Two city departments must look to cut costs

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 4, 2003

Budget overruns in two crucial city departments -- the health department and the police department -- dominated discussion at the Ironton City Council's special meeting Wednesday.

The budget workshop was held so that council would have the opportunity to talk about the budget in an open forum and make adjustments that were necessitated by some unforeseen circumstances, Council Chairman Jesse Roberts said.

City Finance Director Cindy Anderson presented a draft of an appropriations ordinance that projected the city's budget through the end of the year and identified the departments that may need additional funds to end in the black.

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Overall, the figures projected nearly $150,000 more in the general fund revenue than originally expected, but some departments will be over budget by the end of the year if spending is not reduced or if the departmental revenue does not increase.

"Most of the budget seems to be in good shape except for the health board and the police department," Mayor Bob Cleary said.

The Health Fund was budgeted at $113,531 for 2003, compared to $72,000 last year.

However, Anderson's projection shows that the department may still be $22,558 short of what is needed by the end of the year.

Dr. Jim Milleson, president pro-tem of the city's health board, explained to Council why the department's expenditures will be more than its revenues. The department, he said, is operating on a bare-bones budget, but will continue to provide all services.

Several factors have contributed to the deficit projection, but the figures may be misleading because the health department brings in most of its revenue during the last quarter of the year, he said. This is when people need athletic physicals, shots, screenings and vaccinations.

"Every year, it appears in the third quarter that we are in the red. Every year, we have been able to operate in the black at the end," he said. "We may not be able to do that this year, but it may not be this bad."

Other factors contributing to the shortfall include a miscommunication in scheduling for the past nine months that has allowed the department to offer clinical services only three days a week instead of five days -- a service that is projected at a $13,000 shortfall -- a $5,400 increase in basic operating expenses, the dissolution of the Help Me Grow program and its $3,600 in funding and the $11,000 in buyout for the retirement of

Charlie Kouns, former registered sanitarian and health commissioner.

Another problem is that health problems have kept the department's only nurse practitioner from being at work the past two weeks and she remains on indefinite leave. Her position conducts revenue-producing services such as physicals, child screenings and clinics, Milleson said.

"I understand it is a drain…," he said. "My first concern has to be, not to the budget, but to providing proper health care to the community. We have to keep the doors open and provide the best possible care we can."

Councilmen Brent Pyles and Richard Price both questioned how the department could have a budget nearly double the previous year, but still be in a deficit.

Some ideas that the health board are considering to make sure this is not an annual problem include Councilman John Elam's idea to provide drug screenings for the county, offer other contract services, get the clinics back to a normal schedule and market all the services the health department offers to the community, Milleson said.

"This is not going to correct itself in the next three months, but it is not going to be as bad as anticipated," Cleary said.

Budgetary overruns are not limited to the health department. The police department is projected to be $19,132 over budget. Police Chief Bill Garland said the problem stems from two separate issues involving salary and overtime.

The department spent $7,900 to pay overtime for officers who work for other officers who are out on sick days. An additional $5,900 has been spent on overtime for investigations, many of which are drug-related, he said.

"As you know the drug situation in the city, and throughout the county, has increased dramatically in the past few years," he said. "Detective (Chris) Bowman can't keep up with the investigations on his own."

In an effort to stop the sick day abuse, Garland said he and the Mayor have talked with the officers and will continue to enforce a plan that discourages sick day abuses with reprimands and eventual suspensions.

Another financial hit came when the department had to spend $5,000 for two transmissions for two police cars.

It has been a nationwide problem with police cruisers of similar make and model but there has not been a recall, he said.

On a positive note, the city will receive approximately $180,000 more in revenues than was budgeted because of an increase in estate/inheritance tax. However, that does not mean the city should run right out and spend it, Roberts said.

Called just for discussion purposes, no action was taken during the meeting. A finance committee meeting was scheduled for Monday at 6 p.m. in the city center.

To help address this part of the problem, Garland has transferred uniformed officer Jimmy Akers to the investigations division and reshuffled the schedule to alleviate overtime for everyone else.

Stopping the drug trade is the departments top priority, Garland said.

As an illustration of how big an issue it has become, he added that there has been four armed robberies in the last month that were caused because the man was a drug addict who needed a fix. Adding a second detective will help solve the overtime problem and make it easier to address the drug problem, he said.

"We are in between a rock and a hard place," he said. "If we could do away with the drugs, this city would not have any (financial) problems."