Last of the Big Spenders

Filed under: Uncategorized — tkm March 24, 2010 @ 14:0 pm

Do our city employees feel they are better than the rest of us? Let’s look at some of the extras provided to City employees at a cost to the taxpayers.

Last year the former mayor (Jim Kalb) and 4 members of council (David Malone, Gerald Albrecht, John Haas, and Mike Mearan) voted to provide all city employees 100% of their pension pickup. This requires the taxpayers of Portsmouth to assume costs associated with this expense. How many other taxpayers of Portsmouth can say their employers pay 100% of their pension pickup?

In 2009 the City’s Union contracts were presented to Council by Kalb and approved by Council members David Malone, Gerald Albrecht, John Haas, and Mike Mearan, which guaranteed City employees a 3% pay raise for the current year plus the next 2 years. Prior to Council’s approval the Auditor (Trent Williams) stated he could not guarantee monies would be available to meet payout of these contracts. He also reminded Council that his projection for the current year (2009) places the City more than $1 million in the red and next year (2010) looked worse; the City ended fiscal year 2009 in the red and no plans have been presented for recovery.

City employees are required to pay a very minimal percentage of their medical health insurance premiums (single plan $25 and family plan $50). I don’t know of another employer who does not require a larger employee match. I would be willing to bet most taxpayers of Portsmouth are paying to provide better health insurance to City employees than they receive themselves.

A number of City employees are provided a City credit card and cell phone. The past several years the State Auditor’s office has recommended that the City implement a cell phone and credit card policy to stop Waste, Fraud and Abuse; this has not been done.

The City must assess the benefits of supplying a police cruiser or SUV to each police officer and to many City employees during off scheduled work time. It has been reported some Police Officers and City employees are using these vehicles for their personal use and for transporting family members. How is this personal usage abuse affecting the costs associated to insurance and the legal responsibilities and liabilities to the City if an accident involving personal injuries would occur? It is also noted several of these City vehicles are being driven to homes outside the City limits regardless of the distance (some more than 35 miles each way). This practice burdens the taxpayers with paying related costs for transportation to and from work, maintenance for wear and tear on the vehicle and gas usage costs. Just this past year Trent Williams procured a new City owned SUV for the Auditor’s Department. What possible justifications could the auditor’s office have to purchase a new gas guzzling SUV when the city is close to bankruptcy? This purchase sounds a lot like Kalb’s request for a new gas guzzling SUV to drive to the water tower and to provide him a better car than anyone else in the City.

The City needs to establish a centralized car pool and a policy to purchase in the future only gas economy cars. This would help reduce the cost burden on the taxpayers of Portsmouth. Prior to departments being assigned their own vehicle(s) the department heads should provide the Mayor a cost and utilization justification for approval. If approved a formalized departmental policy and tracking system should be established to ensure against waste, fraud and abuse. Also, the Police Department needs to change past practice in allowing officers to drive City cruisers home. Each cruiser should be utilized by all three (3) shifts. For the past 3 to 4 years the Chief (Charles Horner) has authorized replacement of as many as 15 cars in one year. These cars were all new 8 cylinder gas guzzling cars (some SUV’s). By reducing the fleet and only purchasing gas economy cars the City would achieve a big savings for the taxpayers.

After reading the article below I have come to the conclusion that Union officials are requesting the Mayor to scheme methods of placing charge-offs against certain Enterprise Funds to cover employee payroll and benefit package overhead. By law the City cannot arbitrarily use these funds but only use them for costs directly associated to that Enterprise Fund. An inappropriate use of these funds not only depletes available monies associated in each Enterprise Fund (water, sewer, and garbage) but shows a lack of compromise by the Unions during very hard times. If these Enterprise Funds are manipulated and used in order to meet the unrealistic contractual agreements made between the previous Mayor (Kalb) and the Unions you can expect sizeable increases in your water, sewer and trash pickup bills. To raise fees associated to any of the Enterprise Funds would not require a vote of the citizens, but if an increase would be suggested for City income tax a vote of the citizens would be required.

Should taxpayers of Portsmouth be obligated to assume higher payout costs so City employees can receive better pay and benefits than most taxpayers of Portsmouth?

More people of Portsmouth and Scioto County need to get involved in politics to stop Waste, Fraud, and Abuse and to hold public officials accountable to stop Malfeasance, Misfeasance, Nonfeasance and Dereliction of Duty in office.

Union Speaks Out On City Budget Issue

by Frank Lewis

3-16-10

Portsmouth Firefighters’ Association Local 512 is charging that Portsmouth Mayor Jane Murray is creating a “hostile work environment,” with a statement she made to the Portsmouth Daily Times in a story published in Sunday’s edition.

The reference was to the Mayor’s statement: “It doesn’t matter (to the employees) if we don’t have the money to pave the streets. It doesn’t matter to them if I don’t have the money to address our declining neighborhoods’ housing stock and clean the city up. It doesn’t matter to them that we have sewage backing up in people’s homes, and we have a long-term control plan that we have to start implementing.”

