Huntington Fire Department Budget Unintentionally Increased; New Car More ‘Emergency’ Than Safety Gear

by Tony Rutherford HuntingtonNews.Net Reporter
HUNTINGTON, WV (HNN) – Unanticipated expenses lead to budget alterations and definitions of convenience and emergency actions vary in the perspective of day to day operations.

Jim Insco (file photo)
Jim Insco (file photo)
However, during a meeting of the Finance Committee, Wednesday, June 2, the committee voted to recommend removing a council approved but not debated $119,436 increase in the Fire Department fiscal 2010-2011 budget. In addition, the committee learned that the Department had accepted delivery on a 2011 Ford Expedition, but had not yet obtained egress equipment and air packs had been presented as fast track to potentially save lives.

The HFD is not the only department with an inner-departmental budget problem, city Finance Director Deron Runyon told the committee a special call council meeting will be necessary for a budget revision.

“A couple of departments need [the money] to meet payroll,” Runyon explained.

The special meeting will consider approval of the purchase of a home on Harvey Road in which a landslide has blocked access. The City has spent $2,000-$3,000 on hotel expenses for the owner. The city and owner have agreed that the property which now has no entrance or exit due to slides appraised as $59,000.

Prior to the special call, administration members have been asked to research whether other properties in the vicinity could develop similar issues.

The special call will be Wednesday, June 8 at 5:30 p.m.

 

HUNTINGTON FIRE

Fire Chief Moore (file photo)
Fire Chief Moore (file photo)

When the Fiscal 2010-2011 budget for the Huntington Fire Department (HFD) had been given council approval , the amount July 2010 (Budget Comparison Report, Downoad PDF#1 ), $10,252,680.65. Of that, $1.790, 481 represented Overtime.

During the fiscal year reports, an analysis indicated that the OT in the HFD ran 5 to 10% ahead of the percentage of fiscal year. As of today, they have consumed about 95% of their OT budget, according to Steve Williams and unaudited budget comparisons.

On May 20, 2011, Steve Williams sent Deron Runyon , city Finance Director, an email at 2:36 a.m. “The April Financial Report indicates the Fire Department budget is $10,372, 680.65. The fire department budget was increased $119,436 in March. I am certain this was an inadvertent revision since it was never present to council that the HFD needed an increase.”

Fire Chief Craig Moore had appeared before the Finance Committee and council asking for safety related equipment purchases totaling about $120,000. Among the items were new radio tower repeaters (an example was cited that radios could not be heard in all locations of the city ), emergency egress equipment (rope) and air pack and portable radios.

Chief Moore and firefighters demonstrated the needs and indicated that communication problems occurred in the basement of the Keith Albee Performing Arts Center and a referral was made to what could have been handled differently if the equipment had been in use at the time of the Emmons Apartment tragedy.

Since a spending freeze was in place and since purchases amounts required council approval, Moore also told council the items could be acquired within his current (fiscal year 2010-2011 ) budget.

[Editor’s Note: On the July 2010 budget, the HFD had $1,790,481.00 for OT and $61,828 for other equipment, $2,000 for office equipment, and $172,768 for vehicles. The April 2011 unaudited stipulates $1,899,915.00 for OT, $190,853.42 for other equipment, $179,793.00 for vehicles, and $1,000 for office equipment.)

MARCH MID YEAR CORRECTIONS

At Wednesday’s finance meeting Runyon told the committee that the March figures included “department head estimates for rest of [the current] fiscal year.”

Runyon told council that during his presentation for the March 14, 2011 budget revision “I can not say I stated the Fire Department needed an increased amount.”

Brandi Jacobs-Jones, director of Finance and Administration, told Williams that the fiscal data represented “internal” discussions with department heads “to see what’s trending low or what’s trending high.” However, she answered “no sir,” to a question by Williams if either the Mayor or she asked council specifically for an HFD budget increase.

The transcript of the March 14, 2011 council meeting (and the resolution approved) shows the HFD increase of nearly $120,000. Download PDF #2, Transcript and March Resolution.

Ms. Jacobs-Jones stated the alterations had to do with both the Fiscal 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 budgeting process. “It’s part of the discourse, there is no sleight of hand.”

While the FD increase is contained in the approved resolution (“Shame on us for not catching it,” Williams told the committee and administration members in attendance.), Runyon’s short version referred to it as a “cleanup at the middle of the year. It allows us to move the monies.” Emphasizing that “there’s no change in revenue, just moves between the actual items. Same thing on the expense side,” Runyon stressed, “it’s primarily fuel, utilities and salt are the largest items that will increase, about $76,000 for fuel, $132,000 for utilities and salt about $79,000. That makes up the bulk of it and then other items within each individual budgets (sic)..”

VEHICLE RECEIVED; SAFETY EQUIPMENT NOT

Council members Thacker, Houck and Insco
Council members Thacker, Houck and Insco
(file photo)

However, funds have not yet been spent on the emergency equipment for egress (about $25,000) and air packs/portable radios (about $26,001), as these are as of May 23, 2011 not yet encumbered (i.e. spent).

But , the Department has acquired a 2011 Ford Expedition ($27,196) replacing a vehicle that could no longer be used.

Runyon told the committee the safety equipment was not acquired because “we were held back” by the impending debate over the HFD fiscal 2010-2011 budget.

Although the vehicle was available at the current price, Insco asked, “You’re telling me the Ford is more important than ropes and airpacks?”

Williams added, “[you mean] it’s more important to get the Expedition than to save lives?”

Insco interrupted that a budget revision was made to purchase radios and airpacks. “Council allocated money to do that and it still was not done.”

Ms. Jacobs-Jones explained, “you go with the [safety] need by asking the department head.”

“How can a truck be more important than radios or safety equipment,” Insco again stated requesting that Chief Moore come to the microphone.

Chief Moore told the body, “We have a better ability to communicate ,” since the radio repeaters have been purchased and installed. We ordered the oxygen tanks, but we’re sending them back. The fire prevention vehicle was on the rack and was not able to “respond in emergency mode” due to the pot holes. “Rope and rescue [still] has to go out for bid,” Moore explained.

Jim Ritter scoffed, “It was the equipment to save lives, not the car,” that represented the dire emergency.

Russ Houck inquired why the air packs and other safety devices had not been purchased, adding that the delay impairs individual firefighter safety.

Moore responded, “the bid is more than $15,000 and it has to come before council.”

 

NEW RESOLUTION

The finance committee will bring a resolution to council which takes back the $120,000 added to the fire department. For Resolution, DOWNLOAD June 2011 RESOLUTION REVISED.

Next:

The debate over the air conditioning unit at the central station.

 

 

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