Scraping Police and Fire Department Line Items Next for Finance Committee

by Tony Rutherford HuntingtonNews.Net Reporter
Scraping Police and Fire Department Line Items Next for Finance Committee

HUNTINGTON, WV (HNN) – When Huntington City Council voted to restore a civilian maintenance position to the Huntington Police Department, Chief Skip Holbrook told council Saturday, March 5, “we [have gone] line by line” to make cuts. Our approach was what position would have the least impact on police operations.”

Department personnel came well prepared for the hearing with hand outs and pie charts demonstrating benefits, savings and use of grant monies and other appropriations. And, they had an accomplishment that was partially forgotten in the debate over scrounging for cuts and paving.

Thanking council for its “investment in the police department,” Holbrook revealed that “two years into our [five year] strategic plan, we have met or implemented every one of those goals.” Now, the department will start discussion of fulfilling more challenges by developing a more ambitious plan.

Encouraged by a six to seven percent decrease in crime, Holbrook told council “we are policing smarter” by having “reduced administration” to put more “boots on the street.”

However, the “smart policing” can be attributed to taking advantage of multi-operations task forces as well as grant funding. “For every dollar invested [in multi-agency task force], we get back $1.74. For every dollar spent on drug [curtailment], the return is $6.82.”

Holbrook credits the “leaps and bounds” improvements to user fee money and general fund appropriations such as the lease/purchase of vehicles. Maintenance costs have been reduced by the newer fleet.

“None of this is possible without the men and women believing in my policing philosophy. They exceed all expectations,” Holbrook stated.

Councilman Randolph applauded Holbrook and his staff for fixing a “broken system,” adding “you run a tight ship.” Even, council finance chair Steve Williams called the 174% return “incredible,” which “speaks volumes” for the work done in the department.

Jim Ritter added his complements that the “department has changed…things are a lot better now [than under previous administrations. I appreciate the community work you are doing.”

However, Williams and Insco appear to have their sights set on scrutinizing the police overtime budget to find most of the requested cuts for redirection to smoothing out the “Hanoi highway warzone” that is Huntington’s streets.

One policy briefly discussed: A mandatory four hours for a call out; some cities have only two hours.

But, the discussion had a sense of urgency when Holbrook said that any additional cuts in the department would come from personnel, likely civilian employees, which would mean moving sworn officers inside to do those tasks.

Here’s an edited transcript of the debate:

WILLIAMS: I have in mind moving $200,000 out of this department … it is needed to build our paving line item.

HOLBROOK: That will absolutely be positions without question.

CLEMENTS: If it means people, I’m not going to support it.

JACKSON: I don’t want to lose officers or the maintenance man, either…if it comes down to officers, there is no way.

CASERTA: I appreciate setting aside more money for paving. We’re not going to make a dent (on it) this fiscal year. Since Chief Holbrook came we’ve seen honor and dignity brought back to the officers, they are super heroes to our youngest kids. Seeing that black and white flying down Third Avenue means they are doing their job… I’m not willing to remove a dollar from the police department budget. If it means having to drive through another pot hole, I’ll swerve.

JACKSON: I’d rather go around a pot hole than compromise the police.

MAYOR WOLFE: We hit them once before they got to you guys. They are at bare bones without touching services. [Additional cuts will be] hard to get through without jeopardizing public safety. We will be taking officers off the street.

RITTER: I’m willing to sit here and go line by line as to why this can’t be cut…

RANDOLPH: The cut really is in the ballpark of 5% of discretionary spending. I think we proceed with caution. Bucks out of the Police Department is a pretty tall order.

CLEMENTS: I agree with Mr. Randolph. District 5 has seen a positive impact. I will not support going back to where we were.

INSCO: The police and fire departments make up 55% of our budget. There’s no where else to cut in public works. Where are we going to find additional paving [money]? There’s no way the police chief can convince me that a 13% reduction in overtime cannot happen. We have to find the [paving money] somewhere. If its not the police, I’m ok with that.

MS JACOBS JONES: We understand council’s wishes. Let’s take the Police Department off the table. I drive 18th Street every day and I’m dodging 30 pot holes, but we are on the brink of success in a number of areas. Allow us to continue. Let’s not undermine success for the sake of [additional] paving. There is [currently] $750,000 identified in paving. We are going to start by the end of March or beginning of april. We know that paving need to happen.

CASERTA: Did we take a vote on the one million dollar line item for paving? Let’s go with $800,000. You have to have police, fire and public works.

RANDOLPH: I agree we can squeeze a few bucks from police, but I don’t know if $166,000 is the number. What [will be] the aftershocks of meeting an arbitrary goal?

HOLBROOK: Since I’ve been here, I’ve never brought something before council that Mr. Insco and Mr. Williams have not supported. The thing that frustrates me is we went to great lengths to explain OT and break down OT. We have gone line item by line item to get where we are today. OT expenses were $900,000 last year; I’m confident we’re going to see a change of $150,000 and maybe a little more. We are dealing with scraps on the table…it’s almost like you have devalued what we have presented. We are good stewards with our money.

WILLIAMS: Let’s look under every stone. I support the police department, but I’m embarrassed at what out on the streets. I don’t think my choice is mutually exclusive: Public safety v. public pride in our infrastructure. I want both of them.

 

Council then voted to refer the matter to the Finance Committee for review of the Police and Fire Department budgets to see if money can be identified for redirection to paving.