2014 budget plan boosts equipment, insurance costs

The 2014 budget being recommended to city council includes a few adjustments to the original proposal, including increases for health insurance and wage costs, money for economic development and additional money for police equipment.

The Finance Committee voted 3-0 Wednesday morning to forward the budget to city council for its consideration, with a goal to have the document in place before Jan. 1.

According to city Auditor Betty Brothers, the estimated general fund expenditure total has been increased to $5,297,735 while the total estimated income remains at $4,679,801. A more than $1 million carryover is expected to make up the difference.

Brothers noted that she added a 25 percent increase in health insurance costs because they won’t know for sure how much the insurance will go up until later in the year when they renew the policy, which expires July 31. Originally, she had talked about plugging in a 7 percent increase.

Another unknown is the four union contracts covering the fire department, police department, service department and utilities department. The contracts all expire June 30. She built a 5 percent increase into the budget for wages, but said she doesn’t know what’s going to happen with the contracts.

As requested, the committee heard from Police Chief J.T. Panezott and Fire Chief Jeff Hughes on their department needs, with most of the discussion focused on manpower and equipment for the police and a new ladder truck for the firemen.

“Obviously we would like to continue to find ways to increase our manpower,” Panezott said.

Councilman K. Bret Apple, who chairs the committee, asked about the idea of part-time officers. Panezott said he’s talked with Mayor John Berlin and city Service/Safety Director Ken Kenst about using part-time officers. He also said he spoke with the police union, which had no issues with the idea.

Berlin said there have been instances when the department fell below the minimum staffing level and another officer would be called to cover the shift at overtime pay. He said they could have a part-timer on each shift

Panezott said they’re in the initial stages of looking at adjusting schedules, looking at 12-hour shifts, which could cut down on overtime. He said he’s receiving help from the union on that, saying some of the guys are getting tired of working so much overtime.

As for equipment, he said “we’re a dinosaur department” and one of the only ones without computers in the cruisers. He also wants to place rifles in the cars and replace bullet-proof vests. The department has applied for grants for the computers and to help pay part of the cost for the vests, but hasn’t heard if they’ll be awarded the grants. They also have needs for ammunition and cartridges for the tasers.

“My budget doesn’t come close to filling the needs of my department,” he said, with Drug Enforcement Administration funds covering some costs.

This year the city for the first time in a long time gave money toward the purchase of a new police car, with the other new car purchased with DEA funds. Council also approved funds to renovate the former jail cell area into an office and conference room for the detective squad. A secretary was also brought back on a part-time basis.

“The police department is thankful for what the city has done. We’re moving ahead and appreciative of the help we’re getting from council and the administration,” Panezott said.

Berlin suggested that instead of moving $200,000 from the expected carryover to capital improvements that they take $50,000 to put in the police department and put $150,000 in capital improvements.

Committee member Councilman Brian Whitehill said for the sake of the community, the department should be given the tools they need.

Apple suggested they just move $25,000 into the police budget from the carryover and see what happens with the grants, which is what was decided.

Brothers said they had already budgeted $1,200 for the tasers, $7,379 for the ammunition and $6,000 for six rifles. The estimated cost for the computers in the cars is $19,400 and $18,564 for 20 vests. With the additional $25,000, the line item in the police budget for those costs is now $43,000.

Hughes talked briefly about the ladder truck. He recently talked with a representative of Pierce about a demo truck which included some extra safety features and wouldn’t be much different than if they bought a new truck. Berlin said the cost was $940,000, plus a $9,000 discount was offered with a 3-year bumper-to-bumper warranty. The current 23-year-old ladder truck had a trade-in value of about $17,000, but could possibly be sold for $30,000 to $40,000.

Hughes had tried previously for a grant to pay for the truck, but was turned down after making the final cut. Committee member Councilman Dave Nestic asked if they could try for another grant, but Hughes said he doubted the city could get one because “I can’t prove the city’s broke.”

He didn’t apply again because he didn’t think it would be wise just to get shot down again, noting that it’s very competitive. He said he’ll check with a couple of other manufacturers to see if they have demos available and what kind of offers they’ll make.

As part of the budget, $470,000 that was part of a larger amount set aside in capital improvements for a paving grant the city did not receive is now earmarked for the fire truck. Plans call for the rest of the money needed for the truck to be borrowed from the utilities department.

Berlin said the timing is right because the funds are available now. He also explained that they’ll also need to make some modifications inside the fire house to accommodate the longer ladder. Apple commented that chances are not good for getting a grant and the demo truck won’t be around forever, plus the cost could be higher if they wait a year.

Berlin said they’ll return to the finance committee about the ladder truck after the chief checks with the other manufacturers. An ordinance will have to be prepared and they’ll need to go to the Utilities Commission for approval and have the paperwork done to borrow the funds from the utilities department. Berlin said he already approached the commission chairman.