Proposed FY20 City budget

The Gastonia City Council is to vote June 4 on the City budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Almost 73% of the General Fund are costs related to personnel expenses. The budget increased by $1.7 million to provide competitive compensation for employees, with salaries and benefits accounting for more than $73.5 million of the total City budget.

For the fifth consecutive year, City workers will receive raises. Similar to last year, the budget provides for salary increases of 2.5-4% for full-time and part-time employees, effective June 22. The budget also continues the annual $350 Christmas bonus for eligible employees and the 401(k) program for eligible employees with a 5% match.

The City’s health insurance and retiree-funding costs have increased, but this budget does not pass along those added costs to employees. The premiums employees pay for health insurance coverage will not change. However, the budget includes a 17% increase to cover medical expenses incurred by employees enrolled in the City’s health insurance program. The City will continue to make a $750 payment to each eligible employee’s Health Savings Account. Employees not federally eligible for an HSA will receive the same amount. The onsite clinic remains open to employees and eligible retirees. Wellness initiatives and incentives will continue in the coming fiscal year.

The City budget also includes:

  • $3 million to replace aging technology, equipment and vehicles used by Police, Fire, Public Works and other departments
  • $1.3 million for maintenance of and repairs to City buildings and park facilities
  • $1.3 million for transportation projects and street improvements

The proposed budget decreases the City’s tax rate. Some property tax bills will increase because of Gaston County’s recent property revaluation. The budget does not increase electric, water, sewer, solid waste or stormwater fees. 

Department profile: Public Utilities

You flip the light switch. You turn on the faucet. You flush the toilet. You probably don’t think about what it takes to get the electricity and water to you, or what’s required to make that wastewater to go away. But Joe Albright and the 181 employees of Public Utilities think about it every day.

“We take those things for granted because they are so invisible and automatic,” Albright says. “Most people only think about water, sewer and electric when they don’t work. We know we’re doing our jobs well when the customer isn’t thinking about us. Making those things automatic is the key.”

Public Utilities has four divisions that make those essential services automatic:

  • Electric
  • Wastewater (sanitary sewer)
  • Water
  • Utilities maintenance

The Water, Wastewater and Maintenance divisions are marketed as Two Rivers Utilities because they also serve about a half-dozen communities outside of Gastonia. TRU provides water and sewer service to about 30,000 homes and businesses. Gastonia’s Electric division serves 28,000.fixing station 9 bus connections

A reorganization of City departments in May 2018 led the City to combine Electric with Water and Wastewater, creating Public Utilities as it is today with Albright as the director. Public Utilities shares some administrative staff with Public Works at its home base: the Municipal Operations Center on Broad Street. Public Utilities has three wastewater treatment plants, one water treatment plant, and numerous electric substations, sewer pump stations and water tanks.

With a total budget of $120 million, Public Utilities has the City’s biggest budget. And it is second only to Police in the number of employees. The department is 100% fee funded with revenue from water, sewer and electric customers based on use.

Later this summer, the City is scheduled to celebrate the opening of the new water treatment plant. At $65 million, it is the most expensive capital project in City history. It took five years to overhaul and upgrade the 97-year old plant, which now features a high-tech membrane filtration system. Gastonia’s is the first water treatment plant in North Carolina to use the membrane system in a one-step process of turning lake water into drinking water. The City’s water plant may become a model for other communities across the state or even the nation.

TRU Water testing lab 2018 IMG 0268“What’s different about the water is the quality of the finished product,” Albright says of the new filtration system. “The water we are currently producing is very good water. It meets all of the requirements hands down. What we have is good until you see the quality of drinking water treated by the new system. The difference, scientifically, from a quality standpoint, is night and day.”

The current treatment process uses chemicals to make the water safe to drink. By comparison, the membranes act like filters to remove impurities, even microscopic ones. Albright says water treated with the membrane system looks the same and tastes the same. It takes a microscope to see the difference. “It’s cutting-edge technology,” Albright says of the membrane system. “We have safe, high-quality water now and soon, the quality will be even better.”

Most of the renovations at the water plant on Long Avenue are on the inside, from the membranes themselves to the testing labs and employee offices. The public can see the large, white concrete dome that covers the new 4-million gallon clearwell, which provides water storage and retention.

DJI 0032The water plant’s extensive renovation is the third in a series of major upgrades in Public Utilities’ facilities that provide “invisible and automatic” services. Last September, the City flipped the switch on a $3.5 million substation at the Gastonia Technology Park, providing an additional 40 megawatts of electricity to the park and enabling a future expansion. And Two Rivers Utilities is wrapping up construction on the South Fork Phase II sewer project. The $6 million effort replaces aging sewage infrastructure in McAdenville. Wastewater from the town’s residents and Pharr Yarns will be sent to TRU’s Long Creek Plant, the region’s most advanced treatment plant, benefitting the area’s economy and environment.

