Council members dissect Parkersburg budget

PARKERSBURG – City Council members examined the proposed 2014-15 municipal budget Tuesday, questioning Mayor Bob Newell about various aspects of the $26 million spending plan.

Members proposed no revisions during the nearly two-hour session in council chambers. Motions for changes will wait until the next session, scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, at the request of council Vice President Nancy Wilcox, who is chairing the budget hearings.

“Then you’ve got time to absorb it,” she said.

The administration is proposing more than $1 million in the lease/purchase of new equipment – 10 police cruisers, three dump trucks, a new fire truck, a new fire truck chassis and the replacement of a vehicle for the fire department duty officer.

Councilman Jim Reed acknowledged the city will be paying off four leases, but asked how the new ones would affect the city’s debt, which sits at a little over $1 million.

“Have we increased our debt service?” he said.

Finance director Ashley Flowers said she would have more specific numbers by Thursday’s meeting, but there would be a net increase.

“It will be increasing somewhat,” she said.

As usual, the departments drawing the biggest portion of the budget are police and fire, at $6,301,110 and $6,251,618, respectively.

The proposed police department budget is $277,604 higher than the current year. Newell attributed that primarily to the new cruisers and the addition of three officers.

The city received a federal grant to put resource officers at Edison, Hamilton and Van Devender middle schools, and the salary for those positions- which will be filled by veteran officers- will be mostly covered by the grant.

The department has multiple cruisers with between 100,000 and 150,000 miles on them, so Newell and Police Chief Joe Martin proposed buying 10 this year, when usually the city purchases six to eight. The cost for the new cars is estimated at $198,000 over three years.

“We have probably seven to nine (cars) right now that are on death row,” Martin said.

Councilman Roger Brown asked Martin about an item not included in the budget.

“Do you need any more dogs?” he said.

“We are down to one dog now. The expense is just too much,” Martin said, adding it costs $10,000 to train a K-9. “If you’re willing to give me the money now, I’ll take it. I just had bigger needs.”

Brown asked Newell what would need to be done to appropriate funds for another dog. The mayor said Brown can propose from where the money would come, mentioning the capital reserve fund as a possibility during a break.

Some confusion and frustration arose during discussion of the fire department budget when Councilwoman Sharon Lynch asked why there was no money in the line item for fire inspectors.

Flowers noted the chief fire inspector is also a captain, so his salary was included in the line item for captains. As for the other inspector, Fire Chief Eric Taylor said a position would have to be added and that was not reflected in the budget document.

“Why don’t we move on by it … so we can have correct information?” Wilcox said.

“I don’t want to skip the entire fire department over one line item,” Newell said.

“Make them make it right next time,” Wilcox replied.

Nevertheless, discussion continued on the fire department. During the break, Taylor explained that the previous fire inspector returned to regular shift work and another firefighter would have to be placed in that job.

“It’s not an additional hire; it’s just putting someone in that position,” he said.

Newell conveyed that to council when the hearing resumed, and said it would not change the overall department budget. He also explained, in response to Councilman John Kelly’s earlier question, that Flowers could not have resubmitted that portion of the budget because only council can revise line items after the proposed budget is submitted.

“It’s nothing that she is allowed to correct,” he said.

Another needed revision was discovered in the sanitation budget, when personnel director Pam Salvage pointed out that there were only 17 positions listed instead of 20. Newell said there apparently had been some vacancies when the budget was prepared and those jobs were inadvertently left out.

“There will be less of a decrease in that department,” Newell said.

The budget document projected a decrease of nearly $260,000 for the department, which the mayor attributed to retirements and the elimination of a supervisory position.

Wilcox said she’s not sure whether Thursday’s hearing will wrap up the budget process.

“It might take another meeting,” she said.