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Kenneth City Mayor Teresa Zemaitis acts to rein in spending

KENNETH CITY — New Mayor Teresa Zemaitis has wasted no time in taking charge of this town's affairs, clamping down on spending and changing policies she finds wasteful.

Among her actions:

• Freezing salaries on all non-contractual employees.

• Banning council members from attending banquets, conferences or other events on the taxpayers' dime unless the function "provides a clear benefit for the town," the council member attends at least one workshop and writes a report of what was learned at the meeting.

• Barring any employee from attending functions or conferences unless they have a clear benefit for the town, attend at least one workshop a day and file a report on those sessions.

• Eliminating the practice of allowing public works employees to take home town-owned vehicles unless there is an emergency.

• Ordering thermostats be turned up a couple of degrees to save on electricity.

Zemaitis froze salaries on April 27, a mere four days after she was sworn in as mayor pro tem. The decision came after she spent the weekend studying Kenneth City's current $2.3 million budget. Zemaitis said she was shocked to find that the town was using reserves to balance the budget.

Zemaitis said she knew the town often used reserves to balance the budget but seldom spent that money. It appears, she said, that the town recently has been dipping into reserves to pay bills. Zemaitis said she wants to go back and study the budgets over the past several years to determine how much, if any, of the reserves were spent.

But, in the meantime, Zemaitis said she wanted to make sure the town is not wasting money. Some of her moves, like turning up the thermostats, may not save a lot of money, "but nickels and dimes add up to dollars."

She also made some more sweeping decisions, such as the salary freeze and the change in policy concerning attendance at conferences and such. The salary freeze does not affect police officers, who are covered by a union contract.

"I'm not trying to be mean to anyone," Zemaitis said. "If it's not necessary, we're not going to do it."

She explained her reasoning about conferences in a memo to other council members and town employees.

"In the past it was more the norm for council members to attend conferences and only enjoy the banquets without earning their meal by attending the workshops," Zemaitis wrote. "This was a waste of our residents' hard-earned tax dollars. I am certain they did not elect us to provide us with free meals."

In addition to the requirement that workshops be attended and reported on, Zemaitis said she must approve all travel-related expenses in advance from now on.

Kenneth City Mayor Teresa Zemaitis acts to rein in spending 05/05/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 5, 2009 5:17pm]

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