Council reviews police, capital outlay budgets

Public hearing today, amendments Wednesday

From left, Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce, Finance Director Eric Jiles and Police Chief Joe Martin listen to a question from City Council during Monday’s budget hearing in council chambers at the Municipal Building. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

PARKERSBURG — After City Council reviewed the Police Department and capital outlay budgets Monday, members of the public will get their turn to weigh in on the 2018-19 municipal spending plan tonight.

A public hearing is scheduled during tonight’s regular Parkersburg City Council meeting. And with scheduling conflicts for what was planned to be the final hearing Friday, Council Vice President Zach Stanley announced amendments will be made at Wednesday’s hearing, slated for 6 p.m. in council chambers.

Council on Monday asked questions of Mayor Tom Joyce and Police Chief Joe Martin, including about the impact of the administration’s decision not to fill two patrolman positions.

“It helped with the pension situation, to offset some of the cost for that, but operationally … I can’t say it’ll help but we’ll make do with the staff we have,” Martin said.

Council voted last year, at the administration’s recommendation, to close the city’s existing police and fire pensions to new hires to stop the growing liability and allow the city to alter its payment plan. The new payment method is costing the city approximately $2.2 million more a year now, but is projected to eventually decrease as the liability is amortized. The previous plan automatically increased payments by 7 percent a year, consuming an ever larger portion of the budget.

Parkersburg City Councilman Mike Reynolds, second from left, asks a question about the Police Department during Monday’s budget hearing in council chambers as, from left, Councilmen J.R. Carpenter and John Reed listen. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

Council voted to double the monthly police fee and increase the fire fee by 95 percent to cover the payments, but members of the Finance Committee also recommended the administration look at ways to cut personnel costs, primarily through attrition.

“This is just one of those situations where we had to make some (adjustments) with the personnel costs,” Joyce said.

At a previous hearing, he cited the same reason for not filling the administrative assistant job in the Fire Department after a longtime employee retired.

That’s also why, Joyce said, the police overtime budget was reduced by $20,000. While it should have no impact on the efforts to curb drug trafficking in the city, officers may not be at some community events where they’ve had a presence in the past, he said.

“We’re going to evaluate some of those events,” Joyce said.

Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce answers a question during Monday’s budget hearing in City Council chambers at the Municipal Building. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

Councilman Mike Reynolds asked Martin if the city could raise the rate it charges for off-duty requests for uniformed officers to compensate for the loss. Martin said with the city receiving more than $50,000 for overtime from Wood County’s federal designation last year as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area that shouldn’t be necessary at this point.

Finance Director Eric Jiles went over the capital outlay budget, with the administration proposing to make such purchases through the capital reserve budget instead of from the general fund line items of individual departments. In the past, the fund has been used “as more of a stabilization, contingency” mechanism, he said, with money set aside then transferred out for certain expenses.

The administration wants to revamp the capital reserve fund and use it to make capital purchases going forward, while building up a reserve of approximately $1 million for larger or emergency expenditures. To that end, Joyce has proposed using more than $1.7 million to pay off the city’s existing lease/purchase items and putting more than $2.3 million into capital reserve for this year’s expenses and the $1 million reserve.

The additional money comes from funds the city had set aside for the full liability of Other Post Employment Benefits, or OPEB, retiree health benefits. The amounts accrued over the years and the city had to account for them, Jiles said, even though only a portion were payable. A change in accounting rules means the city must reappropriate the accrued funds, while still paying the annual premiums.

Joyce has proposed using $1.5 million to fund next year’s paving program to get the city out of the practice of borrowing money from itself in order to start the program in the spring, before the next fiscal year begins, and placing the remainder in the stabilization fund, which was emptied this year to pay for the increased pension costs.

Proposed capital expenditures for the upcoming fiscal year include $210,000 for a flusher truck in the street cleaning department, $200,000 for the next phase of the boundless playground in City Park (with $100,000 to be reimbursed from a grant), $200,000 for a new street sweeper, $150,000 for a packer truck in the Sanitation Department, $115,000 for a five-ton dump truck, $100,000 for a new cooling tower for the Municipal Building, $86,000 for a tractor with a boom mower, $85,000 for a skid steer and $60,000 to put new beds on five existing dump trucks.

Councilman Eric Barber questioned the allocation of $70,000 for gateway signage. Joyce said most of the city’s gateway signs were printed by the city and aren’t very distinctive.

“There’s no question that our gateway signs are rather pedestrian, to say the least,” he said. “I think it’s time for us to take a good, hard look at upping our game.”

Joyce said $70,000 would not be enough to cover the cost of having the signs professionally designed and erected at every entrance to the city, but it would be a good start.