Pekin City Manager Tony Carson said he still cannot discuss increased school busing costs to Pekin Districts 108 and 303 because negotiations are in progress, but the numbers in the 2018 budget say a lot.

Carson told Pekin Districts 108 and 303 that administrative costs were not charged for in the past. If that is the case, the city is responsible for that loss, said Pekin District 108 Board member Rich Root.

In March Districts 108 and 303 received letters from Carson outlining major cost increases. Those were adjusted for this year, but if an agreement can’t be reached to enhance the city’s bus department’s bottom line, the service could be discontinued.

The city has said it will be operating at a $300,000 budget deficit. The city has said in letters to the districts that the city will continue to operate the bus department as long as it makes sense for the city financially. The bus department will be closed at the end of the 2017-18 school year if the city does not make money.

A differing opinion

Root said he does not believe the city will be operating the bus department under a deficit. Root said the city’s threat to quit hauling school kids if the districts don’t pay more is like being held “hostage” by the city.

Carson told the Pekin Daily Times recently that the bus department was not charging what it should have been.

“This thing has grown and I can see rational growth,” said Root. “I think rational growth was one of those things that has had us at a 2 or 3 percent increases per year (on average). So now we’re looking at a 10 percent (increase), and you wonder, ‘what equates to 10 percent over 3 percent? Why the additional?’”

Root said if the city did not account for administrative costs in past years, it is their fault and the four school districts it services should not pay the price for the city’s negligence.

“My position is, as a taxpayer, I want what’s best for our students,” said Root. “I want a safe, efficient operation to get our kids to school.”

“It seems as through looking at this budget, and (Carson) has the same masters in public administration as I do,” Root added, “there has been some lumping in of items that just don’t make a whole lot of sense.”

The bus budget does not have an explanation of what is included in the $322,533 of “Miscellaneous Receipts” in the 2017 budget or explain why the city needs $100,000 for “Automotive Expense” in a department that mainly operates school buses that are under maintenance agreements with the lease company. Nor does it explain “Other Contractual Services” in the amount of $78,000.

“If you’re going to increase something like this, you just don’t have a line item without some kind of rational as to what that’s for,” said Root.

Root said prior to the latest bus agreement the city had three full-time people running the department. Now it has seven. He said the figure in the budget that shocked him was $188,000 for washing buses.

The numbers

The bus department revenues projected in the 2018 budget are $4,863,943.

Carson hired Jake Martin and Tom Henderson to replace Bus Department Director Ty Whitford. Each of them make $68,132 plus benefits, which almost doubles Whitford’s $76,402.98 salary at $136,264 plus benefits, according to Pekin HR/Finance Director Sara Newcomb. Whitford left the city in November 2016.

The reason for the dual positions, said Carson, is better management. Every time there is an opening at the city, Carson evaluates the needs in the department and strives to improve operations. The department has the most employees, being comparable to police and fire combined, said Carson.

“They’re not full time, but they’re still a large amount of people that are managed,” said Carson. “And when I did the interview for the position, I found that both of these two gentlemen had unique skills sets that would be beneficial to the bus department. Then working in the bus department was actually a huge advantage of knowing how it operates and how we can improve its operations. When you put both of their skills together, you are able to have a very well functioning organization.”

Henderson is in charge of operations — routing, charters and so forth. Martin deals with the personnel. Carson said both of their duties are equal, so a secondary position with less pay was not in order.

There are 109 employees in the bus department, of which 103 are part-time bus drivers and monitors. Bud drivers earn $16.71 per hour and bus monitors get $14.10 an hour.

The part-time employees must work at least 30 hours a week to earn health insurance. They also have to work at least 1,000 hours in a year to be eligible for the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund. The city has budgeted $253,788.39 for IMRF. In the 2017 budget, the city expected to pay $109,287.98. The number of bus drivers has remained stable over the past several years, said Henderson, and very few employees reach the 1,000 hour-threshold. The city pays Social Security for all employees, which is $128,186 for bus department employees, according to the 2018 adopted budget.

The other full-time employees are John York, IT; Patrick Quinlan, clerk; Evonne Johnson, dispatcher; Margie Wyman, office secretary; and Tracie Fisher, janitor.

The city pays $188,000 for the buses to get cleaned over the summer, which is usually done by bus department employees. Carson said he was not familiar with the bus cleaning operations and what that entailed. He referred comment to Martin, who referred the question back to Carson saying he is unauthorized to answer. Neither responded.

The city expects to pay $35,000 in overtime under the Teamsters Local 627 contract with the city. Saturday and Sunday are automatically considered overtime if a driver takes a charter run for one of the districts.

Part-time workers received four hours of pay on five holidays of the year, as per contract. If a holiday falls when school is closed, they are not paid.

Follow Sharon Woods Harris on Twitter.com/sharrispekin