Parkersburg budget hearings wrap with few changes

PARKERSBURG – The $26 million municipal budget is headed to City Council for final approval next month.

During the second budget hearing Tuesday in council chambers, council members, acting as the Committee of the Whole, unanimously accepted revisions brought by Mayor Bob Newell and Finance Director Ashley Flowers to correct computer and clerical errors in the original copy. Three motions to make further changes failed, and the document was referred to the full council by a 5-2 vote, with Councilmen Roger Brown and John Kelly opposed. Council members Kim Coram and Mike Reynolds were absent.

“There wasn’t much in there, and that’s why in two evenings it was completed,” Newell said.

Councilwoman Nancy Wilcox, who chaired the budget hearings, said there was nothing unreasonable in the administration’s proposal.

“They didn’t ask for anything outstanding,” she said. “If we’re going to have an effective police force, then (they’ve) got to have something to get around in.”

Wilcox was referring to the administration’s plan to purchase 10 new police cruisers for $198,000 over a three-year period.

Paying off some current leases will drop the city’s overall debt to $905,390 at the end of the current fiscal year on June 30. But the lease-purchase of the police cars, as well as three dump trucks, a new fire engine, a vehicle for the fire department’s duty officer and a chassis for another fire truck will increase that amount to more than $1.5 million by the end of fiscal year 2014-15.

With the exception of the new fire truck, which will cost about $680,400 over 15 years, the other lease-purchase items will be paid off in four years or less.

The budget does not include any across-the-board pay increases, with Newell saying previously that salaries would be revisited later this year after the cash carryover amount was finalized.

The lack of raises was one reason Kelly gave for voting against the budget, although he didn’t mention the topic until after the hearing ended, saying he didn’t expect support from fellow council members.

Kelly said he doesn’t want to wait and maybe approve raises later.

“Might doesn’t do anything. Let’s take care of business,” he said.

Kelly also said he feels the city is understaffed, especially in the streets and street cleaning departments.

“Probably the biggest complaint I receive is street work and snow removal,” he said. “I think maybe there might be a situation where we reduced too many employees in streets.”

Kelly made a motion to create and fund an additional position in the streets department, using capital reserve funds, but it died for lack of a second. He said he would have done the same for street cleaning, but skipped that motion since the first one had no support.

Newell attributed recent complaints about snow removal more to the unusually cold and snowy winter than a lack of manpower. He also noted there was no additional continuing revenue at this time to support new positions.

Although not convinced the new positions were needed, the mayor said, “I do appreciate Mr. Kelly’s attempts to add a couple employees.”

Councilwoman Sharon Lynch made a motion to move the $12,240 allotted for the fire department’s duty officer vehicle to capital reserve. She questioned Fire Chief Eric Taylor on the need to replace the current vehicle, a 2004 or 2005 model with about 80,000 miles on it and a few mechanical issues.

“Why can’t we get a quote and see what we need to fix it?” Lynch said.

Taylor and Newell noted the duty officer vehicle goes to every fire and many other calls in the city, and can be used 24 hours a day, unlike higher mileage police cars, which generally are driven over the course of eight-hour shifts. The fire department doesn’t have a backup vehicle.

“I’m sure it can be fixed. But it’s still one vehicle with 80,000 miles that has been repaired,” Newell said.

Lynch’s motion failed 4-3, with only Wilcox and Councilman J.R. Carpenter joining her to support it.

The only revisions accepted were submitted by the administration to correct errors discovered in Tuesday’s initial budget hearing. These included adjusting salaries in the fire department, inserting three employees left out of the sanitation department and fixing a few other items Newell attributed primarily to computer errors and getting a late start on the budget process since Flowers was hired a month after the work normally would have started.

“There was a lot of glitches in the old budget that we’ve had to correct going into the new budget,” Newell said.

The sanitation department budget increased by more than $150,000 with the adjustments, while the fire department budget dropped by $98,000. However, the overall budget amount remained neutral.

“It’s still $26,061,483,” Flowers said.

Brown said he voted against the budget because there were some other issues he had planned to bring up at a subsequent hearing. He declined to elaborate on them Thursday.

Council meets in regular session at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, but the budget won’t be on the agenda until March 11. By law, the budget cannot be acted on prior to March 9, City Clerk Connie Schaffer said.