Huntington Mayor Wolfe’s Proposed Fiscal 2011-2012 Budget Reopens City Hall on Friday, But Has Layoffs

by Tony Rutherford HuntingtonNews.Net Reporter
Huntington Mayor Wolfe’s Proposed Fiscal 2011-2012 Budget Reopens City Hall on Friday, But Has Layoffs

HUNTINGTON, WV (HNN) – One announcement contained in the State of the City was a re-opening of City Hall on Friday. Yet, the administration admits that without the tax reforms revenue will be flat. So, how does City Hall reopen?

For a full explanation, Mayor Wolfe took me on a time excursion. Last year, the tight budget presented three options --- five day 40 hour week with 10% cuts; layoffs and furloughs; abbreviated work week and 10% pay cuts. The latter was selected and Wolfe complimented the workforce for maintaining delivery of services under the abbreviated plan.

The fear had been that 10% cuts with layoffs and/or furloughs would have left some smaller departments understaffed. The Monday through Thursday schedule assimilated that issue.

Now, in a “fair and equitable” interest, those who took cuts and worked a four-day week for a year will go back to full pay and a five day schedule. However, the proposed budget has layoffs which offset the planned return to a traditional schedule.

Interestingly, an initial staff expansion of the Wolfe Administration --- the Constituent Services Liaison--- faces possible layoff. When proposed council had apprehensions, but opted to let the new administrator have the staff make-up he constituted as the most efficient for fulfilling mutual goals. Often, at council meetings, work sessions and committee meetings, Jimmy Johnson has been recognized as one of the hardest working members of the mayor’s staff.

Members of council have already stated in published Herald Dispatch interviews that they want to find money to keep the CSL position.

Wolfe told HNN Tuesday afternoon that the proposal is not orchestrated. Rather, in keeping with the cuts endured by all other departments, the mayor’s office should not be exempt. “I could not back other [departmental cuts] without at least making this proposal. “

“It was a difficult decision, but I couldn’t ask other departments to go through a city-wide reduction without proposing that cut. We’ll see what happens in the final budget. This is a valuable position; we hope the money is found.”

Council member Frances Jackson agrees with other members who want to find money to keep the position. Even though she voted against the new hire, she now acknowledges that “he has done a terrific job.”

Clarifying a council/administration timing definition, Mayor Wolfe emphasized , “We pave every year and “there was a misconception that we did not pave last year. In reality, last year is still last fiscal year. People get confused on calendar years and fiscal years, so will be paving as soon as the weather is conducive to the blacktop. It’s in the budget to next fiscal year. There was not a year missed.”

Essentially, diminished user fee funds and tighter than normal contingency and general fund balances, the City could not “advance” money for paving due to fiscal constraints.

“You give me $100 to pave this pot hole. Then we got to pay the money back. The money comes out of the user fee.”

In the prior year with a fiscal carryover, the City had “advanced” monies for the upfront costs of paving then allowed the general fund to recoup the money when user fee funds became available, creating a misinterpretation that a paving commitment had been missed, when it was not. Bottom line: It’s nearly spring and when it’s warm enough , you’ll be seeing streets paved within the city.

And, Wolfe “was pleased by the turnaround” in the veto override. As the Mayor put it, “That means seven people get the vision. Charles Holley did a nice job explaining [the $7,500 v $15,000 council purchase approval issue] this is really cost savings. It was not meant to be contentious. I didn’t want to get politics into it. Seven council members [saw that] and it’s a good sign. I’m not mad at the other three; I presented a case, hopefully the other three will [come around]. “

WAITING OUT TAX REFORM DECISIONS FROM STATE

Obviously, the huge dilemma for decision makers lies in the proposed tax reforms. Since the state home rule board must approve them and since constitutional legal challenges have been threatened, the proposed budget does not incorporate these into fiscal 2011-2012.

But the Mayor and council have discussed “other visions” should the reforms be put in place. First, even though the board meets in mid-March, likely the earliest implementation would be July 1, 2011. In addition, since a renewal or revert date exists, a consensus of both bodies believe, according to Wolfe, “we will see more investment in the community” through capital improvements and infrastructure repairs would benefit. The exception to personnel use would perhaps be the restoration of the six vacancies in the Fire Department.

SUCCESS DESPITE FISCAL HARDSHIP

Despite the hard challenging choices of a flat revenue stream, the ever glass is half full Wolfe preferred to speak of past goals met and accomplished by overcoming the fiscal obstacles.

His three top election priorities were a safer, cleaner and government responsive city. The retired Huntington police officer and former Cabell County Sheriff pointed to the 21% crime rate reduction since 2007, the fire department (with less staffing) maintaining its Insurance Rating Office (ISO) rating of 2 and the development of the continuity of operations plan, and the on line Q & A system.

A $100,000 BLESSING

One unexpected blessing for the city came from an anonymous donor. The man who has since gone on to his Heavenly reward donated $100,000 to the city (through the City of Huntington Foundation) for additional demolition which assists in the cleaner, safer and more attractive goals of the current administration.

“He was raised here and wanted to see Huntington returned to what it can be. He had a terminal illness and offered me $100,000 to help tear down some of these homes. First of all, I said, look, I appreciate your offer, but you need to make sure your family is taken care of. He responded, ‘My family is taken care of.’ And, with Charlie Holley’s help contractors doubled up to fast track.”

The private donated escalated the demolition program.

“In the zeal of doing that owners of dilapidated buildings saw we were serious [which caused] escalation on the part of the private sector,” the Mayor explained. “It cleans out the community, makes the property next door more valuable, and it [removes] an unsafe structure for police and fire. When we clean those areas, it stabilizes and enhances what we want to do.”

Wolfe told HNN he had no magic donations hidden behind Door Number Three, but he stressed, “The one that came about was unexpected. There may still be [others] … People call and say I want to see you I can help all the time, but when a guy does a talk and a walk…”

ECONOMIC DEVEOPMENT COMING

Economic development continues creeping forward. Wolfe pointed to the renovation of the former Ames building on Fifth Street, the announcement of the pediatric dentist office at Kinetic Park, and other significant announcements still in the city’s metaphoric family oven baking until just right to open.

However, Wolfe plans to be on hand at this weekend’ opening game of the Huntington Hammer, the new arena football team debuting at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena. He’s also keeping up with the cyber social networking movements.

His State of the City Address announced interactive use of Twitter and Facebook for resident feedback.

“I go back to the chalk board and telephone. I’m a little bit behind on Twitter and Facebook stuff, but I had to learn how to text with my children.”

Wolfe said the actual plans for the two sites are still in the planning stages. He added some “internet fiber optic updates” and on tap also.

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