GALLIPOLIS — The Gallipolis City Commission last week passed the first reading of ordinances accepting a proposed $17 million budget for 2014.
Prior to the reading of the ordinances, the commission held a brief budget hearing during which Gallipolis City Manager Randy Finney gave an overview of the capital expenditures as outlined in the budget prepared by city officials.
Finney reported there will be three older computers replaced at the Gallipolis Police Department totaling about $3,800, along with six air bottles for the self-contained breathing apparatuses at the Gallipolis Fire Department at about $4,600.
At the Gallipolis City Park, there had been plans for approximately $25,000 in electrical work this year, but Finney reported that due to the tight budget, only $4,000 in upgrades will be performed to electrical boxes at the city park, along with $5,000 in fence repairs at the baseball fields.
Under maintenance and repair to streets, Finney said the city will continue lease-purchase agreements on a backhoe, street sweeper, chipper and bucket truck, as well as pay the cost to replace two garage doors. The city also has plans to replace five lamp posts at $3,000 each along the state route through the city. The budget also allows for $15,000 in paving for repairs to the city streets in the coming year.
Finney also said the city will replace three traffic lights, at $3,000 a piece, along Ohio 7 in Gallipolis.
For the continued maintenance at the grounds of the city’s cemeteries, Finney said the city will replace a mower this year, purchasing a small pickup truck at approximately $8,000 for a four-year period, as well as a swing gate and a flag winch for the large flag pole located at Mound Hill Cemetery.
In the law enforcement trust fund, Finney also said that $25,000 has been allotted for the lease on three new police cruisers.
Also outlined in the capital expenditures is approximately $6.9 million in construction costs in the OPWC Water/Sewer Project Fund for upgrades to the Water Pollution Control Facility — a project that Finney said makes up the largest portion of the capital expenditures portion of the budget.
“There’s about $7 million there, but most of that is, again, the capital that we’re spending on the upgrades to the sewer plant itself,” Finney said.
During his discussion, Finney also spoke in regard to the increasing cost of health insurance for both the city and its employees.
“Probably one of the biggest hits we had this year was in hospitalization costs for medical insurance. It went up $116,000 this year. It is kind of related to some new employees coming on to our insurance program, along with 4.5 percent increase at the end of year, plus another 4.5 percent for Obamacare,” he said. “We’ve had some significant increases there, but it’s just people coming onto our plan that weren’t on it before, so it’s a pretty big hit to us. We’re a little over $600,000 for health care costs right now.”
With about 45 city employees on the health insurance, Finney reported that they are paying their fair share of insurance each month.
“They’re paying a share of it, but still that’s a huge number,” Finney said. “Everybody is in the same boat with what we’re dealing with. It’s becoming a real problem.”
City Commission Vice President Jay Cremeens asked whether it would be cheaper for the city to encourage employees to acquire insurance through open markets and then the city could reimburse them.
“There are companies doing that right now,” Finney responded. “They have to pay a fine, though. You have to pay a fine if you don’t offer insurance to [your employees]. I don’t think it’s a lot of money right now, but if a lot of people start doing that, they are probably going to raise that fee up to make it worth their while to do that for them.”
Cremeens further inquired if it would be possible for the city to look into ways to decrease the cost of health insurance — a task that the city manager said would require the help of an expert in the field.
“We’d need to have someone help us look into that because it’s just mind-boggling,” Finney said.
Following the hearing on the budget, the commission unanimously passed first reading of an ordinance, setting appropriations for current expenses of the city of Gallipolis during the fiscal year ending Dec. 31, 2014, as well as an ordinance authorizing the city auditor to transfer or advance funds. Second readings of the ordinances related to the 2014 budget are expected to be held at the commission’s next scheduled meeting at 7 p.m. March 18.
Commission President Steve Wallis spoke briefly concerning the continued work of the city’s departments on this year’s budget.
“I’d just want to reiterate that all of our departments have came in and really worked with us. We’ve told them that we have another year where we are really tight on the budget and they’ve done a tremendous job of the last few years, and, again, they’re helping us to try to get through this 2014 budget,” he said. “Hopefully, next year will be a better year and we can be a little more free to be able to do some things that we need to get caught up on that we’re just putting on the back burner.”