Galion Council approves 2013 budget, allows Police and Fire one new employee each
By Matt Echelberry
Galion City Council’s Dec. 11 meeting lasted just over two-and-a-half hours because of the unusual amount of public input regarding some of the legislation. In particular, lengthy discussions ensued for Ord. 2012–95 and Ord. 2012–96.
The first item of legislation adopted the 2013 Recovery Plan, which City Manager Gene Toy noted was discussed in detail during Council’s work session on Dec. 5.
Financial Supervisor Belinda Miller, from the State Auditor’s office, said the only change to the plan was the addition of the FEMA grant that the Fire Department was recently awarded for the purchase of new protective equipment.
Council member Roberta Wade asked about the debt service to American Municipal Power that was included in the appropriations of the plan.
Miller responded that the line item was inaccurately labeled because the debt was not ACTUAL debt, but rather the city’s obligation for construction of energy campus projects (such as AMPGS and Prairie State). Included separately was the actual purchase of power costs.
Referring to the debt service for November, Council member Walter Keib asked what a line item labeled “Unit 2 — prorated” was.
Toy explained that Prairie State, one of Galion’s sources of power, was divided into two units while the plant was constructed. When the second unit went online in early November, the city was charged only for the portion of the month that Unit 2 was operational and providing power to the city, which was the same billing format used when Unit 1 went online in June.
Council President Gail Baldinger asked if the debt service was for whole project or just one of the units. Toy said the line items in the Recovery Plan reflected the total project.
“As far as being out of fiscal emergency, is that in sight?” asked Council member Cathy George.
Miller explained that, while it is possible that Galion could be removed from that status, there are several components that will be looked at in the early part of 2013. Then, an evaluation in the latter half of that year will determine if it is reasonable to terminate the fiscal emergency situation of the city. She added that the process for removal from fiscal emergency takes several months to complete.
After the discussion, Council passed the legislation for the Recovery Plan.
Ord. 2012–96 adopted the 2013 Budget. George moved to approve the ordinance with a second by Council member Paul Flannery.
Miller said there were two options for Council to choose from: Option 1 was the basic budget proposal and Option 2 was the same budget, plus an additional employee appropriated for the Police Department and another for the Fire Department. (An option would need to be selected before the legislation could be passed.) According to Miller, it would cost the city $953,000 for the two additional employees over the course of five years, if Council decided on Option 2.
Wade motioned to approve Option 1, seconded by Flannery. Wade said, “It’s important at this point in time to do something for the citizens that have been struggling to pay the high utility bills…and now’s the time for us to consider getting more labor hours by using part-time people.”
Currently, there are 16 employees at each department. Employee salaries and benefits are maintained through two levy funds passed several years ago, 103 and 104. Balances in those accounts do not carry over year to year, they go back into the General Fund, and if those funds are exhausted, some money from the General Fund is used to pay anything not covered.
During the Dec. 5 work session, Fire Chief Phil Jackson estimated he pays out $70,000 per year in overtime hours.
Galion Police Chief Brian Saterfield also must pay overtime to cover a lack of manpower in the police force. He commented during the Council meeting that when the police and fire levy passed, the department heads promised the community they would try to get staffing levels up, but the financial status of the city led to outgoing positions not being filled.
Baldinger asked if the new personnel would be additional employees or if the departments were filling empty positions.
Saterfield explained that the answer was not that simple. By his count, there were 24 police officers at one time. After years of outgoing positions not being filled and the departments making do with what they had, each of them has dropped to 16 employees.
“I know you guys have been struggling to make it work in your departments, but we have people who have been struggling to make it work to live in Galion,” Wade argued, maintaining that the city should look into hiring part-time employees for a savings in employee benefits. That saved money, she said, could be used to benefit the citizens.
Fire Inspector Ric Biglin commented that he is not against hiring part-time people, but the departments want a full staff first, which would eliminate some of the overtime. He also noted that although Galion has a lower population than it once had, the call volume for fire and EMS services has grown to an “outrageous” level, also true with police calls.
Miller noted that part-time employees would not lead to net gains in the city’s budget because those employees would still contribute to the pension system.
Several citizens had something to say on the issue. First was Bob Cerar, who said he felt that approving Option 1 was “a step to get rid of police and fire services.”
“You’re taking two of the most dangerous jobs in the city and making them harder…It’s all well and good to talk about volunteers and part-time people, until it’s YOUR house on fire or you need help from a police officer,” he concluded.
Brad Gibson, a volunteer firefighter, said that police and fire protection are two of the most important things in the community. He asked Council to make budget cuts in other places.
“What is the recommended number of firemen per capita and police per capita?” asked Judy Gibson.
Biglin answered that Fire is definitely “under the standard” and must use overtime to make up for it. Option 2 would create two more jobs in Galion, plus full fire and police protection. Saterfield said the same for Police.
Board of Health Vice President Dennis Long commented that the Board gets a monthly report on drug overdose deaths and EMS transports related to overdoses. He reported that November was the first time in two years where there were zero reports for either.
He went on to say that Crawford County is moving down in the state rankings for overdose deaths, which he credits as a result of the work of the police squad and the fire/EMS team. “I’ve been to enough funerals of young people dying of heroin overdoses. I don’t want to see anymore,” he said.
Keib then pointed out that there are no rate increases for water, electricity or sewer in the budget proposal. “That is giving back to the citizens,” he said.
Wade argued that savings in the General Fund could be used instead to pay for street lighting and traffic lights, for example.
Saterfield said that, by choosing Option 2, nothing is being taken away from the citizens. It is the same Budget proposal, but allocates money for the two new positions. Option 1, on the other hand, allocated nothing for hiring part-time personnel.
Russell Henkel, a former firefighter, said: “Nobody in their right mind is going to take a part time job at one of the most dangerous jobs in this town.”
When Wade’s motion eventually came to a vote, it failed 6–1 with Wade in favor. Keib then motioned to select Option 2, seconded by George. The motion passed 6–1 with Wade dissenting.
After Council selected that option, it then took a vote on accepting the 2013 Budget as a first reading. There was no discussion from Council at that point, but Citizen Paula Durbin asked about a line item in the employee budget, called “Other Pay.” She asked what the $293,600 budgeted for it was.
Miller indicated that what Durbin referred to was in the packet that only City Council received, which was not public information. She then answered that other pay was a combination of a lot of miscellaneous items of the compensation package.
Council then approved the 2013 budget.