 DSC0013“For businesses, what we strive to provide is reliability,” Albright says of his department. “That’s a core tenet, especially on the Electric side. On the water and sewer side, we consistently provide volume and quality.” He notes that industrial and commercial clients depend on water, sewer and electric services that meet their needs. And revenue from those big customers helps keep rates lower for residential customers.

Public Utilities faces some challenges, including the capital costs associated with both aging infrastructure and population growth. Renovating or building new plants and substations is a more visible type of capital project. In addition, old or undersized water and sewer lines need to be maintained or replaced. Outmoded technology and parts need to be updated. Often, capital expenses are funded, at least in part, by Gastonia’s new homes and businesses. “Growth is easier because you can see it coming,” Albright says. “A reactive approach to maintenance issues is not good service. It’s messy and disruptive.”Sewer inspection   FM

Customer service is important to Albright and his department’s employees. “I’ve been in local government for 25 years,” he says. “In all of the jurisdictions I’ve worked in, there is none that has been focused on customer service like the City of Gastonia. Not even close.”

Public Utilities also works closely with other departments, such as Public Works’ Stormwater and Buildings & Grounds divisions. Although many Public Utilities employees are highly specialized, Electric crews bring their bucket trucks to hang Christmas decorations and banners on light poles Downtown. “Whether it’s the employee who’s the customer or the citizens who are the customers, we provide great, reliable customer service,” Albright says. “I think it’s just the City of Gastonia.”

Five honored for lifesaving in GPD awards program

Photo 1 Lifesaving Koney and HayesFive Gastonia Police officers were awarded Lifesaving medals during the Gastonia Police Department Awards Reception held May 9 at the Loray Mill Event Hall. About 40 other officers, civilian employees and volunteers were also recognized during the event made possible by generous donations from Homesteads Grill and the Gastonia Police Foundation.

“Our officers, civilian employees and volunteers make a great difference in our community, and we are very proud of them,” Gastonia Police Chief Robert Helton said.

Lifesaving medals went to Officers Christian McNabb, Adam Carpenter, Joe Bain, Allyson Koney and Jonathan Hayes.

  • McNabb responded to a 911 call about a man sitting on the rail of the bridge over I-85 at Bessemer City Road. He was able to physically remove the man from the bridge railing before he could jump.
  • Carpenter and Bain saved a woman from hanging herself. The woman survived and was treated.
  • Koney and Hayes were dispatched to a drowning at a hotel swimming pool. Upon arrival, Hayes immediately began chest compressions on a 3-year-old who was not breathing. Koney took over chest compressions and helped position the child on his side until he started breathing.

Other awards:

Officer of the Year

Sgt. Doug Carpenter was recognized as Officer of the Year for demonstrating exemplary conduct, faithfully executing the duties of his office and demonstrating character that epitomizes the mental and moral qualities that every officer should possess. “His unwavering love and dedication to his family is profound,” said Capt. Trent Conard, who serves as GPD’s Awards coordinator.

Exceptional Duty

Detective Jim Bliss has the highest number of cases in the Criminal Investigations Division (CID), 242 cases throughout 2018 and through early May 2019. A passionate leader when it comes to financial crimes, Bliss is sought out by his colleagues as an expert.

Detective David Brogdon is a Task Force Officer (TFO) with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and has diligently worked with Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) cases since joining GPD’s Special Investigations Division. He has successfully indicted hundreds of suspects, is sought out by the Assistant U.S. Attorney for his methodical and precise cases, and he trains new agents and TFOs.

Detective Mike Watts spent numerous hours on the Maddox Ritch case, conducting numerous interviews, writing and obtaining specialized search warrants, and coordinating with multiple agencies. He has kept information flowing from the GPD to the FBI while seeking justice for the missing/deceased child.

Photo 2 Exceptional Duty Turas and BrogdonAssistant Chief Ed Turas began the Pink Patch Project around three years ago and in 2018 he was able to get the program implemented with the assistance of Sgt. Nancy Brogdon by having the program funded through GPD’s Sergeants Association. The program sold 1,000 patches and all proceeds were donated to Cancer Services of Gaston County.

Unit Meritorious Service

Officer Sam Cain leads the department in DWI charges and enforcement with 49 DWI charges in 2018. Cain brings public acclaim to himself, the department and the police profession as a result of his devotion to duty and service to the public.

Detective Albert Fleming has served as a detective for 19 years out of his 22 years as a police officer. He is a firearms instructor and a Basic Law Enforcement Training instructor in Juvenile Law Procedures and Human Trafficking. He is an Assistant Team Leader with the Shift Tactical Team, serves on the Recruitment Team and is a former SWAT member. Fleming also makes presentations at local schools about bullying and cybercrimes, and is a mentor for several children.

Detective Heather Houser had the highest case clearance in CID in 2018. From January 2018 to early May, she was assigned 109 cases, which vary from homicides, aggravated assaults, robberies, kidnappings, property crimes and sexual offenses. She is the leader in sexual assault investigations and works hard to seek justice for victims.

 CommendationsPhoto 3 Commendation Yager and Lewis

  • Officer Jesse Yager and K9 Officer Mike Lewis answered a breaking and entering call that involved a 10-year-old boy who was upset about a stolen game console, which had been given to him by his father. Money was raised within the shift to buy a new game console along with a TV and additional games, which were given to the young man at the GPD’s D-shift briefing. The event was videoed by his mother and word quickly spread through social media and various news outlets.
  • Officers Matt Willis, Mike Lewis, Derrick Meek and Cody Huffstetler assisted the Oconee County Sheriff's Office of Watkinsville, Ga., by looking for a suspect wanted for first degree murder. The suspect was believed to be to be armed with the murder weapon, a 40-caliber handgun. The suspect vehicle was located on Long Avenue and, when officers attempted to stop it, the suspect began shooting. Officers began pursuing the vehicle, were able to apprehend the suspect and located the murder weapon.
  • Officer Robert Morell learned of the death of his former high school cross country running coach, a beloved figure in the community, and used his influence to enlist the aid of current and former students, along with current Gastonia and Gaston County Police Officers, to organize a candlelight vigil. Officer Morrell exhibited exemplary service by going beyond the scope of his normal duties.
  • Sgt. Casey Justice served in the Gastonia Police K9 Unit before his promotion to Patrol Sergeant and earned the TOP CASE for Region 2 of the U.S. Police Canine Association. That means Justice’s K9 track was considered the best track and find in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. The award by the USPCA was given in recognition of outstanding performance in the detection and prevention of crime.
  • Detective Carla Mastro was praised in a letter from the mother of a missing boy. In the letter the woman advised when she approached Mastro without an appointment, she received a compassionate, attentive and professional response. She went on to say that Mastro’s kindness “struck me and I knew quickly that I could trust her with my son’s case” and ended the letter saying she will not forget Mastro’s kindness.
  • Officer Allyson Koney responded to a call where an 18-year-old autistic and schizophrenic female had assaulted her mother’s boyfriend with a knife. The woman then locked herself in the house with a knife and refused to come out. Koney was able to utilize her Crisis Intervention Team training to talk the woman out of the house and take her into custody without incident.
  • Officers Steven Hoyle, David Rowland and Justin Padgett responded to a suicidal female who had stabbed herself in the leg. They quickly built a rapport with her, got her to put the knife down and took her into custody without further incident.
  • Detectives Mike Watts, Robbie Bryson, Andrew Pate and Cody Edge received a tip that a murder suspect was in Gastonia. After multiple interviews, the detectives located the suspect vehicle at the suspect’s girlfriend’s residence. Bryson and Watts went to the front door and Pate and Edge went to the rear door. As soon as detectives approached, the suspect ran out the back door and detectives pursued him on foot. Pate was able to take the suspect into custody without any further incident.
  • Officers Caleb Price, Cody Huffstetler and Fred Williams have gone above and beyond the call of duty to assist the Explorer Program for the GPD. The officers have assisted with the Active Shooter Team and taken time to assist at the Explorer Academy in Salemburg, NC. These officers set an example with their dedication to the program.
  • K9 Officer Matthew Willis was assisting the Street Crime Unit on a subject with a weapon call, and was attempting to take the suspect into custody when the man attempted to flee on foot. In a struggle during the arrest, Willis suffered a fall resulting in torn ligaments and a separated shoulder. Despite the pain, Willis continued to pursue and take the subject into custody.

Photo 4 Civilian of the Year Dawn CrossCivilian of the Year

Dawn Cross is the resident expert for all budgeting issues at the GPD and has improved monitoring and accounting for federal overtime work. She has performed dual duties in the absence of the administrative assistant for the chief of police. Her knowledge, skill and abilities reduce the amount of time required to process timesheets, overtime, and asset forfeiture deposits. Her work ethic and positive attitude make her a valuable employee.

Explorers of the Year  

Noah Wise, Adam Knight and Brandon Sammons are Explorers of the Year. In 2018, Noah stepped up from captain to major. He competed in events and took first place in rock climbing. He has been with GPD’s Explorer Post for four years and has good meeting attendance.

Last June, Adam was awarded the Detective Mike Doty Award from the Explorer Academy in Salemburg. This award, previously known as the Advisors award, is for the Explorer who has shown leadership abilities and persevered through adversity during the week of training for Explorers. Adam has been an Explorer for three years and has stepped up in the captain’s roll.