“This statement by the Mayor has created a hostile work environment and the fabrication of statements not made by the Portsmouth Firefighters Association is unacceptable,” Portsmouth Firefighter Chris Lowery, of the union’s executive board, said. “The Portsmouth Firefighters deeply care about the infrastructure, the safety and well-being of the citizens of the city. Historically, the Portsmouth Firefighters Assocation has demonstrated that we are willing to work with the city on financial matters. The Portsmouth Firefighters Association conducts numerous charitable events to help the citizens of the city of Portsmouth.”

In speaking to the issue of a hostile work environment, Clint Wallace, secretary of Local 512 said, “She’s putting words in our mouths that we are not saying. We are all proud to work here. We put our lives on the line for the citizens here, and for her to come out and say that we do not care about the city is a false statement. I take it personal. I don’t like it.”

In an interview with the Times, Murray said she has been having discussions with union employees. “I met with them on Friday, and it didn’t go well.”

That is not the same story being told by the members of the firefighters union.

“The Mayor of the city of Portsmouth has never asked the Portsmouth Firefighters Association Local 512 to meet with her in any setting to discuss city finances or any other issues,” Lowery said, reading from a prepared statement in the conference room of the Central Fire Station.

“Our union president, which is Tony Hamilton, has attempted to make appointments with her, and she has declined those. No meeting ever has been attempted from her. No attempt to meet with our union.”

Those city employees who did meet with Murray on Friday, according to Lowery, were there simply to listen to proposals concerning the city’s insurance.

Murray said she attempted to address the issue of having workers take furlough days as a way of bringing down the city’s ballooning budget deficit. Lowery addressed the issue.

“The city of Portsmouth Ordinance 1501.01 states that the city of Portsmouth has adopted and will comply with NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) standard 1710 for manpower, equipment, response times and safety. It states that each company shall be maintained with a minimum of four personnel on each fire department apparatus,” Lowery said. “Hilltop station and Sciotoville station each have two personnel stationed at all times for immediate response for life and property safety. Furloughs will potentially close down already-undermanned stations and endanger citizens’ lives and increase response times while compromising firefighter safety.”

Lowery was quoting from the NFPA 1710 standard Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Career Fire Departments. Section 5.2.3.1.1 states “these companies shall be staffed with a minimum of four on-duty personnel.”

Lowery produced a copy of the Codified Ordinances of Portsmouth. Ordinance 1501.1 says the city will be in “compliance with standards of the National Fire Protection Association or other approved nationally recognized standards shall be deemed to be prima-facie evidence of compliance with this intent.”

Murray said the public needs to know that in health insurance coverage alone, each employee pays $25 a month, and those on the family plan pay $50 a month, and that the family plan costs the city of Portsmouth more than $16,000 per year.

“Under our current contract signed by both the Portsmouth Firefighters Association and the city of Portsmouth, signed under good faith, each employee will pay $25 for a single plan and $50 for a family plan per month,” Lowery said. “In total, plus the deductible, each employee pays $860 single and $1,720 per family. The Mayor quoted over $16,000 per family plan; the actual amount is $15,746. That’s a difference of $254.”

Firefighters also took exception to the statement: “They have like six weeks of vacation. So when they take off two or three weeks at a time, then their overtime goes nuts, because they are all taking vacations.”

“Per article six of our current contract, a new employee receives six vacation days and the max that a firefighter may receive is 12 days. In addition, it states that scheduled vacation cannot cause overtime,” Lowery said.

He was also responding to Murray’s statement to department heads: “You are not to pay overtime to pay for this.”

The Fraternal Order of Police/Ohio Labor Council, Inc. also responded to the issues raised in Sunday’s Times article.

“The FOP is concerned with comments made by Mayor Murray indicating that she will implement furlough days for city employees. The City and the Fraternal Order of Police have a Collective Bargaining Agreement in place. The plan to force employees to take furlough days amounts to a change in the current terms and conditions of a negotiated contract. At no time has the Mayor requested a meeting to negotiate any changes nor has she presented any solid figures to show the need for concessions.”

In a release from Wes Elson, staff representative for the state FOP, the union officer said, “From accounts of those present, the Mayor became upset during the meeting, making the comment she would shut city government down and at one point directed the Police Administration to discipline an officer she perceived as being disrespectful when he referred to her as ma’am rather than Madam Mayor.”

In the news release Elson also said: “The FOP is very concerned that the City does not have a final budget in place, and that the question of how payroll will be met with no budget in place comes in question.

“Comments such as ‘because the employees were not willing to talk about contributing to the insurance fund, all I can do is add furlough days,’ and threats to discipline union representatives, is a poor way to ask for cooperation,” Elson said.

FRANK LEWIS can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 232 or flewis@heartlandpublications.com