UPDATED: Huntington Council's Budget Hearing Debates "Boots" Versus Holes in Streets; Funding for Liaison Restored

by Tony Rutherford HuntingtonNews.Net Reporter
UPDATED: Huntington Council's Budget Hearing Debates "Boots" Versus Holes in Streets; Funding for Liaison Restored

HUNTINGTON, WV (HNN) - Would you rather dodge hole in the street that wreck your vehicle’s alignment or keep all the current boots on the street? For that matter, what’s the responsibility of the city concerning homeless cats, dogs and other animals?

Thus, Saturday morning's   budget hearing before City Council hit sacred cows. These areas often exempt from challenge or questioning included the Cabell Wayne Animal Control Shelter and the Huntington Police Department. On both, lines of communication are open.

 

The proposals shook up what had been a relatively quiet period of budget hearings. Two motions  to restore the constituent services director position and a designated civilian maintenance police department employee won unanimous passage.

However, a council goal to bring the paving fund to $1 million dollars met more than blue walls of complaint. The Mayor and Brandi Jacobs-Jones, director of administration and finance, defended the bare bones police department budget. Several council members joined them, including commitments not to support cutting police funds in order to pave more roads.

At large councilman Steve Williams initiated the police foray: “When I’m looking at the police budget, we have other concerns as well --- taking care of streets and pot holes.” Williams suggested that HPD cut an additional $166,000 from its proposed budget, which would be placed in the paving fund.

A stunned Police Chief Skip Holbrook responded, “I never dreamed we would be looking at this,” firmly underscoring that “without question this will be positions. We were asked to present a flat budget except for salary step increases.”

Williams responded, “We have priorities in every department. We have to be aggressive in paving,” adding that the cut represents only 1.5% of the department budget.

Holbrook indicated that civilian positions would be cut, which would take sworn officers off the streets to complete those duties.

Councilman Scott Caserta stepped to the plate for the department.

“I applaud this suggestion of setting aside more money for paving… but we are never going to make a real dent this year. I am not willing to remove dollars from the Police Department budget. You will inhibit maneuverability with other agencies. I want to see progress continue; you don’t mess with the recipe. I won’t budget. If I have to drive through pot hole, I will swerve.”

Council member Frances Jackson said, “I’d rather go around a pot hole than compromise the police. “ However, in a salute to William’s suggestion that he could go line by line and possibly find the money, she said, “more power to you.”

Prior to Ritter’s motion, Mayor Kim Wolfe stated , “They are at bare bones . We hit them once with [an internal cut] before we got to you guys. It would be hard to get through without jeopardizing public safety. If the chief is presented [with that budget cutting situation] we will be taking officers off the street.”

Nate Randolph agreed, “I think we proceed with caution. The cut is really in the ball park of 5% of discretionary spending.”

Sandra Clements told how residents of her district can now venture outside their homes without fearing for their safety. “District Five has seen a positive impact. I will not support going back to what we were before.”

Jim Insco reminded the members that the body collectively committed to finding one million dollars in savings. “Let’s identify where we can make the cuts for additional paving. Let’s eradicate all drugs out of Huntington, not just District 5.” He pointed to overtime as a potential area for cuts. “There’s no way the police chief can convince me that a 13% reduction cannot happen.”

A showdown vote was on the table, but Jim Ritter suggested a referral to the finance committee to do  go line by line. This would allow an examination without continuing an already sensitive discussion. Mr. Williams withdrew his proposal to make the cut and the matter has been referred to the council finance committee.

The finance committee has a meeting scheduled this week. It is assumed that the line by line budget questions for the police and fire departments will now be added to that agenda.


As for Cabell-Wayne Animal Control, council voted to withhold the city’s $100,000 contribution, knowing this could close the shelter. However, Insco and council’s intention is to bring stakeholders to the table for discussions prior to the July 1 deadline. Of greatest concern, the only municipality that contributes to the shelter is Huntington.

The money will not be reallocated; it has been moved to contingency pending talks with the Cabell and Wayne County Commissions and other stakeholders.

The motion to remove the funding did not pass unanimously; however, based on a voice vote, HNN could not determine those that did vote against the proposal.

Check back with HNN for more budget hearing news.

 

 

EARLIER SUMMARY:

During the Saturday morning budget hearing, Huntington City Council has unanimously voted to restore funding for the constituent services liaison position in the mayor’s office. They have also voted to remove the $100,000 a year contribution to the animal control shelter and place it in the contingency fund.

The purpose of withholding the money at this time is to bring all parties to the table for discussions on improving the services provided by the shelter.

Further, Huntington’s council is concerned that it is the only municipality that contributes funds to the shelter, yet other cities and towns are served.

In addition, after a lengthy discussion, council has referred to the finance committee a challenge to determine if further cuts can be made in the Police and Fire Departments and allocate it to paving.