Brandon is very skilled at computer technologies and social media. He heads the Explorer Facebook and Twitter accounts, and wrote a video/picture release form for the Explorers to have pictures on social media. Brandon has been an Explorer for two years with perfect attendance.

Special Service

Caleb Price and Jacob Bowers have both served with commendable service as Patrol Training Officers.

Intermediate Law Enforcement Certificate

Robert Gammons, Alex Burns and Seth Canipe have earned the State of North Carolina’s Intermediate Law Enforcement Certificate.

Educational Achievement Award

Detective Cody Edge obtained his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at the University of Western Carolina and graduated magna cum laude.

Officer Jonathan Hayes earned his master’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Arizona State.

Detective Eric Seagle received his master’s degree in criminal ustice from East Carolina University.

Sgt. Craig Singer received his master’s degree in criminal justice from East Carolina University.

Military Service Award

Maurice Taylor III - U.S. Navy

Noel Santoyo - U.S. Army

Derrick Newman - U.S. Army

Gastonia Police Sergeants Association’s TOP COP award

The GPD Sergeants Association presented Officer Sam Barksdale with the TOP COP award. “He has impressed his colleagues with his dedication to improve himself physically and mentally as demonstrated by his tenacity in making the SWAT team,” said Sgt. Brogdon. “In addition, he has the heart of a servant, which is the foundation of leaders, and he puts the needs of others ahead of his own. As a leader, he truly trains, guides and motivates his peers and challenges others to always improve.”

Department profile: Public Works

Have you ever been with friends who get along so well that they can finish each other’s sentences? That’s what it’s like spending time with the five division managers at the City’s Public Works Department and their boss. Maybe they understand each other so well because they often have to share resources to get important tasks done.

Public Works group photo Left to right: Cloninger, Forrester, Canipe, Gillis, Denton, Webber
 

“These guys have helped those guys, who have helped her guys,” says Public Works Director Dale Denton. As he says those words, he nods to the manager of Building and Grounds, then of Field Operations, then of Solid Waste, all sitting around a conference table. “We’re constantly loaning each other employees. Every division. It’s a team effort. It has to be,” Denton says.

Building and Grounds Manager Stephen Webber starts with an example: “When we put new carpet at City Hall, we got help from the guys at Field Operations to move the furniture.” DeeDee Gillis, Solid Waste manager, jumps in and says, “And we provided the truck to haul away the old carpet.” Webber picks up the story, “Cindy’s group (Equipment Services) makes sure those trucks work properly. And Heather (Canipe) handles the POs and work orders.”

Robert Cloninger, head of Field Operations, gives another example of the department’s teamwork. “During leaf season, DeeDee (Solid Waste) was behind. So we took four or five guys from my division and said, ‘You’re going to be picking up leaves in December.’” But plans changed because of a December snowstorm. “So DeeDee’s guys were driving snowplows for us,” Cloninger says. “And Cindy’s guys were there at 3 in the morning putting on snow blades.”

It all works so smoothly, you might think the five divisions in Public Works have been working hand-in-work-glove for years. In reality, Public Works is one of several departments that were realigned a year ago. Each of the five divisions now in Public Works was affected in some way, from reorganization to new leadership due to retirements and promotions.

Public Works has 133 total employees and an annual budget of about $24 million. The divisions include:

  • Administration, with five employees, led by Heather Canipe. Administration employees support both Public Works and Public Utilities. Based at the Municipal Operations Center (MOC) at 1300 N. Broad St.
  • Building and Grounds, with 15 employees, led by Stephen Webber. It oversees maintenance of 180 City-owned structures such as buildings, picnic shelters and bus shelters, and manages custodial services for City buildings, but it does not handle landscaping. Based at the MOC.
  • Equipment Services, with 21 employees, led by Cindy Forrester. City employees often call it Fleet or the Garage. It maintains all 900 City vehicles that have motors, from firetrucks and garbage trucks to asphalt rollers, lawnmowers and Gator utility vehicles. The division buys 600,000 gallons of fuel a year. Located at 800 N. Broad St.
  • Field Operations, with 51 employees, led by Robert Cloninger. Streets, curbing, sidewalks, drainage, traffic signals and inclement weather response are among its responsibilities, with 350 miles of City streets, 100 miles of state roads and 156 miles of storm drainage pipes. Based at MOC.
  • Solid Waste, with 44 employees, led by DeeDee Gillis. It handles garbage, recycling and yard waste collection, scoops up roadkill and even runs the City’s carwash. The division empties 24,000 residential garbage carts each week, not counting recycling or yard waste. Based at 700 N. Broad St.

