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Budget issues focus in Follansbee

May 16, 2013
Weirton Daily Times

FOLLANSBEE - City Police's assistance to neighboring law enforcement agencies and transportation of arrested individuals to the Northern Regional Jail are among issues being reviewed by city officials with financial concerns in mind.

But Mayor David Velegol Jr. and City Manager John DeStefano stressed there are no plans to eliminate mutual aid agreements that allow city officers to help neighboring police and vice versa.

"There's no intention of getting rid of mutual aid. If an officer in another community is in need, Follansbee Police are certainly going to assist," said Velegol.

He and DeStefano said there have been instances of City Police leaving the city to respond to incidents when they weren't dispatched by the county's emergency 911 center.

City Police Chief John Schwertfeger said mutual aid agreements with other law enforcement agencies must be preserved.

"I would never give one of my officers an order not to back up another officer," said Schwertfeger.

He said the need for them is underscored by the incident Sunday in which Wellsburg Police were called to intervene in a fight involving three dogs because the Follansbee officer on duty was returning from transporting two subjects to the Northern Regional Jail. Three people were bitten.

The issue of transports to the Northern Regional Jail also has been raised by city officials, who have suggested police transport only those charged with felonies to the prison. The proposal was intended to reduce the incidence of a single officer on duty being away from the city.

But Schwertfeger said state law requires officers to incarcerate some who commit misdemeanors, such as domestic violence.

Velegol said that aspect has been brought to his attention by a city officer. He added the officer also offered "well thought out" arguments on the mutual aid issue that will be considered.

The officer's comments were submitted through a survey circulated to employees of all city departments gauging their opinion on various proposals aimed at reducing the city's budget.

In a cover letter for the survey, Velegol states, "Based upon decreasing revenues (i.e. B&O tax) and increasing costs (i.e. health care), it was agreed that it is time to review and adjust the city's budget. In the budget submitted to the state for the upcoming fiscal year, City Council wasn't able to include any capital improvements, which are greatly needed in our city, such as street paving, curb and sidewalk replacement and improvements to our parks. These omissions greatly concerned City Council."

Plans call for the budget to be cut from about $3 million last year to $2.6 million.

DeStefano said the cut isn't as deep as it appears, as it includes a $220,000 grant that had been awarded for renovations to the City Building that council has put on hold.

Among the many proposals cited in the survey are capping vacation time at four weeks, based on years employed; reducing the number of paid holidays from the current 18; staggering shifts for staff at the City Building to allow it to be open earlier and later; and changing how employees are paid for unused sick days.

The survey states the city has had several employees in the past year who resigned or retired at a cost of about $10,000 due to payment for unused sick days.

"When that happens in a year, you take hits (financially) you didn't expect to take," said DeStefano.

The city manager said cutting the number of sick days and offering a short-term disability period or paying for unused sick days in the year in which they aren't taken are among changes proposed.

Asked about paid holidays, DeStefano said the city traditionally has conformed with those set for state employees, but may not be required to do that.

He said changes could include keeping the City Building open on Election Day. Though council chambers there are used as a polling place, they have their own entrance and a door between that area and the rest of the building could be locked, he said.

City officials also have discussed formally establishing the day before Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve as half-days for the City Building and polling city employees about the holidays they would like.

Velegol said city employees are being asked to comment on the proposed changes and any ideas they believe will help the city to be run more financially efficient.

"We didn't want to do anything in a vacuum. We're asking the employees for input," he said.

Schwertfeger said while city officials are seeking cuts to all departments, he believes the police department has been unfairly targeted. He said the department is nearing the end of the current fiscal year under budget by about $30,000.

He said the city shouldn't make deep cuts to essential services to make improvements to local parks.

DeStefano said the police department appears under budget because he over-budgeted them somewhat based on last year's revenue.

He said all departments, including parks, are receiving cuts. But he added many residents believe the parks are important, too, and he is pursuing a private grant to replace old playground equipment at Mahan Playground.

 
 

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