PARKERSBURG - Members of Parkersburg City Council's Committee of the Whole got a look at the city's liability insurance costs and didn't like what they saw.
The city's rising insurance costs were one of many things discussed during Tuesday's Committee of the Whole review of the city's proposed 2012-2013 municipal budget.
Council member Sharyn Tallman questioned the city's liability and insurance coverage. According to Tallman, the city's coverage costs have risen 20 percent over the last three years. The city's insurance liability cost for the 2011-2012 fiscal year is more than $800,000.
Photo by Jody Murphy
Committee of the Whole chairwoman Nancy Wilcox and council member Sharyn Tallman listen to city officials while they review the proposed 2012-2013 municipal budget Tuesday.
"That is a big number," Tallman said.
"Absolutely," said Mayor Bob Newell. "It is extortion."
"Are they an exclusive insurance company?" Tallman asked. "Or why haven't we put it out for bid with the rates rising so high so fast?"
The Parkersburg Committee of the Whole will resume meeting today at 4:30 p.m. in city council chambers.
The city's liability costs have risen 20 percent over the last three years, said council member Sharyn Tallman.
Finance Director Angie Smith said the 10 percent increase this year is the industry standard. Newell said the city intends to bid out the insurance this year.
Tallman then proceeded to question Newell as to why the liability insurance cost was distributed throughout the budget. Newell said it was distributed based on the amount of vehicles.
"You say that and every year we are attributed this," Tallman said.
She asked why the liability was included in council's budget, which has no vehicles.
Newell noted council could be sued just as easily as any other city employee. He said the money could be taken out of council's budget but it would be placed somewhere else. Or they could take council off the insurance policy.
Newell and Tallman, both of whom are running for mayor, went back and forth for a few minutes (a theme of Tuesday's meeting) before council member Sharon Lynch asked for a 10-minute recess.
When the meeting resumed, committee chairwoman Nancy Wilcox declared Newell and Smith would proceed through the budget. And questions would be held until the end.
The city's police budget is more than $16,000 than the current year. It includes a $113,000 increase in fuel costs and the purchase of six new vehicles to replace six used ones. The budget also contains a $140,000 decrease in patrolman salaries, but officials are not sure why. Police Chief Joe Martin said there are no vacancies in the department.
Newell said it could be due to the fact the patrolmen are all new and have no longevity built up. He said it could be due to a lot of different variables.
Lynch asked if it could be because officials over-budgeted last year.
"It could be that," Smith said.
The finance director's salary will increase $4,680 based on Smith's longevity with the city (17 years). Former finance director Doug Life, who retired as a city firefighter, had only been with the city in a non-civil service position for a few years.
The mayor's budget has been reduced by $25,000. Councilman John Sandy asked why Parkersburg Homecoming and the News and Sentinel Half Marathon couldn't be included under the mayor's budget.
"It is your fund. Your program," Sandy said. "Why couldn't this be placed in your budget?"
Newell said it could.
Council members also questioned Newell regarding the proposed $50,000 to the Humane Society of Parkersburg.
"Why would the city want to give the humane society $50,000?" Lynch asked
"I don't want to give the humane society $50,000," Newell said. "I want them to build a spay and neuter clinic."
Newell said the money was not for the society's normal operation.
"This is for us to solve the actual problem," he said.
Newell said all the talk from politicians to solve the animal problem hasn't amounted to anything. He described the city's proposal as a grant to the society, payable upon construction of the clinic.
Newell said the city has the actual problem with animal control, particularly cats, and a spay and neuter clinic was the only answer. Councilman John Rockhold described it as an investment in Parkersburg.
Tallman asked about the collection agency pursuing uncollected B&O tax. Newell noted the city has a contract with an agency, but it is not paid. The agency receives a portion of its collection. Tallman asked how much of the city's outstanding B&O had been collected.
Smith said out of more than $257,000 in outstanding fees from "inactive and aged accounts," $905.38 has been collected
"Sounds like it needs to go back out to bid," Tallman said.
Rockhold asked if the debt collection was the worst of the debt, as in the least likely to be collected.
"We gave them the worst and now they are working on the better bad debt," Rockhold said.
Yes, Smith replied.
Under the council budget Tallman asked for a new computer for council members, noting the existing one was about a decade old. Newell said they had no request for a new computer.
"So I should direct my COUNCIL budget request to you?" she asked sarcastically.
"To someone who prepares the budget," he replied.
Newell said the departments ask for equipment and officials tell them whether the city can afford it.
"I'd like a new computer," Tallman said.
Lynch asked how many council members use the computer.
Council member Jim Reed recommended dropping council's health insurance ($37,800 annually) to afford a computer. There are five council members who receive the insurance.
"I think this would be an excellent time for council to pay more for insurance. It seems like a pretty high benefit for an elected job," he said.
Council's budget for health insurance will decrease by more than $4,000 next year due to a change in a council member's status.
The committee took no action on the budget. It recessed at 8 p.m. and will resume at 4:30 p.m. today in council chambers.