Fewer than 10% of Public Works employees work at desks, meaning the rest are out and about in the City most of their work days. Many of the deskPW Stormwater construction 2012 IMG 4331
workers spend a lot of time answering phones, with 2,500 calls a month related to solid waste, streets, storm water or building maintenance.

When residents list city services, they typically mention public safety and the types of services provided by Public Works. Gillis notes that taxpayers are usually willing to pay for both, but with differing expectations. “Every citizen hopes they will never need a firefighter or a police officer. They want the City to have them and they are willing to pay for them,” she says. On the other hand, Gillis says residents expect to need the services of public works. “They want that pothole in their street filled,” she says. “They want their trash picked up. They expect that our buildings meet ADA requirements and are safe. They expect us to be there.” Cloninger explains Public Works this way: “We take care of their first-world problems.”
PW Equipment Services Brandon BradleyResidents expect the first-world services of Public Works because they pay City taxes and fees. But meeting those expectations can create challenges, especially with scheduling. “You can make a schedule of what you’re going to do each day and, by 8:15, it’s in the trash,” Cloninger says. “Crews go out to work on a project. Then a pothole pops up. Or somebody has dumped trash. The right-of-way guys may be mowing in one part of town and have to stop to pick up trash somewhere else.” Cindy Forrester agrees, saying, “Sometimes the priorities change daily or hourly.”

Denton, their boss, acknowledges that juggling the expectations can be tough. “So many things are a priority,” he says. “It’s trying to figure out, from all of the priorities, what rises to the top today?” Denton describes the department’s workload as “overwhelming at times,” which is why employees are frequently asked to help other divisions or be able to take on a wide range of tasks.

That job-shifting flexibility is actually a silver lining on the dark cloud of too much work in Public Works. Everyone in the group says the lack of a mundane work routine is the best part of their jobs. “We do something different every day,” Webber says. Gillis adds, “Everybody has a different problem every day. Even if it’s the same problem, you handle it differently.”
PW Yard waste IMG 0143
Public Works isn’t the most glamorous line of work, with most employees out in every type of weather and getting their hands dirty. When asked about that, the division managers start tag-team speaking again. “Everything from digging ditches for sewer lines to picking up dirty diapers,” says Gillis. “A 100-degree day and you’re laying asphalt,” says Cloninger. “It takes a certain type of person to do that,” adds Webber.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, nationwide, garbage collectors are fatally injured on the job at three times the rate of police officers and four times more often than firefighters. And back at the MOC conference room, the group notes that pay classifications for Public Works employees tend to be on the lower end of most cities’ pay scales.

Despite the challenges, Denton says he’s proud of the entire Public Works Department for what he calls his employees’ “gift of service.” He explains, “This group is willing to do whatever it takes. Even though it might be a heavy load, they are willing to do whatever it takes to get it done. There is little to no complaining. Everyone in this department really cares about providing an outstanding level of service to the citizens.”

Department profile: Community Services

The Community Services Department is an umbrella agency whose customers come from all walks of life:

  • From weekend pilots whose hobby is flying their own private airplanes to residents who depend on City transit to get around;
  • From hard-working families putting down roots by buying a home to local teenagers traveling to Germany and Peru to increase their cultural awareness;
  • From senior citizens volunteering to beautify their City by planting flowers to disadvantaged teenagers growing fresh veggies for their neighbors in a community garden.

"We're the warm and fuzzy department," says Vincent Wong, director of Community Services. “We have the joy of being able to see citizens take prideVincent Wong   Highland
in our City because of all of the programs we offer.”

Last summer, several City departments were reorganized, and a number of existing divisions and programs were grouped together under the new name “Community Services.” They include Transit, the airport, Keep Gastonia Beautiful, Sister Cities, and local administration of two federally funded housing programs. Community Services has about 35 employees with an annual budget of more than $4 million. About 85 percent of the department’s money comes from federal, state or fee-based sources.

Wong and many Community Services employees work at the Garland Business Center. Others work at the Airport   croppedBradley Transit Station, the Transit administrative offices on Broad Street, or drive city buses that crisscross Gastonia. Although the airport has no City employees, several Public Works/Fleet employees help with the airport.

“A lot of people don’t know Gastonia has an airport,” Wong says, even though it’s been in use since 1946. The City hopes to extend the runway to 5,000 feet, which would allow more corporate jets to use it. According to Wong, Charlotte Douglas Airport is getting too busy for many private jets. A longer runway would let Gastonia help reduce air-space crowding over Charlotte and would benefit Gastonia, as well.Sister Cities

Keep Gastonia Beautiful is well known through the City offering educational and volunteer programs, tree
plantings, beautification efforts and black-gold compost sales. Sister Cities is another of the department’s better-known divisions, with Gastonia’s international siblings in Gotha, Germany, and Santiago de Surco, Peru.

