Lakewood OH

Retirements in service; safety departments may cause missing pieces in budget puzzle

By Sue Botos

Rocky River

The proposed budget for 2012 may be getting closer to a finished product, but a bit of adjustment is still needed before it’s presented to City Council.

Mayor Pam Bobst announced at council’s last meeting that $670,000 still must be trimmed from the general fund to reach the goal of a $180 million financial roadmap. An additional $100,000 for the Rocky River Senior Center must also be addressed. Bobst noted that a shortfall of $2.5 million was predicted at the start of the budgeting process.

At a special Finance Committee session prior to the council meeting, Service Commissioner Dave Winterich, Police Chief Kelly Stillman and Fire Chief Chris Flynn gave overviews of projected budgets for their respective departments.

“We’re trying to keep going with what we have,” noted Winterich, who reported there are no major expenditures in the picture for the next five years.

Council service committee chairman John Shepherd agreed.

“We’re under a spending freeze,” said Shepherd. “We’re trying to make what we have last.” Shepherd did note that the largest expenditure would be for the street crack-sealing program, which has risen from $175,000 in 2011 to a projected $200,000.

Winterich said his department currently employs 40 people. That number could dip to 38 if several workers are not replaced after retirement, which includes Winterich’s own in December 2012. “It’s up to the mayor who she wants to put in for me,” said Winterich, referring to his replacement. He had mentioned earlier that a carpenter and street cleaner would not be replaced.

At one time, according to Winterich, the service department consisted of 64 workers. “Fifty would make me happy, but we’re all right now. I can’t say enough about my guys. We have a lot of good people who come in when they’re called. One way or another, we’ll work through it,” he stated.

Stillman also vowed to keep his department’s level of service up to current standards. He reported that six civilians supplement his 31-member force. During the past year, five park guards were eliminated as well as all Community Service Officers (CSOs).

“The CSOs are a vital part of our department, and we are deeply committed to that,” said Stillman, adding that he would work “aggressively” with Bobst to bring back these part-time employees who assist with emergency traffic direction and other activities not requiring a sworn officer. CSOs wear uniforms and drive police vehicles, but do not make arrests or carry firearms.

Also leaving the department will be longtime department member Lt. Carl Gulas, who retires in May. “We’re working to see where we’ll go from there,” said Stillman.

“We’ve drastically reduced our overtime, and we’re still making more cuts, but what we have been given is fair,” said Stillman of his proposed budget, which will be down $300,000 to $400,000 from last year. Like Winterich, Stillman said some items must be dealt with regardless of rising costs, such as uniforms, which fully equipped cost $15,000, and replacement of squad cars.

Because Ford no longer makes Crown Victorias, the current police model, Stillman said other cars are being considered. New equipment, however, must be obtained for these cars because what is used in the Crown Victorias cannot be retrofitted for a smaller car, he said.

Asked by council members about personnel replacements, Stillman responded, “It’s based on the fiscal health of the department. If its health is good, we will get more people.

“We’re very busy. We’re burdened with Internet crime and ID theft. We definitely could use people, but we’ll make do with what we have,” Stillman stated. Flynn, as well as Stillman, is relying on grants for some items on his wish list, most notably a ladder truck. “It’s patched together, but it is a 1993 and it is tired,” said Flynn, adding that the truck costs about $25,000 for each repair.

While surrounding communities are very receptive to the idea of a regional fire district, which could mean the pooling of equipment, Flynn said that most ladder trucks are “of the same vintage.”

“Hopefully the Assistance to Firefighters grant program will come through for us again,” said Flynn. He told the committee he has applied for a $1 million grant for “a modest ladder truck.”

Flynn said that two captains would retire from his 29-person department. They will be replaced by entry-level firefighters from a “live list” of candidates, or those who have already taken the required civil service exam.

Bobst concluded that there will likely be further budget revisions before council votes on the measure, probably after the first of the year.




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