ANALYSIS: Will Holbrook's Decision Impact Council Budget Makers and Possible Fee Increases?

Updated 22 weeks ago by Tony E. Rutherford, News Editor
ANALYSIS: Will Holbrook's Decision Impact Council Budget Makers and Possible Fee Increases?

Huntington's proposed "flat" budget has been the subject of three hearings before Huntington City Council.

Although Mayor Steve Williams asked for the status quo, he has had city departments tell council of their needs that had to be extracted to maintain a "flat" budget. Huntington Police Chief Skip Holbrook indicated that his department had to pull out "critical needs" which are necessary to continue the city's progress in lowering crime. He also told council members that grant sources which have over the past years improved the strength of the department are not as available.

Huntington Fire Chief Carl Eastham detailed maintenance issues, including the city's Central Fire Station.

Council vice chairman Scott Caserta requested that Finance Director Deron Runyon prepare a revenue raising overview. The Police Department and Paving receives dedicated funding through the city user fee, which is $3.00 weekly. Runyon's briefing note indicated that the City Service Fee produces $1.5 million dollars in revenue for each $1 per week increase.

The Municipal Service Fee (MSF) has two components and is dedicated for fire and flood revenue. The fixed portion charges $120 per year and 7.35 cents per square foot. Since the city has about 18,800 accounts and 57 million square feet, $1.5 million could be raised "solely from the fixed rate" the amount would have to be increased to $214 per year (which includes adjustment for non-collectable accounts). A similar revenue increase solely from the square footage component would result in a charge of 10.30 cents per square foot.

Translating the data to an average household, the briefing note (available for download as a PDF) calculates the average residence as 1,500 square feet at $230.25 ($120.00 + $110.25 variable). Raising only the fixed rate would place the average residential fee at $324.25 and raising the variable rate would increase the average fee to $274.50 per year.

Williams budget proposal provided for a 3% employee pay raise. In addition, it contains a new step level, which would allow a grade higher than the current maximum. Williams said this was necessary to retain "world class" employees.

However, should Police Chief Skip Holbrook announce that he has chosen to accept the Columbia, South Carolina, position, how will this impact the ongoing budget hearings?  Will council members be less likely to increase fees since police department leadership could change?  Could these proposed decisions be "incentives" to retain Holbrook in Huntington? Should Holbrook leave, would the police related decisions be best made after the selection of a new police chief who would determine his own critical needs?

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