Transit Bus Brown Line Franklin & South 2018Transit offers six different bus routes in Gastonia and curb-to-curb van service for passengers with disabilities.

Community Services also oversees two federal grant programs related to housing and neighborhoods. The Community Development Block Grant is a federal program that has been used in low-to-moderate income areas of the City to help pay for high-visibility crosswalks, LED streetlight conversions, splash pads, wayfinding signs and community center improvements. Wong says the City not only invests CDBG dollars in areas like the Highland community, but also invests staff time to engage residents. He says it has paid off with more trust, partnerships and opportunities. One example is the recent ribbon cutting for the new youth community garden on Boyce Street, a collaboration of the City, County, Cooperative Extension Service and Blue Cross Blue Shield.

The HOME program provides federal loans or grants to qualifying residents who need assistance with rent, home ownership or home rehabilitation. In addition to getting money for a down payment, the City helps would-be buyers understand how credit works and learn about the costs associated with home ownership. “The program is only successful if they can stay in their house and afford to maintain it,” Wong says. HOME program dollars can also be used to fix crumbling roofs or rotting floors, using a low-interest loan or forgivable grant to qualifying residents to improve the safety and livability of their houses.

HOME program houseIn the past two years, the Community Services Department has overseen the construction of five new homes for low-to-moderate income residents, with three more to be built this year. The houses are built on City-owned vacant lots by contractors hired by the City. “These are really nice houses,” Wong says. “They are turnkey homes. We take pride in these homes and won’t build houses that we wouldn’t live in ourselves.”

He says the construction of these new, affordable homes benefits everyone in the City. “As we in-fill these vacant lots, it’s a catalyst for the neighbors to fix up their own houses or yards,” Wong says. “There are fewer calls to Code Enforcement or Police. There are fewer problems with illegal dumping. The new owners are paying City taxes. There are so many extra benefits.”

KGB volunteers 2With a relatively small department spread across a diverse array of divisions and programs, Wong and his staff frequently must work with employees of other City departments, including Engineering, Planning, Public Works, Parks and Recreation, and Fleet. “We know we’re not experts in all areas,” Wong says of his staff. “So why not reach out to the experts in other City programs? We can’t do anything by ourselves. We have to collaborate with the other departments.”

Wong jokes that some mistakenly think his department’s name is “Community Service,” assuming that it oversees unpaid work required by a civic group, school or a judge. But he’s proud of the City's Community Services Department, especially its customer-focused approach. “We are working to change the perception and quality of life for residents of the City of Gastonia,” Wong says. “It doesn’t happen as fast as we’d like, but we’re pushing forward every day.”

New Assistant City Manager Quentin McPhatter

In Quentin McPhatter’s first city administration job, he oversaw the development of a town park that included a ballfield and the creation of a downtown in a fledgling community that didn’t have a traditional business district. The town of Green Level, North Carolina, near Burlington, became Quentin McPhatterincorporated in 1990, and creating the first public park and a downtown were important to establishing the town’s identity. McPhatter chuckles a bit as he thinks about the similarities of those responsibilities to his new ones. “I seem to be attracted to jobs where ballfields are involved,” he says, referring to FUSE. “Now I’m here in Gastonia with another ballfield project and helping to bring people to downtown and revitalizing it.”

McPhatter says he’s excited about coming to Gastonia, in part because of the City’s use of historic renovation to spur economic development. From Loray Mill to Webb Custom Kitchen to City Hall renovations to planned private development around FUSE, McPhatter describes the ways that Gastonia is successfully redefining itself, building on its textile-dominated past to attract an energized and diversified economic base.

“Gastonia has had to adapt to survive,” he says. “When you adapt, you have to look at the other assets you have, as a community, and look for ways to leverage those assets as best you can.” McPhatter says sometimes, a community’s greatest assets can be hidden in plain sight. “For many communities, people can forget about their strengths because they are so used to being around them or they don’t recognize them as being potential opportunities.”

Quentin M   Get to KnowAlthough new to the City, McPhatter can already rattle off a long list of Gastonia’s strengths and assets, including intact historic buildings, excellent water and wastewater capacity, proximity to Charlotte Douglas International Airport, and being the second-largest satellite city near Charlotte. In particular, he notes Gastonia’s resiliency, which he says helps the community adapt to changes and take advantage of opportunities.

McPhatter began his career as a planning assistant for the City of Raleigh, working his way up to city and county management roles in North Carolina and Georgia. He is an enthusiastic promoter of comprehensive zoning and land-use planning to help shape a vibrant and livable community. He says it starts with residents and elected officials using a “deliberate process” to create a vision of what they want their city to be. “If they want to achieve certain things, let’s say walkable communities or more land set aside for open space or recreation, then you would put them into your development code to help bring about those changes,” he says.

