PARKERSBURG - City council's Committee of the Whole approved the proposed 2011-2012 budget without making any cuts Tuesday.
Committee members spent about an hour questioning officials and making motions to reduce expenses or reallocate funds, but in the end left the proposed budget as is.
Two of the biggest discussions concerned the purchase of six police cruisers and the possible elimination of council's health and life insurance benefits. While both generated debate, neither altered the city's proposed $23 million budget.
Photos by Jeff Baughan
Parkersburg City Council listens to a statement by Mayor Bob Newell during Tuesday’s committee meeting on the budget.
Council member Sharyn Tallman moved to take the proposed six new police cruisers out of the budget for a savings of $60,000. Tallman reasoned the police have enough vehicles, and if needed could consider purchases later in the year.
Mayor Bob Newell and Councilman Tom Joyce advised not purchasing the new cars this year could add up next year, with the city needing perhaps 10 or 12 cars. Police Chief Joe Martin said the city has nine marked cruisers with 100,000 miles or more.
"It is scary enough getting into a car chase at a 100 miles-per-hour. It is scarier still getting in a car chase with a car shaking at 100 miles-per-hour," Newell said.
"If we don't buy new cars this year, we will need that many more next year," Joyce said.
Councilman Mike Reynolds attempted to amend to motion, reducing the purchases to four cars. Both motions failed overwhelmingly.
Later, Joyce made the motion to remove city council's life insurance benefits, saving the city $42,000 in costs.
"In light of sacrifices we are asking employees to take, and given the fact we are part-time employees, I think it would be appropriate of council folks who want insurance to pay full price for it," Joyce said.
"These are tough times and we shouldn't be asking citizens to pay our insurance," Councilman Jim Reed said. "This isn't a full-time job. We are not here for the money or benefits. We are here to make the city a better place. This is not a cost the citizen should have to bear, pay my health insurance and life insurance."
Joyce and Reed were in the minority - two of three council members to vote in favor of the cuts. John Sandy also supported the motion.
Reynolds, Tallman and John Rockhold defended the insurance package. Reynolds, who acknowledged taking advantage of the program, said it was a nice option to have. Tallman questioned if council could cut it out, asking if it was part of the payment package. City Attorney Joe Santer said it was not.
Rockhold noted council members will pay the highest portion of employee insurance premiums.
Newell had earlier told council members consideration of removing council's insurance would be a fair consideration. The mayor also told council officials to give serious consideration to eliminating the insurance benefits for council members.
"We have made a lot of cuts. In the face of fairness keep that in mind; we sacrificed so council could have it," he said.
Newell said he is not insured by the city.
Shortly after voting to retain council insurance, Reynolds questioned the possible reduction of the city's part-time school crossing guards. No council member moved to make such a reduction.
Shortly before 9 p.m. the committee approved a five-minute recess. When it reconvened Sandy did not. Prior to the recess, Sandy called the question, seeking to end debate. The call failed and debate continued.
When the committee reconvened, members spent only about 10 more minutes reviewing the budget before approving a motion to accept the budget as amended.
The only cuts made were from Newell, who told council members the proposed budget was being reduced by about $13,000 due to previous purchases and a typo.
Finance Director Doug Life also made adjustments to the budget, pertaining to the excess levy and county property tax assessment.
The budget is still subject to a March 22 public hearing and approval of city council.
Prior to reporting as Committee of the Whole, council conducted its regular meeting, and approved a resolution appointing Dan Walkup to a two-year term to the Board of Zoning Appeals and confirmed the appointment of Charlie Abdella to a three-year term on the Municipal Planning Commission.
Council approved a resolution authorizing the hiring of seven temporary employees (two in sanitation and five in parks and grounds). The resolution was approved by the personnel committee last week.
Parkersburg Police Capt. Delmas Barker spoke during the public forum asking council to consider other options before cutting employee benefits.
"If we keep losing benefits such as loss of longevity, loss of comp time and paying higher insurance premiums we will lose police officers and quality applicants," Barker said.
"The proposed budget has higher insurance premiums. I feel a sliding scale is discriminatory to my education and job. Due to longevity I have no way to offset the cost."
Barker told council he will in effect be taking a $2,700 pay cut as a result of the changes.