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Dothan’s new city manager Kevin Cowper has initiated some subtle – and not so subtle – tweaks to the city’s budgeting process, a meeting this week revealed.

The most noticeable change occurred with his suggestion the city create a third fund to supplement the existing general and utility funds. If commissioners approve the proposed budget in September, the third fund will record all of the transactions related to Dothan’s solid waste operations (garbage, trash and recycling).

Cowper told commissioners since solid waste services operate like a business, officials should treat the department’s financials like an enterprise fund similar to the utilities fund. The change, if approved, creates some significant transfers from the general fund in order to establish the new account.

The other set of major changes impact how the city schedules – and budgets for – capital projects in the future. Previous capital improvement plans addressed ideas in a five-year period, and now officials will plan at least six years in advance.

Mayor Mark Saliba embraced Cowper’s recommendation.

“Adding the extra year gets our department heads thinking three (budget) cycles out,” he said. “It’s aligning us with our fiscal cycle. The more we do little things like that helps with our planning.”

In past budgets, former city manager Mike West established several reserve line items for various projects the commission discussed throughout the years. Those reserve funds will now be combined into a separate capital fund line item for each of the general, utilities and solid waste funds.

Cowper said the move allows the commission to have more flexibility in funding projects. City Finance Director Lisa Reeder said specific reserve funds established through ordinances will have to be rescinded in order to complete the maneuver.

“How they’re pulling these line items reserved into a capital improvements bucket I think is good,” Saliba said. “It allows us to see a big picture.”

Studying salaries: For several consecutive years city employees have received small pay increases, often in efforts to keep up with cost-of-living changes. If commissioners approve the proposed budget, pay increases will remain in place as public safety employees will receive a 3-percent increase while other employees will take home an extra 2 percent in the 2020 fiscal year.

Some other changes, though, may be in store in future budgets. The city’s personnel department plans on hiring a consultant for a wage study soon to assess Dothan’s competitiveness in the job market.

Personnel Director Delvick McKay said the last major study the city commissioned occurred in 2003, though his department conducts yearly pay comparisons with the 10 largest cities in Alabama and similarly sized cities in the Southeast region. The city has implemented several of the recommendations included in the 2003 study throughout the years, but a new study could help officials identify any “gaps” that still exist.

McKay said he hoped to implement the new study’s recommendations by October 2020.

Meeting schedule: The Dothan City Commission will meet Tuesday at 10 a.m. at the Dothan Civic Center, while the Dothan Planning Commission will meet Wednesday at 9 a.m. in the same Civic Center chambers.

The Dothan Downtown Redevelopment Authority will also meet Wednesday, convening at 3 p.m. at the Dothan Civic Center.

The Houston County Commission will not conduct its normal administrative meeting on Thursday since the Association of County Commissions of Alabama will be conducting its annual meeting this week.

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