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October 30, 2013

 

Council reviews police, codes budgets

Staffing issues dominate discussion about departments’ 2014 spending

By STEVEN HOWE
Staff Reporter
showe@cortlandstandardnews.net

Department staffing concerns and expenses were brought to the forefront during a budget workshop Tuesday night, as the city continues to operate under a hiring freeze.
Police Chief Michael Catalano presented a $5.3 million police budget that comprises 27.9 percent of the city’s total general budget. The police budget increases spending $107,518, or approximately 2 percent next year.
Alderman John Bennett (D-4th Ward) brought up the police department’s $54,420 decrease in overtime spending and $24,449 decrease in holiday pay. The 2014 budget includes $47,142 in holiday pay and $193,580 in overtime.
Catalano said that the numbers, while significantly different from the 2013 budget, were more in line with 2012 spending, which found the police department spent only $184,028 on overtime and $42,169 on holiday pay.
Included in the budget is an additional $12,000 that’s earmarked for cameras on Main Street, considerably less than the $40,000 set aside for the same purpose in 2013.
Catalano also expects to add a K-9 unit, which the city has not had in 17 years. Adding the unit would not result in an increase in personnel.
The last dog used by the city police served for around 10 years; a dog added to the force would be used in drug location and tracking activities if added.
“I’m happy, for the most part, with the budget,” Catalano said. “I’m especially happy that personnel numbers are staying constant.”
Maintaining and possibly increasing fire and code department numbers was less well received by the council when the fire and codes budget were brought forward by Fire Chief Charles Glover and Assistant Fire Chief William Knickerbocker.
Included in the 2014 fire budget, which proposes $3.8 million in expenditures, is $125,000 in federal grant money.
Bennett questioned the decision to include significant grant money that has not been awarded yet to the department budget. Glover said that the department’s success pulling in funding should allay some fears of including the funding, which is $73,616 more than in 2013. The fire department’s budget is 20 percent of the city’s total general budget.
“We have been very successful in writing grants,” Glover said.
Bennett’s concerns weren’t assuaged, citing the uncertainty of state and federal funding.
“I have a lot of trouble taking that revenue and putting it here,” Bennett said.
Overall, the fire department budget would decrease, including the grant funding, from $3.7 million in 2013 to $3.6 million for 2014.
The codes budget would rise from $197,143 in 2013 to $319,554 this year, an increase of $122,411.
The codes office generates revenue through fees, though spending outstrips revenue. The department’s revenue will decrease because no revenue is being budgeted from the city’s rental permit program, which is awaiting the results of a lawsuit against it.
The 2013 budget included $72,500 in revenue from the program, though none was collected. The bulk of the increase in spending would result from replacing a part-time position in the codes office that pays $22,000 with a full-time, $44,000 position. The new position would also be tied to a $30,424 payment to the state’s employee retirement system.
Alderman Kathryn Silliman (D-2nd Ward) asked Glover which position he would rather was filled, a full-time position in the codes office or the full-time firefighter position left vacant following a captain’s retirement.
Glover said that when he joined the city fire department there were 120 volunteers and more than 40 career firefighters. The department now has about 40 volunteers and 34 paid firefighters.
“They’re both important enough for the community,” Glover said of the codes and firefighter positions.
Alderman Linda Ferguson (D-7th Ward) said that comparing the two positions was comparing apples and oranges, as they serve different functions within the community.
Chief Operator Bruce Adams presented the city’s wastewater budget of $3.7 million, a decrease of $168,621 from last year’s $3.9 million total. That decrease held up despite a $20,000 increase in equipment costs. As the plant improves and updates its equipment, Adams has seen a dramatic reduction in utilities spending, amounting to nearly half of the total budget decrease. Adams is predicting an $80,000 reduction in utility costs for 2014, though that number is expected to level off in the near future.
Another contributing factor was staffing. Adams said a mechanic at the wastewater plant moved on to a different job and the position was not filled, saving the city $32,857. Despite the loss, Adams said maintenance at the plant should not be affected.
The council will vote to accept the budget at its Nov. 5 meeting. At that meeting additional workshops and a public hearing on the budget will also be scheduled.

 

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