BUDGET HEARING: Floodwall Repairs Another Unfunded Federal Mandate

by Tony Rutherford HuntingtonNews.Net Reporter
BUDGET HEARING:  Floodwall Repairs Another Unfunded Federal Mandate

HUNTINGTON, WV (HNN) – Huntington City Council members and administration members conducted a three and a half hour line by line examination of the proposed budget for fiscal 2011-2012.

This Saturday’s session reviewed building maintenance, floodwall operations, the motor pool, streets, inspection/compliance and touched on clarifications of pension and layoff issues.

Although the full Corps of Engineer floodwall inspection of the floodwall has not been made public, the budget indicated that approximately $450,000 in repairs are necessary by September 2012 , such as replacing non-operational pumps , sealing joints in the wall properly, and updating pump manuals.

However, a FEMA inspection in 2011 will determine what Floodwall Director, Steve Riggs, termed “certification.” Riggs explained that if the floodwall is not certified by FEMA , the city will be treated for insurance purposes as if a wall did not exist. Some federal funds may be available for the repairs.

Council chairman Mark Bates inquired about the “metal pieces” stored that put the gates in place should a location be closed due to rising water. He also asked if the logs are available to close the gates downtown and how often a ‘closing” is practiced.

Finance Director Deron Runyon stated that all but one of the logs are accounted for. Riggs indicated that the workers do inspections of the levy when they do mowing and other maintenance work.

Council member Frances Jackson, Teresa Loudermilk, Mark Bates and Steve Williams inquired in varying manners concerning eight pending layoffs some of which were either revealed or at least alluded to during the hearings. Bates inquired whether a proposed created position in inspection/compliance could be filled “from the ranks.”

Director of Administration and Finance Brandi Jacobs-Jones stressed a merit system that would allow current employees to interview for the supervisor position. Yet, she stated that if the proper qualifications are not found internally the hiring would “go outside” the city force. She said that the administration wanted to “retain the best and brightest employees.” She added, “We will hire the best candidate whether [someone] laid off or [through] public.”

At large councilman Steve Williams received assurances that of eight eliminated positions the individuals would have an opportunity to interview for other city positions. His clarification appeared to stem from an earlier permanent layoff in which the former 20 year employee told council that he was told he could not “bump” anyone for another position within the city.

“We have an ethical responsibility,” Williams said, “to anyone departing our [employment ] rolls by our policy decisions to do everything we can [for them] in the transition.”

Ms. Jacobs-Jones and Ms. Jackson exchanged questions and answers on the layoff process. Ms. Jacobs-Jones explained that the administration tries to keep it dignified , thought it’s a difficult situation.

Jackson retorted, “ It doesn’t put food on the table no matter how dignified you are.”

Jacobs-Jones indicated that personnel has been making counseling and placement services available to those impacted.

STREETS

The public works director, Jim Hagley, told that in city bridges needing repair, such as the one at Fifth Street West and the Eighth Street Bridge. In addition, he stated that during the severe winter weather , he had received ten compliments to one negative from citizens concerning snow removal, salting the streets and other repairs.

Williams mentioned that a section of McCoy Road near the Huntington Museum of Arts has need of guard rails due to the cutting back of some trees whose limbs served as a barrier.

Sticking with paving, Williams made a “pie in the sky” goal of having a truck with snow plow /spreader in each district. He asked what would be a cost estimate for this possible future goal.

Bates indicated that sanitation/trash had postponed their session until next Saturday to complete needed reports.

NEXT: Inspection/Compliance Proposals

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