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Americus city manager accomplishes much in less than a year here

By LEILA SISSON CASE

AMERICUS — Steve Kennedy, Americus City manager, believes the city doesn’t have a lot of problems and issues and is moving along on a positive course with a wide range of opportunities ahead.
Kennedy, a soft spoken man with a great deal of vision,  evaluates a situation before taking action.
“When a situation arises it must be addressed and solved,” said Kennedy, and he uses a simple formula to find the solution. “Problems and issues can be divided into three areas: man, method or machinery. It’s like working a jigsaw puzzle. There are a lot of pieces to a puzzle and until they are found and identified you are not going to resolve the situation.”
It’s apparent this formula is effective. The list of city accomplishments and improvements in the past 10 months Kennedy has been on the job is impressive with positive strides made in many areas with the city well on its way to running smoothly.
Kennedy, appointed by Mayor Barry Blount and members of city council last April, has more than 30-years of experience in municipal administration, the most recent in Kennesaw, and previously in nearby Thomasville. A thoughtful, positive man with the vision to improve the city, he speaks openly and freely about the varied initiatives the city has addressed and implemented, as well as the plans that lie ahead during a recent interview at his office in the Municipal Building.
Kennedy said each achievement is important. Great strides to improve conditions at the Americus Police Department have been taken, including adding more officers, increasing salaries and better equipment.
“We hired more officers, improved their salaries and replaced the poor quality of equipment, including adding body cameras and purchasing new vehicles,” said Kennedy. The process to hire a police chief is an ongoing priority.
In the next three or four months, citizens can expect street improvements.
“We’re moving forward on paving 18 streets throughout the city,” said Kennedy. “Council members were asked to submit two or three streets within their district in the most need of paving and from the larger list, we pared it down to the final selection.” Croy Engineering Co. in Marietta coordinates the project.
Elsewhere, the city is addressing storm water management. EMC Engineering of Albany is evaluating water flow issues in areas where problems exist or that are the most prone to flooding when it rains. “We are getting a plan in place to properly address this problem to make the needed improvements,” said Kennedy.
A cost-saving measure of almost a half-million dollars resulted when the method of billing sewer fees was revised.
“The present method is to bill the fees on actual consumption of water versus the average use during the months of February, March and April,” said Kennedy. “Changing that methodology will generate more than $400,000 annually, which is equivalent to about 1.2 mils in property taxes.”
A major plus is the city is in a very stable financial position.
“The 2016 total budget of $30.2 million approved last November was accomplished without a millage rate increase or employee lay off while maintaining the same level of service to our citizens,” says Kennedy. “This is a result of seeking a more effective use of city resources across the board.
“We want to make sure we have efficiency in every area,” said Kennedy, which includes a personnel evaluation, a process that is ongoing, for better effectiveness in every area. “We want to be sure we have the right person in the right position and that they are properly trained. In addition we are evaluating our finances, equipment and assets in an effort to utilize the best way possible to use resources and remain prudent with spending and expenditures.”
The more efficient use of time of mayor, council members and city staff resulted from Kennedy’s recommendation to hold fewer monthly city council meetings by going from three to two: the agenda setting meeting and administrative meeting.
Another positive step is to hire a designated code enforcement officer.
“Having a code enforcement officer will ultimately result in improving the appearance of the city and assure that city ordinances and codes are in compliance,” said Kennedy. The position, included in the 2016 budget, should be filled in March.
Another cost-saving measure was adoption of a better employee health benefit program by going to a self-insured plan, thus saving about $400,000 in benefits and program costs, according to Kennedy.
“Among the new benefits the city is presently providing employees is a wellness program that includes health screening, a monthly lunch and learn series, advice on health issues such as diet, exercise and controlling blood pressure, all of which leads to better benefits and healthier employees,” he said.
Looking toward the future more focus will be devoted to citizens’ experiences with departments.
“It is important how we interact with citizens in a timely and effective manner,” said Kennedy.
Also ahead are continued street paving, solving storm water issues and hiring a public works director.
“The city will be ready to interview for the public works position in the next 30 days,” said Kennedy. He pointed out the person selected for this position will be someone who will be interactive with citizens and the community.
The city’s web site will be enhanced to communicate better with citizens about various activities.
“Customer service and communications are two of my priorities; it’s important to keep citizens informed,” said Kennedy.
Other plans are to work more with community development and the payroll development authority in an effort to expand the commercial and business growth which will add to the tax digest.
Kennedy is optimistic about the city moving forward on the initiative to redefine, redesign and reorganize the Downtown Development Authority, Main Street and Tourism programs in an effort to operate more effectively.
Kennedy says he enjoys a good working relationship with the varied county agencies as well as with mayor and council members. And he enjoys living in Americus.
“I am a team player and believe in being open and transparent,” said Kennedy, who rates each of the city’s operations equal in importance. “Mayor Blount and city council members have been receptive and supportive of my recommendations and suggestions regarding the varied initiatives I have proposed.”
The interview concluded with Kennedy’s prediction that the city will make good progress in many areas and become more vibrant in the next three to five years.
Kennedy and his wife, Cheryl Kennedy, have two grown sons, Caleb Kennedy and Mitchell Coleman.