By Michael Salerno
For Hometown News
PORT ORANGE -- Greg Kisela doesn't start his job as city manager until next month, but he's already laying down his blueprints for the city's future.
"This time next year I see us having the operational issues in finance and utilities behind us," Mr. Kisela said. "We will have our hands around restoring faith in our financial systems ... (and) we can start doing some things to look into the future."
Mr. Kisela officially takes over the job from Ken Parker, who had 28 years at the helm, on March 1. In the meantime, he's been working as a city consultant to smooth the transition between managers and has assumed some of the executive responsibilities, such as directing City Council meetings.
The 58-year-old former Destin city manager, who has also held management positions in Fort Lauderdale and Walton County, said his first few weeks in Port Orange have been spent trying to understand what drives the community and what is important to the residents.
One of the issues Mr. Kisela will immediately face is the ongoing water utility issue involving finance department procedures and faulty meters. The most recent development in the saga was the City Council's selection of a forensic auditor to investigate the water utility.
Mr. Kisela said the strength of the auditing process is it would give the city an "objective third party review" of the water utility and determine what occurred and how much the city lost in revenues. The weakness, he said, was it cost taxpayers additional money to do it.
"We know we have potentially $2 million to $3 million in underbilling and some where we overbilled customers," Mr. Kisela said. "When the forensic folks get in they'll be able to test the software in the system and determine what problem we have."
Mr. Parker and Mr. Kisela have been involved in talks with Daytona Beach Shores staff about recouping the lost revenue, which Mr. Kisela said would ultimately include a review of the wholesale service agreement between the cities. The outcome he hopes for is recovery of the revenue without having to pursue legal action against Daytona Beach Shores.
A top priority for Mr. Kisela is east side redevelopment. He believes the long-awaited and long-delayed Riverwalk project at Dunlawton Avenue and U.S. 1, once completed, will have a "spin-off effect" that will revitalize all of Port Orange, not just the east side.
"That will create the necessary energy to help the deterioration we've seen on the U.S. 1 corridor," he said.
Getting the project off the ground means reaching consensus with stakeholders in the project, who have a "diverse" set of opinions about what development at Riverwalk should look like, Mr. Kisela said. Most of the people he's talked to about Riverwalk said their vision involves a "quaint, mixed-use project" with a unique character, and should include a publicly owned riverfront park and "successful" commercial development.
Although he believes the city is doing a "really good job" with public safety, he believes greater emergency management resources are needed. He has experience with emergency situations as he aided recovery efforts following several major hurricanes and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Mr. Kisela believes the city's public employee pension issues would require long-term changes that would keep benefit costs "within reason" to reduce the unfunded liability.
What Mr. Kisela believes is an asset to Port Orange is its reputation for demonstrating a commitment to the long term and not just the day-to-day operations. He, too, is focused on the future; in the next three to five years he hopes to see development at Riverwalk completed, an overall enhanced quality of life, expanded recreational facilities and stronger city finances.
"It's been a hard last five, six years, and we're not unique," Mr. Kisela said. "Property owners and residents have suffered as long as we have. Hopefully the economy turns around and we get back to where we need to be."