The plans, processes and blueprints are vital parts of McPhatter’s job, but his real passion is for people. “A lot of times, especially in government, people just want to be heard,” he says. “They want to know someone is listening to them.” When earning his master’s degree in public administration at North Carolina Central University, he minored in counseling, and he says it helps him relate with people. “I have the ability to sit with different stakeholders and make them feel comfortable with expressing how they feel,” he says. “It’s about talking with somebody, not at somebody.”

McPhatter grew up in Wagram, North Carolina, east of Rockingham, and earned a bachelor’s degree in speech communication from Wake Forest University. He is married with two daughters. His wife, Michele, is a native of Kannapolis and is an attorney. He calls his daughters his “Special K’s.” Kendell, 12, runs track and won the 800-meter state championship last year. Krista, 8, was named an outstanding performer in the coastal Georgia region as a pianist. The McPhatters have been active in their church in Kingsland, Georgia, and in numerous charitable organizations. The family has a 2-year-old Chihuahua-terrier mix named Crabcakes.

Three mornings a week, McPhatter’s alarm goes off at 4:45 a.m., and he heads to the gym for a 30-minute regimen of elliptical or strength training. He says he finds work-life balance by keeping his focus on work while on the job, but focusing on his family when he’s with them.

Quentin   familyTo McPhatter, a perfect day would include sunny skies and a light breeze, celebrating the grand opening of a new industry or commercial facility, playing a round of golf and “actually shooting close to par,” watching his daughters at a track meet and piano recital, and enjoying a nice dinner with his wife.

After nearly 20 years in government service, McPhatter says he’s learned that teamwork is required to get anything done. For him, that includes “getting the proper people working with the proper people.” He has also learned that an “amazing” amount of effort goes into even small projects, with people rarely taking notice until the work is nearly done. But for him, that collaboration and behind-the-scenes effort are the most gratifying parts of government service. McPhatter says he is looking forward to collaborating with City of Gastonia employees, City Council and residents to “make great things happen” in the City.

See the City's news release about hiring McPhatter.

 

COG Awards 2019 - Edward Stroud

“Above and beyond.” Those words repeatedly appear on the forms nominating Ed Stroud for the City’s Extraordinary Service Award. Examples of Stroud’s all-in work ethic include his daily arrival at 6 a.m., one hour before his shift begins, and his willingness to work on-call or overtime when necessary.

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Ed Stroud

Stroud is a Field Supervisor I in Public Works where he oversees asphalt and right-of-way crews. Stroud took on the right-of-way responsibilities this past year, putting new emphasis on clearing tree branches and trimming shrubs to reclaim the space along City streets. In the words of one award application, “sidewalks that haven’t been exposed in years, maybe in decades, are now usable again” because of Stroud’s attention to detail.

The nominations also praised Stroud’s thorough and conscientious approach to materials inventory and planning the daily tasks for his crews. “He sets the tone and pace of the crews and leads as an impeccable example,” stated one award nomination for Stroud.

His coworkers also appreciate Stroud’s ability to get along with others, from doing his job with a smile to being an effective listener to both colleagues and customers.

Stroud, who has worked for the City for 16 years, said he is grateful to win the award. He said he wants to give 100 percent to everything he does and “tries to perform each job as if it was in front of my house.” He said the most challenging part of his job is keeping litter picked up along roadsides. On the other hand, he said the most satisfying part is seeing his crews go home safely to their families at the end of each day.  

Sidewalk Right of Way Before Rankin Ave 2 18 2019 Sidewalk Right of Way After Rankin Ave 2 18 2019
Before and after Stroud and his crew reclaimed
sidewalk along Rankin Avenue

COG Awards 2019 - Jimmy Lineman

When the weather is bad, Jimmy Lineman’s leadership is top notch. Lineman, an assistant division manager in Public Works, directs the work of the stormwater, asphalt, grading, concrete and right-of-way crews. When wintry weather means roads need to be plowed or brined, or when hurricane-force winds topple trees onto City streets, Lineman rearranges the division’s priorities and work assignments. 
 
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Jimmy Lineman
“During times of uncertainty and high-stress conditions (snow storms, hurricanes, torrential rains, etc.), Jimmy adapts to whatever situation is thrown at him, ensuring the job gets completed and the men are safe while doing it,” one nominator wrote. The nomination went on to say, “His ability to rapidly pool resources, lay out the logistics and make high-stakes decisions with confidence sets him apart.”
 
Lineman often works long hours during storm events, monitoring the weather and the two-way radios. But even during demanding days, Lineman is quick to recognize employees for doing a good job. 
 
As a leader, Lineman was praised for “precise and clear directions,” his ability to quickly and effectively “deal with any tension among the men” and his “fair and balanced approach.” 
 
