City council to continue budget discussion

PARKERSBURG – Officials this week will begin changing the proposed 2013-14 Parkersburg City budget.

Parkersburg City Council will meet as the Committee of the Whole at 6 p.m. Tuesday in council chambers to continue discussion of the city’s budget. The proposed budget is $26,256,641, which is $525,732 less than the previous year.

Councilman John Rockhold, who is chairman of the budget committee, said this will be the meeting where council members can suggest changes to the budget.

“We presently have, as presented, a balanced budget, and we have to keep it that way,” he said. “If you increase somewhere, you are going to have to decrease somewhere else.”

Mayor Bob Newell said while the budget appears larger this year, there are few new expenditures.

Nearly every department saw some sort of increase due to pension funds, he said, and nearly every department also saw proposed increases in pay due to reclassifications or raises. Even without those raises, Newell said the pension increases have to be paid.

“If we didn’t give a dime (in pay increases), we would still see that increase in pensions,” he said.

For example, the city’s police department shows a budget increase $417,000. About $68,000 of that is pensions, Newell said. For the fire department, about $128,000 of the department’s $299,834 budget increase is pensions.

Newell said the city also sees annual increases in the Public Employees Retirement System.

“That’s typical every year,” he said. “Even if we laid off 10 people, we’d still have those same costs.”

Some line items also appear larger because of one-time expenses, such as purchasing new equipment. For the police department, there is the purchase of new cars, while streets and public works departments saw increases due to the replacement of worn-out equipment and used-up supplies, such as salt.

“We’re buying the salt equipment as opposed to funding that over time, so you’ll see it as an increase in the budget this year,” Newell said.

In some departments, decreases in the amount budgeted were due to positions being eliminated through attrition or other cost-cutting measures. In some cases departments had received larger allocations the previous year, money which is not included for the 2013-14 year.

For example, code administration shows a decrease in funding of more than $200,000.

“That is for demolition” of abandoned homes, Newell said. “Last year we put extra funding in that and had a push to tear down those homes. That wasn’t allocated again this year.”

State and federal grants and programs also inflated some budget numbers, Newell said. Those monies were allocated for specific periods of time and specific uses, but must still be accounted for in the overall budget.

“Any of that kind of money that comes from the state or the feds has to be accounted for in our budget, even if it is for something very specific,” he said. “That can inflate the numbers somewhat. It makes our budget look bigger than it is.”

Rockhold said the majority of the budget is fixed costs, such as employees and utilities. The challenge to any change is to make sure it is an area that can be changed.

“You don’t have a lot of options where to cut,” he said. “You can’t just say ‘I think we will get more revenue’ and then add an expense.”

Rockhold said members of the public are invited to attend Tuesday’s hearing, but he would encourage everyone to read the budget ahead of time.

An electronic copy of the proposed 2013-14 budget is available on The News and Sentinel’s website, by clicking on the Parkersburg City Budget button on the left hand side of the main page.