Council Passes Flat Budget

by Tony Rutherford HuntingtonNews.Net Reporter

Huntington City Council on Monday, March 24, unanimously passed what Huntington Mayor Steve Williams called "a comma" budget for the 2014-2015 fiscal year. Within the next 60-90 days "we are going to identify priorities to address and the manner to pay for them over the next three to five years.," Williams said.

Councilman David Ball requested an adjustment that would add $40,000 for essential fire equipment, which Mayor Williams shifted from an uncommitted  fire excess levy line item. He stressed concerns over "reorganization" of pay grade decisions, but deferred that issue until a future finance committee meeting.

Former Executive Director of the Huntington Sanitary Board, Kit Anderson, reminded council that the administration has shifted flood wall and stormwater expenses and responsibilities to the HSB.

"I'm not sure of the legality of shifting (these) liabilities to the Sanitary Board," Anderson told council. "No one has a grasp of the flood wall liabilities. I don't see how the sanitary board can bear (the) expense."

Anderson's flood wall concern reflects the continuing evaluation and upgrades mandated by  the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers which will continue determining  rehabilitation steps necessary for the area's source of flood protection.

He resigned as executive director of the HSB during discussion of labor and management matter and noted that the now approved budget contains 3% pay increases for city employees.

Prior to passage, Mayor Williams emphasized that the budget provides "barely what it takes to make ends meet.. Everyone of these divisions needs additional help. Don't ask me to (choose) one over the other."

He stressed that the city's history of "creating short term gains" have led to long term losses. Among those losses were 18 months of arson due to substandard fire department funding and the city becoming "awash in drugs and gun violence" due to police department cutbacks. The consequences of public works whittling have been flooded streets, sinkholes, and hill slides.

"We're biting the bullet," Williams said. "This is the base" and it "sends a message," which will be addressing long term needs in a systematic fashion.

The budget passed spells out minimal status quo budget expenditures and anticipated revenues for the coming year.

Council and the administration have both acknowledged that the city has a formidable list of hard decisions still to be made on the best choices for moving the city forward and how to pay for them. A town hall forum has been mentioned as one method for setting the priorities.





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