Huntington City Council discusses budget

The Common Council of the City of Huntington met Tuesday morning, Sept. 29, tackling a slew of budgetary and other issues.

Council passed on first reading a one percent raise for appointed officers and hourly employees of the city and the possibility of a $1,000 bonus to be paid in July 2021, if the city has excess cash balance.

Mayor Richard Strick explained that the considerations exclude himself, the director of operations, and council members and elected officials.

The resolutions were passed unanimously, although Councilman Jerry Meehan, Jr., District 3, was trepidatious about adopting the resolution.

“I just think that’s a little excessive in my eyes, as far as a $1,000 bonus and a one percent raise. My feeling is one or the other,” he said.

“There’s a lot of people struggling,” said Meehan, “I’m not sure what message that sends to the people that are struggling.”

“I think that’s a consideration that everyone is making,” said Strick, “As we were preparing the budget … should we do this in light of what is happening with others in our community?”

“There is a solidarity aspect to how we approach things and how we are perceived in the community, so that is a fair consideration,” Strick added.

Councilman Charlie Chapman, District 1, added to the discussion, “I think one percent is modest.”

“(In the parks department) those guys are really working hard.” Chapman said, “Our public safety guys are putting themselves out there every day.

“Also, it appears our income tax is increasing … that tells us that regardless of the unemployment rate, we are doing well in Huntington County.

“I shared your concern, Jerry, until I saw that number being solid. I think we can do it … in light of the income tax revenue being strong, I think it’s a good idea.”

“To keep decent people, you’ve got to pay them,” concluded Councilman Dave Funk, District 4.

The resolutions will be reintroduced for a second reading and adoption at the next meeting of council, Oct. 13 at 7 p.m.

Also in consideration Cont. on Pg. 18 were the department budgets for 2021.

Steve Yoder, superintendent of parks and recreation, presented four different scenarios to the council to resolve an issue with the park’s mowing contracts.

On Sept. 13 The TAB reported that changes in contract mowing were discussed for the park budget, during the Sept. 8 meeting of council. Due to a low number of job bids, Yoder proposed a $10,000 increase for mowing to allow for the purchase of a new zero-turn mower, which would allow for part of the contract mowing to be taken over by a park employee. City council members at that time requested a presentation of more options to solve the issue.

After discussion of the four different scenarios, council and Yoder agreed on Tuesday to move forward with the budget as presented, which will allow Yoder to experiment with taking some mowing in house, with the safety net of contracted mowing remaining.

Further discussion will be had in the future in regards to adequately solving the mowing issue.

Fire Department Chief Tony Johnson presented additional information about the type of new fire department vehicle he hopes to purchase in 2021.

Johnson says in the last 10 to 15 years the department has taken on a slew of new responsibilities, and each truck must be outfitted with equipment that allows them to perform those tasks.

He noted that the earliest a new truck will be ready for use will be the summer of 2021.

The expected lifetime of the new truck is about 15 years, Johnson says. After that time, he says the truck may still be able to be used, but it would not be a “front line” truck.

The new vehicle will cost in total between $617,000 to $715,000, said Johnson.

Strick explained that the 2021 budget includes a down payment for the vehicle.

Kevin Krauskopf, communications director, offered clarifications about task forces he would like to activate with $5,000 from the 2021 budget.

He said those task forces include neighborhood alliances that have not been meeting due to COVID-19, who would like to reconvene, as well as the Downtown Business Association.

In total, the money would benefit about 15 different groups, he said.

Krauskopf said the money will be distributed between each group, which will equate to a bit less than $30 per group, per month in 2021.

The money, said Krauskopf, will be used for printed items, promotional items and advertising.

The street department budget remained unchanged, which will allow the department to purchase a new grapple truck after the first of the year.

Additionally, Strick presented to council a roadmap to how the city is spending its CARES Act allocation.

He says it is a mixture of immediate needs and long-term resolution of persistent problems.

In other business, council approved resolution 11-R-20, which repeals and replaces resolution 8-R-20 that was passed in August 2020.

Resolution 8-R-20 committed roughly $1.2 million in local match funds and authorized the Huntington County United Economic Development Corporation (HCUED) permission for submission of a grant application to the U.S. EDA to pay for the acquisition of 172 acres of additional real estate for the Riverfork West Industrial Park project.

Resolution 11-R-20 allows the HCUED to move ahead with the grant application, with local match amount remaining unchanged at 20 percent of the overall project.

Minor adjustments within funding allocations finalized in 11-R-20 include the removal of a Huntington County financial commitment, and an addition of $25,000 commitment from HCUED.

Council also approved resolution 12-R-20, which allows the city’s Storm Water Board (SWB) to issue bonds to pay for certain citywide storm water projects.

These projects will include inspection of the Flint Creek Storm Sewer, Lindley and State Street culvert projects, Cottage and Jessup Streets storm water project and storm water and sewer separation affecting CSO 15.