Lineman said he was “very shocked” when he learned he had won the award, yet is “thankful.” He said his approach to his job is being prepared and staying focused on finding solutions. He said the need to rapidly adjust priorities is the most difficult part of his job. But he finds his greatest satisfaction in assisting customers and in working with what he called “a great group of employees.” Lineman has worked for the City for 21 years. 
 

COG Awards 2019 - Debby Cloninger

Debby Cloninger enjoys being part of the solution instead of the problem. An Administrative Assistant III in Public Utilities, Cloninger spends the majority of her workday dealing directly with customers. Sometimes, those customers are not happy that their water service has been interrupted by an emergency water main repair or a street is torn up for water or sewer work.

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Debby Cloninger

Those who nominated Cloninger for the Customer Service Award said that she is “always positive, supportive and works to lift others up.” Her colleagues said that Cloninger “is able to keep her composure and assist in a very professional and informative manner,” even when she is dealing with difficult customers. They described her as believing that it is her “duty” to provide the best customer service experience for all.

The award nomination also praised Cloninger for coordinating services with other departments and vendors and for calling customers to give them updates about repairs. She was commended for helping her coworkers with her “immense job knowledge,” especially with technology issues, and for helping others in Utilities Maintenance with their paperwork. She was described as a team player who is consistently giving without expecting anything in return.

Cloninger admitted that it can be challenging to deal with some unhappy customers, but she said that she enjoys the feeling of knowing that she has helped people. Although she said she was surprised that her coworkers had nominated her, she said that winning the award made her feel “valued” and “honored.”

COG Awards 2019 - Wayne Bay

It takes time and intentional effort to create a workplace culture that prioritizes safety. Colleagues say Wayne Bay makes sure safety is the top consideration every day, in every task or project.

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Wayne Bay

A Crew Chief I with the Utilities Maintenance division of Public Utilities, Bay and his team install, maintain and repair water and sewer lines. That means working in trenches, which the Occupational Safety and Health Administration identifies as one of the most hazardous type of construction jobs. The biggest risk is soil cave-ins, with one cubic yard of soil weighing as much as a car. And crews never know what they will find when they start digging, from buried storage tanks to unmarked utility lines.

Bay said the biggest challenges he and his crew face are the deep trenches and the unknowns that come with trenching and excavation. “All trenches must be made safe before employees enter,” Bay said. “I say a prayer every morning for the safety and wellbeing of my crew. We all want to go home to our families at the end of each day.”

Bay holds daily “tailgate meetings” with his Two Rivers Utilities team to review safety procedures for all of the tasks they will be doing that day. Colleagues say he also takes inexperienced workers under his wing and mentors them to be as safety conscious as he is. And he makes suggestions to supervisors on ways to increase safety with improved procedures or equipment.

The award nominations describe Bay as a role model who leads by example. In 21 years with the City, he has never had a preventable accident. Despite the dangers of his job, Bay described the City as “a fun place to work.” He said he enjoys training new employees and solving customers’ problems. Winning the award left him “shocked,” but he said it is a great feeling that his work and dedication are recognized by his peers.

City budget preview

It’s that time of year again. City supervisors and managers are in the midst of preparing budgets for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. According to City Manager Michael Peoples, “Developing the City budget is the most critical work we do each year. It establishes the financial framework for how we provide services.”

City Council held its annual retreat with the senior management team and department heads on Friday and Saturday, Jan. 25-26. On Friday afternoon, the group discussed the status of the City’s 2018-2020 strategic goals and objectives: goals that were achieved and work that is still underway. In some instances, new goals were set or added based on projects planned or unfolding in various departments. On Saturday, City Council and the management team spent the day discussing the budget and outlining what the City’s priorities should be for the upcoming fiscal year.

With the direction from those meetings, the departments have begun developing their individual budgets, guided by the priorities and the overall budget parameters set by Council. Departments are expected to have preliminary budgets ready by the first week of February. Each department’s budget will be reviewed and discussed with the senior management team around mid-March.

“The meetings are often lengthy and involved,” Peoples said. “But this process allows for constructive discussion between the senior management team and department heads about existing initiatives as well as proposed ones and where funding is coming from.”

Council will review and make adjustments to the proposed City budget in a late March or early April work session. The budget should be balanced and finalized by mid-April. A public hearing is planned on the proposed budget in early May and it is scheduled to be adopted by Council in a June 4 meeting.

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Gastonia, N.C., just minutes west of Charlotte, is one of the area’s best places to live and work with an ideal combination of location, size and livability. Gastonia is the largest of Gaston County’s 13 municipalities and one of the largest cities in the Charlotte metropolitan area. Selected as an All-America City three times, Gastonia’s desirable quality of life is the result of its beautiful natural surroundings, friendly neighborhoods, responsive government and vibrant business environment.










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