Carpenter weighs in on Parkersburg budget vote

PARKERSBURG – Mayor Bob Newell said he is unsure what a divided vote over the city’s 2013-14 budget will mean for Parkersburg.

“It was absolutely the least amount of questions asked about the budget,” Newell said, “But at the same time, it was the least amounts for the budget since my time here as mayor.”

Parkersburg City Council voted 5-3 Tuesday evening to approve the $26.33 million budget. Councilman Mike Reynolds was absent and did not vote.

Councilmen John Kelly and Roger Brown, both of whom voted against the budget Tuesday, have been outspoken opponents of across-the-board pay increases for staff and some larger pay increases for administrators.

Brown could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Councilman J.R. Carpenter also voted against the budget, and at Tuesday’s meeting said he would rather have seen the money used to lower the cost of operating the city.

Carpenter clarified his statements Wednesday, saying he believed savings through reduction of positions and other cost-saving measures implemented in recent years by Newell should not have been used for employee pay increases.

“We saved all of this money and then we turned around and spent it,” he said. “We made a lot of the employees happier, but two years from now where are we going to be?”

Carpenter said a constant topic of discussion among the public, the city’s user fee, was never part of the budget discussion.

“The user fee wasn’t a discussion, but if we reduced the cost of operating the city, you would think the first step would be looking at reducing the user fee,” he said. “If we would have added those savings to the carryover, as the budget develops this year we could get a better idea of where we are sitting as a city financially and what we could do.”

Newell pointed out that despite the discussion at Tuesday’s meeting, no additional amendments were put forth.

“That’s why we have those budget meetings,” Newell said. “Not for them to nitpick on small things, but to really change things around if that is what they feel needs to be done.”

When asked for examples of specific reductions he would ask for, Carpenter said he did not know.

“As for specific line items, I wasn’t prepared,” he said. “I’m still a rookie. This is a general concept.”

Carpenter also said events during a previous budget hearing led him to not put forth budget amendments at Tuesday’s meeting.

During the March 5 budget hearing, Kelly twice put forth amendments severely limiting pay increases for administrators, the first being voted down and the second dying for lack of a second.

“When I saw how that got passed at the last meeting, I decided not to throw another dead donkey into the ring,” Carpenter said.

Even so, Carpenter said it won’t affect how he conducts business on council.

“I think the mayor did develop a good budget and did a good job with it,” he said. “I think we had an opportunity to lower the cost of operating the city and I really feel the citizens should be getting some of the benefits of those savings. I got outvoted.”