours and dumping fees. All major pickups as defined by ordinance will now cost $300 each.

— Off the table: a monthly fee charged for every video-gambling machine in the city; estimates claimed it would generate about $20,000 a year. An annual business registration fee of $50 was also eliminated.

— Aldermen decided March 23 to pull about $100,000 out of the sanitary-sewer budget’s $3.2 million in reserves as well as the $1.1 million in solid-waste reserves. Those revenues are generated by user fees charged to every property in the city for those services.