Citizens For A Better Norwood

Friday, April 08, 2011

Highlights from last night's COW meeting

COW Chair Donna Laake asked City Auditor Jim Stith to explain financial information he had prepared for members. He said the projected 2011 total payroll is $18,031,000 out of total revenues of $19.6 million. If City employees would agree to a 5% pay reduction for the rest of the year, the projected payroll would be $17,336,000, and if employees would also agree to forego longevity pay, payroll would be lower at $17,230,000.

Mr. Stith said things are so tight right now that some bills are not paid yet. Anthem has a 30-day grace period for late premium payment before the company cancels health insurance policies. The February payment was delayed, but was paid in time with the March payment. The April payment, which is due now, has not yet been paid.

Mr. Stith also said Duke Energy has threatened to send shut off notices if the January bill isn’t paid soon. He delayed the payment because council was considering having energy bills paid from Fund 28, which would save money in the general fund. Mr. Stith said council must authorize energy bill payments to be paid from Fund 28, and his preference would be that it be authorized via an ordinance separate from the appropriations ordinance.

As for payroll that is due April 15, we understood Mr. Stith to say that employees can be paid for the last 4 days of March only because those days are covered under the previously passed temporary appropriations.

Referring to “the elephant in the room,” Councilperson Victor Scheneider had harsh words for Democratic members who seem to want council to approve the 2-year fire and police contracts that contain concessions that are reflected in the yet to be passed 2011 budget. He said we cannot afford the contracts but are nonetheless being forced to pass them, which is "ludicrous." After stating the meeting was not a meeting of compromise, and “that’s ridiculous,” he left, though not before Mr. Mumper pointed out that Mr. Schneider had previously voted for the 2011 budget with the fire and police concessions included.

Councilperson Joe Sanker immediately stated that the budget won't work at all without the police and fire concessions, but those concessions aren’t valid without approval of the 2-year contracts that support them. Without approval, both unions can walk away from their $1 million offer; the concessions must be approved so “we can move forward.” Otherwise, the City will be obligated to fund all police and fire positions per their current contracts.

Mr. Stith said the Law Director has told him it is legal to pass permanent appropriations that don’t fully fund all positions for the entire year, but council needs to do something soon so that utilities, payroll, and health insurance can be paid. He said he’s worried about meeting payroll as soon as June because of cash flow problems.

Mr. Sanker pointed out that Mr. Stith had previously said he would not sign off on a 2011 budget that was not fully funded because he considered it unethical to do so, but now it is okay. Regardless, Mr. Sanker said he is not comfortable with passing the budget with fire and police concessions that are not approved by passing their 2-year contracts.

In an effort to resolve council’s impasse on the budget, Donna Laake said she had contacted Liz Blume with Xavier’s Building Institute to see if they had anyone would could assist if a City negotiating team were assembled with Mayor Williams’ permission. Ms. Blume said that kind of assistance could be made available.

Mayor Williams responded by saying, “If I have this straight, what you’re saying is to go ahead and pass the budget and trust us.” He stated he doesn’t trust the situation and said in no certain terms that he had successfully negotiated concessions with the fire and police unions (worth $1 million this year alone) as council had directed him to do, yet the majority is unwilling to authorize them. He said in years past, both unions have made concessions that have saved the City money. He said, “I was asked to do something, and I did it…if you don’t want to pass it (the concessions), don’t pass it.

Ms. Laake restated that if a budget isn’t passed at the next council meeting next Tuesday, City employees can’t be paid for the full two weeks they will have worked. She said she believed council can pass a budget that doesn’t fund the entire year.

Mr. Mumper added that 6 years ago, council passed a budget that didn’t fully fund payroll, but Mr. Stith has previously said he wouldn’t allow that. He asked Mr. Stith if the Hamilton County Budget Commission could ask to see the fire and police contracts that support the $1 million in concessions if the budget is approved and the 2-year contracts are not approved. Mr. Stith replied that the commission can ask for anything they want.

In hindsight, Mr. Stith said he has started to conclude that the Finance Committee’s approach to funding positions was micromanaging, and that may not be the way to go. Instead, he suggested that perhaps departments heads should be allocated a block of money to be used at their own discretion. If they want to lay personnel offer sooner instead of later, they could. He told Mr. Mumper that he has reversed his previous position on funding personnel.

As we understand it, the meeting ended with agreement that both the police and fire contracts will be on next Tuesday’s night’s council agenda, along with the 2011 budget still containing the police and fire concessions, and whatever needs to be passed so that Jim Stith can pay Duke Energy from Fund 28 and meet Friday's payroll.