Parkersburg City Council reviews police, fire budgets

Pension closure yields retirement savings

Photo by Evan Bevins Parkersburg Finance Director Eric Jiles confers with Police Chief Joe Martin during Wednesday’s budget hearing in City Council chambers on the second floor of the Municipal Building.

PARKERSBURG — After reviewing the Police and Fire department spending plans Wednesday, Parkersburg City Council will look to wind up hearings on the proposed $33.8 million municipal budget with potential amendments Monday.

The Police Department is expected to see a $347,374 net increase in salaries and benefits from the current fiscal year’s original budget, due in large part to the $2.53-an-hour raise council approved last fall in an effort to recruit and retain experienced officers. The variance for the actual figures from the 2018-19 fiscal year will be lower since that raise went into effect in October.

Finance Director Eric Jiles said the increase will be partially offset by a projected reduction of $271,477 in retirement expenses linked to the closure of the existing police pension fund to new hires and the increased payments as a result.

The department currently has four vacancies and plans to hire three patrolmen in the next few weeks to enroll them in the April class of the West Virginia State Police Academy. There are two pending retirements between April and June, and Police Chief Joe Martin said he hopes to hire three more officers in time for the start of the June academy class.

Councilwoman Sharon Kuhl asked why the department’s overtime budget is proposed to increase from $245,000 to $250,000, when the department is expected to be fully staffed. During discussions of the raise and a bonus for certified officers who are hired, city officials noted officers having to work extra because they were shorthanded.

Photo by Evan Bevins Parkersburg Fire Chief Jason Matthews discusses the department’s vehicles during a budget hearing Wednesday in City Council chambers on the second floor of the Municipal Building.

“I thought the overtime would go down,” Kuhl said.

Martin said the department is on pace to exceed this year’s overtime budget by about 15 percent. The new officers must complete 16 weeks at the academy and approximately 13 weeks of training locally before they will be out on the roads on their own, he said.

Jiles pointed out that the pay increase also means officers will earn more for overtime pay.

“The hours may go down; the pay rate goes up,” he said.

The capital reserve budget includes $184,000 for four new police cruisers and the equipment to outfit them.

Photo by Evan Bevins Parkersburg City Councilwoman Sharon Kuhl asks a question during a municipal budget hearing Wednesday in council chambers on the second floor of the Municipal Building.

There is no proposed purchase of equipment for the Fire Department in the capital budget, but the administration has proposed setting aside $100,000 toward the purchase of a new pumper truck. Jiles described it as “essentially an earmark.”

Fire Chief Jason Matthews said the truck would cost an estimated $500,000 and is needed to replace a 2000 model that is the oldest front-line pumper in the department’s fleet. Twenty years is the department’s standard estimate for the service life of regularly used trucks, he said.

That’s a milestone the tower truck, a 2001 model, is approaching as well.

“That’s coming pretty soon,” Matthews said. “Just in the two trucks, we’re looking at a million five.”

Councilman Eric Barber asked if council should consider allocating more money for maintenance or perhaps retrofitting a truck. Matthews said the Vienna Fire Department got an estimate to refurbish its tower truck — which is not as old nor used as often — and it came in at half a million dollars.

“One hundred thousand’s not going to cover a refurb on a truck,” the chief said.

Kuhl asked if the city could lease a fire truck. Mayor Tom Joyce noted the city paid off all its outstanding lease purchases in the current fiscal year.

“I am not in favor of going back into debt on any piece of equipment,” he said.

Kuhl agreed but added, “If it came down to it, that we didn’t have the money and our pumper truck was down, it could be an option.”

A $1-an-hour raise is proposed for all firefighters who have been with the department at least three years and attained the rank of firefighter first class, while the six who do not fall into that category would get a 25 cents-an-hour raise. Those are the main factors in a net $150,590 increase in salaries and benefits, but there is also a $98,573 reduction in retirement expenses, again related to the change in the pension funds.

The savings realized from the pension funds were the basis for a proposed 5 percent reduction in the fire fee, which is expected to reduce revenue by $153,500.

At the conclusion of Wednesday’s hearing, Council Vice President Zach Stanley asked council members if they anticipated needing to call any officials back to discuss the budget. When they indicated they did not, he canceled the hearing tentatively set for Friday, but suggested council members who did have questions reach out to the administration.

The final hearing, in which council members can offer amendments to the budget, is 6 p.m. Monday in council chambers on the second floor of the Municipal Building.