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SBJ Editor Eric Olson, right, interviews Branson City Administrator Stan Dobbins.
SBJ photo by Wes Hamilton
SBJ Editor Eric Olson, right, interviews Branson City Administrator Stan Dobbins.

New Branson administrator takes aim at $36M budget gap

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Last edited 12:48 p.m., Feb. 20, 2018

Branson’s new city administrator has his work cut out for him.

Speaking this morning as Springfield Business Journal’s monthly 12 People You Need to Know live interview guest, Branson Police Department Chief Stan Dobbins said he inherited a city government that was in the hole to the tune of $36 million in infrastructure debt. He officially took over Jan. 1 after serving as interim city administrator following the firing of nearly four-year leader Bill Malinen in May 2017.

“That was because of poor decision-making, and that was because of poor leadership,” said Dobbins, who is maintaing his role as Police chief until his successor is named. “It’s not fun to walk into the finance director’s office and sit there and have to juggle money just to make payroll. That’s how bad this was. That’s where we were.”

Branson Finance Director Jamie Rouch said the city expects to end fiscal 2018 with a $1 million tourism fund comprising cash and investments. Dobbins said the former city administrator appropriated money from the general revenue fund, rather than the tourism fund, for its infrastructure projects, which he said was inappropriate. It was brought up to a 20 percent level at the end of the most recent fiscal year, which is required, he said.

"We're in pretty decent shape. Payroll's finally being met," Dobbins said.

Leaning on his 38 years of law enforcement experience, Dobbins first evaluated the budget situation and made a key decision to put the city’s $80 million Highway 76 revitalization project on hold. Downtown infrastructure improvements also were stalled.

Dobbins said he met with the project’s contractors and engineers, who he said were relieved to hear the development work was being stalled. The problem, Dobbins said, was the workers were told to reverse-engineer the project by digging dirt first and addressing problems and funding as they occurred. That meant the city likely would be paying for new work not included in the original bid by the contractor. 

“As city manager, I need to know that our city is doing the right thing for our employees, for our revenue and for our visitors,” Dobbins said. “That wasn’t happening.”

Dobbins said officials also never reached a cooperative agreement to fully complete Branson’s community improvement district meant to fund the 76 project. That cooperative agreement now is headed to the Branson Board of Aldermen first on Feb. 22, followed by an expected March vote, he said.

“Once that’s approved, then the CID and the funds to do the project and maintain the project will be in place,” Dobbins said. “Why we got that cart so far in front of the horse, I don’t know.”

Dobbins added the city also is working with the state to secure low-interest loans for the Spirt of 76 project, as well as another funding source he declined to name for downtown Branson infrastructure improvements.

“76 is going to be completed. The downtown is going to be completed,” he said.

His main duty, he said, is to serve his employees and Branson residents.

“I don’t need the glory. I’ve had that for 38 years. I don’t need any more surgeries. I’ve had 10 of those,” Dobbins said. “I need to know that every citizen and every employee that I work for is safe.”

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