City Council discusses 5-year fiscal plan

By Frank Lewis

August 8, 2013

Frank Lewis

PDT Staff Writer

Portsmouth city employees will not get a salary increase for the next five years, which leaves non-union workers in the Municipal Court system without a raise for 10 years if Portsmouth Mayor David Malone’s five-year plan takes effect.

“This plan includes no personnel raises throughout the five years. No annual personnel raises,” Malone said. “Staffing levels, again, should remain the same as is currently on the payroll. And again, most of these items are dealing with the insurance coverage that the city presently is under. Item No. 5 is something we could even do without the union included. It’s just a simple policy change that we think that we might be able to get done. Of course we will speak to the unions and hopefully get their approval, but it’s not a contractual thing as far as the bargaining agreement issue.”

Item No. 5 is negotiating contract language to allow the city more flexibility to institute cost containment measures including co-pays and deductibles pending bargaining union agreements to attempt to eliminate the $850,000 deficit in that fund.

Despite agreeing that there are changes to be made to the document, and still conversations that have to be held with city union’s, Portsmouth City Council passed the resolution approving a five-year plan in response to a mandate from the Auditor of State’s office as part of the city’s fiscal watch status. Fifth Ward Councilman Gene Meadows cast the lone dissenting vote.

“The whole idea behind this is we had to present a five-year budget plan for the city,” Portsmouth Mayor David Malone said. “And the final numbers we looked at, they weren’t really going in the direction that we needed them to go in. We were over $1.5 million in the deficit, and so and I think that it was based upon the insurance premium we were adding into our plan, and because of that, the numbers are the way they came out. We went back and just added a 20 percent (premium) increase for 2014, and plan on meetings with the unions to speak about changing contract language to give the city position to come up with a different plan, option for the city that will reflect 2013’s premium cost. We wanted to talk to Gary Duzan (Portsmouth Insurance) who met with us to look at some options. We do plan to meet with the unions, probably in a couple of weeks to go over our ideas and our thoughts, and if they really choose to do so, it really wouldn’t take effect until 2015. However, if they’re willing to even delay the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) to include 2014, we can also include that within this plan, it would even put the city in just a little bit better position as far as our budget for 2014.”

Malone said everything else, including the staffing level, would remain the same as 2013.

“I really believe that once we educate the unions and talk with them and share with them where we are, and the rising cost of health care, how we need to control that issue, and I believe if they buy into it, I believe this plan is workable,” Malone said. “But it’s going to take some work. It’s going to take some communication. And again, most of all, it’s going to take some buy-in by the unions. And once we get that, we’re in good shape.”

First Ward Councilman Kevin W. Johnson called the plan a forecast such as what people see on a television weather forecast.

“This is going to be just like everything else, a living document that is going to change year by year,” Johnson said. He then offered two amendments to the resolution, which Council passed.

Meadows asked the question - “If this is approved and sent on to the state on the (Aug.) 9th, can we then come back on the 13th and just throw it all out, and say - ‘here’s what we meant to do?’ Is there a limit to how much we can amend? So we’re just submitting something to the state that means nothing.”

Malone disagreed with Meadows’ labeling of the plan.

“I can’t say it means nothing because I actually think that this will work if the unions buy in,” Malone said. “And speaking unofficially with some of the employees, and some union leaders, they understand where we are as far as the deficit of the city and especially in the insurance fund.”

Meadows asked if there is a contingency plan in case the unions don’t agree with the proposed plan.

“I think there is, but I didn’t want to address it, because, me personally, I don’t want to lay off anybody,” Malone said. “And I thought this was the last resort we could take without taking the layoffs.”

Meadows also called attention to the fact that the city is in breach of its own charter by not being in compliance with the requirement that both the Police Department and Fire Department have 44 employees.

The discussion continued to center around the plan just being something to show the state, and that it is really expected to change.

President of Council Steve Sturgill said, “If it’s all going to change, why are we here?”

Kevin W. Johnson said the plan was presented because it is required by the Ohio Revised Code it be presented within 120 days.

“We’re presenting a plan that, we’re already sitting here talking about not being even what we’re going to try to do. We’re already sitting here talking about we’re going to submit this plan knowing that we’re going to change it,” Meadows said.

In the end, the vote was 5-1 for adoption of the resolution.

“I want it reflected that I voted against it,” Meadows told the Daily Times after the meeting.

Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at flewis@civitasmedia.com. For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT.