by Tony Rutherford HuntingtonNews.Net Reporter

Steve Williams Tabulates Cuts (not final version)
Steve Williams Tabulates Cuts (not final version)
HUNTINGTON, WV (HNN) – Two five hour budget slashing sessions have brought weeping and gnashing of teeth to Huntington City Hall council chambers.  A proposal that involves both cuts and fee increases will be brought before a full, special call session of council. The meeting will be Monday, Oct. 17 at a time to be determined.

Everyone in the city --- workers, residents, businesses, and officials ---  all will be touched in their bank accounts by the recommendations, if passed by the full council. No one on the finance committee contemplated rejection; other than , perhaps by a moment of unguarded emotion.

The recommendation adopts some of what the administration proposed and some of that which the finance committee countered on Wednesday, Oct. 12. It also contains some shifts and tweaks.

Here’s the bad news: Your refuse fee goes to $20 a month, just as soon as it is passed. Your municipal services fee which funds fire operations will have a $100 surcharge due by June 30, 2012. There will be no increase in the weekly user / service fee.

For employees, administration, finance, city hall departments, and public works will face layoffs as well as furloughs. Civilian employees of the police and fire departments face layoffs and furloughs.

Left undecided --- whether to increase health care costs for city employees.

Crime Relationship to Sworn Officers (PDF link available at end of story)
Crime Relationship to Sworn Officers (PDF link available at end of story)

“It’s something where the pain is being distributed everywhere,” explained Finance Chairman Steve Williams. “People who are property owners are going to feel it.  Our employees are going to feel it because of furloughs. We’re dipping into strained budgets in every division. We have identified all the cuts possible before we look at revenue [increases]. “

 

And, the straw that stopped the surgery came from both Police Chief Skip Holbrook and Mayor Kim Wolfe.

 

Holbrook labeled this as one of the three most painful  experiences of his life. Number one was losing two friends in the line of duty. Second, his assessments and observations of the condition of  Huntington Police Department when he accepted the job as Chief of the Huntington Police Department.  Finally, “where we are at tonight,” Holbrook said in a slightly broken voice.

 

Holbrook had not been the only official to hold back emotion. Last night, Finance Director Deron Runyon made a poignant plea regarding the “life or death” nature of health insurance. And, Williams, too, more than once sat with shoulders slumped and head hung.  One member appeared to have left his seat, leaving the impression he was one his knees. His head was down too. Finally, Mayor Wolfe had earlier posted on Facebook a request for prayer for the city.

The chief then described the filthy, broken spirited, leaderless men and women of the department on June 26, 2007 when he took the oath of office. Last week, the U.S. Attorney’s office selected the Huntington Police as law enforcement organization of the year.

 

Looking for funds brought the chief to the same decision that other department heads faced --- now, the cuts will be people.  However, the department’s ingenuity in upgrading the equipment and staff through grants and unconventional funding meant that laying off a few officers would void federal grant obligations. The same would occur if officers went from the street to behind a clerk’s desk.

 

Holbrook asked the committee, “We have raised the bar. We exceed standards.” And, “we have counted every bolt and screw.”

 

Mayor Kim Wolfe told the committee , “We have the finest law enforcement chief in the country. He is producing unbelievable [crime reduction] statistics for a city department of its size.”

Weeping, Gnashing of Teeth Spreads Pain to Alleviate Huntington Shortfall

 

At that point, Mayor Wolfe made a concession: Where he previously proposed that fee increases continue indefinitely , the former HPD officer told the committee, “The right thing to do is find reductions. I’m prepared to [agree] to fees sunsetting. All I need you to understand --- keep our city safe.”

 

MORE TO FOLLOW IN DEPTH

  1. Crime Relationship to Sworn Officers; HPD grant funding innovations (342.31 KB)
  2. Wolfe Admin. Original Proposal , Briefing Summary (1.31 MB)