The time is nigh for the city lawmakers to vote on whether or not to pay the premium that renews the employees' health insurance coverage, but a few questions had to be raised before the aldermen agreed to sign-off on a more than $134,000 annual payment increase.
The main question at Monday night’s Board of Aldermen meeting was how is it going to be paid?
After an extended discussion, the aldermen voted unanimously to renew the policy because of the impending deadline, which is July 1, but still have to decide the best course for meeting the expense of their obligation.
On Monday, Mayor Steve Rosenthal asked, “How do we want to handle a $134,000 increase in expense? Are we going to take the whole amount and pass it on to the employees or are we going to take the whole amount and pass it on to the citizens? Where are we going to come up with an additional $134,000?”
Based on the disclosed agreement to renew, the individual cost per employee will rise from $356 per person, per month to $463 beginning the first of July. Public Works Director on June 13, 1988 and according to him, he was the first African-American on the administrative staff for the city. Strong said he is the oldest city employee and has worked for the city longer than anyone else.
He expressed pride at being able to say he has had a good working relationship with both black and white citizens and has had good support from both as well. Although, when he first took the director's job there was an encounter with one homeowner who insisted that Strong cut a two-foot tall patch of grass that was actually the homeowner's responsibility.
Strong said he has enjoyed working for the city and the citizens, “But now it's time to do something for myself,” he said. Looking back at the past three decades, Strong said, “It's been tough, but I have enjoyed it. Now, I want to do something different in life.”
With more than 30 years on the job, 30 years of getting out in bad weather in an attempt to keep the city going, Strong speaks emphatically that after June 28 he will experience a lifestyle modification. “My entire life will change, so I've got to stay active,” he said.
Strong said he enjoyed the work and tried to answer everybody's call, “But it was impossible. Sometimes we were slow getting there, but I tried to make it,” he said.
When asked why he chose to retire now, he stated that conversations with friends who urged him to retire, taking his age into consideration and the fact that he has missed 12 years of retirement, brought him to the conclusion that it was “long overdue.” Strong said he plans to spend time working around his rental properties in addition to working around the church.
The veteran employee said that when it comes to noted accomplishments under his 31-year administration, the advent of city workers' uniforms, which helps them to be more easily identifiable by the public, the establishing of the credit union for city employees, plus upgrading the city's equipment are high on the list. “It (the equipment) was in bad shape when I got here,” he said.
Strong said he was also the first to start placing Christmas decorations on the south side of the railroad tracks. And on a personal note, he has achieved certification for the proper handling of waste water and drinking water. He mentioned that the city has good drinkable water.
He also remembers that when he started working for the city, the highest paid hourly wage was $3.50 per hour. Now, he has workers who are making $15 per hour, not including the supervisors.
The long-time city employee said, “I have worked under five mayors, twelve police chiefs, four or five Parks and Recreation directors, six city inspectors, and nine city clerks.”
Strong's list of regrets is short. On it is his desire to get city workers better pay. Plus, “I wish I could have found money to do some streets. The streets are in bad condition,” he said.
However, he acknowledged that Indianola is not alone. A recent trip to the Mississippi capital and an impromptu encounter with a pothole reaffirmed that other municipalities are suffering for good streets as well.