OV holds budget workshop

On March 1, the Town of Ocean View held a budget workshop to address the town’s financial status and planning for the 2012 fiscal year.

The Council first discussed whether or not town employees should be given a 3 percent raise in 2012. Councilman Perry Mitchell recommended that employee pay raises be reduced from a 3 percent increase to 2 percent. Councilman Geoff Christ agreed.

“In our current economic climate, a 1 percent decrease would help the bottom line,” he said.

Councilwoman Michele Steffens also agreed, stating, “We all have to sacrifice somewhere.” Mayor Gordon Wood said that he would not be uncomfortable with a 1 percent pay raise increase.

“Times are tough,” said Councilman Bob Lawless. “We have just an incredible group of people who are our town employees, so some increase is necessary. There’s 2 percent suggested and 1 percent suggested. I would go for 1.5, just to be in the middle.”

Council voted 4-1 to have a 1.5 percent pay raise for employees, with Mitchell voting against, stating his original recommendation was for 2 percent.

Council discussed the possibility of town employees sharing in the cost of their healthcare plans.

“How do we not place an extraordinary burden on some of our lower-paid staff is the question,” asked Lawless. “I think we want to migrate over a period of time to a more significant employee contribution. I don’t think we want to do it all at once.”

Resident and mayorial candidate Lloyd Elling asked if there had been any discussion with town employees as to how the change would affect them. Town Manager Conway Gregory said there had not been, to which Elling said he encouraged council to get employee feedback.

For budgetary purposes, council agreed that the town would continue with full healthcare coverage for employees until September, when the healthcare rates are renegotiated and, with the estimated 12 percent increase in healthcare coverage costs, the town will then split that increase with town employees, 50-50.

A Healthcare Committee has also been formed, and council noted their hopes for alternative options that could save the town and its employees money. Christ said that, if any savings were realized, they would be shared with employees.

Overtime expenditures were another topic of discussion. Wood noted that, due to the town having a police officer out due to an injury sustained while on-duty, as well as an officer in academy training – which requires overtime, and overtime pay – the current budget has expended a great deal of overtime.

“In order to maintain full shift coverage, more overtime has been used, logically,” he said, adding that Chief Ken McLaughlin has been working with the courts, and the police department is now able to send one officer to represent the department when testifying, rather than two.

“We’re already experiencing a reduction in overtime because of that,” said Wood.

Mitchell said he’s spoken to three other police chiefs who said that their police cadets do not receive overtime while training at the academy.

“We’re probably the only jurisdiction in Delaware that does that,” posited Mitchell.

McLaughlin disagreed with Mitchell, saying he had spoken to Town Solicitor Dennis Schrader about overtime, as well as contacting government agencies.

“I also contacted the Wage and Hour Division of the federal government out of the Philadelphia office, which covers Delaware, and, under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act, we are required under federal law to pay overtime for hours worked in excess of 40 hours. There is case law out there specific to police recruits in training at the academy. We have to abide by the law with the overtime… Just because someone else isn’t paying doesn’t make it right.”

Mayoral candidate and resident George Pickrell asked if overtime was built into the academy, McLaughlin responded that it was, saying he reviews the candidate’s syllabus weekly.

Public Works Director Charlie McMullen noted that 95 percent of his department’s overtime is weather-related.

“I think what we want to do – we have a number in our budget proposal for next year of what we think our overtime ought to be. Are you suggesting we change the number? If so, let’s come up with a number,” said Lawless.

Council determined that overtime for the Public Works Department would remain the same. Through various changes in the police department, with an officer coming onto staff, a reduction is expected, and the council budgeted the department with 1,000 hours in overtime.

The council also discussed whether or not the police department will maintain eight cars or reduce their fleet size.

McLaughlin cited a study done in Tacoma, Wash., where researchers found that fleet cars tend to have a longer lifespan when operated by only one officer.

“I don’t understand why we have eight police cars,” said resident Joe Fedick. “I mean, our boundaries are a mile by a mile… It doesn’t make sense to me as a taxpayer. I don’t think it’s a hard decision to make.”

“I am not an expert. Just, intuitively, it seems like the right thing to do,” said Wood supporting the idea of reducing the fleet and citing a recent study done on the town’s police department by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, which recommended its fleet be reduced to seven cars.

McLaughlin asked the council to have a specific fleet study conducted of the department before they determined whether or not to eliminate some of the department’s vehicles.

Council, though, voted 3-2, with Steffens and Christ opposed, to remove the $60,000 budgeted for two vehicle replacements in the 2013 fiscal year and instead budget for one replacement at $30,000 in 2014.

The vote will not, however, prevent the police department from using grant money to aid in vehicle replacements, should it so choose.

The draft budget had also included $350,000 allocated for building the new public works facility. Steffens, who is on a committee to look at alternative plans for the building’s construction, said she would be meeting with McMullen and Gregory on March 3 (after Coastal Point press deadline) to discuss the department’s needs.

“There’s no bells and whistles in this building,” said McMullen. “It’s only pretty because they put dormers on it. It’s a slab concrete building that has open bays in it, with an interior that has a room where the men will be able to work in that has heat in it — something they’ve never had. It also has a lunchroom and places where they can have eyewashes and things like that, in case they get chemicals in their eyes.

“We built a police station to withstand all of these elements, so it doesn’t blow down, but we’re going to build a building here that the big bad wolf can come in and blow down,” he added, “and when we’re supposed to come in and get our equipment out to remove all the debris from the highway, we have to first remove all the debris from that.”

Wood said he believed the budgeted amount should be reduced, stating that the original building was to be placed near the park.

“The idea of spending $350,000 because that’s what the estimate was for a concrete building in the middle of a park… There’s discontinuity to it. We’re not going to build that building. “

Mitchell agreed, saying that he believed the town could save more money by looking into alternative building options, such as pole buildings.

Council voted 4-1 to reduce the budgeted cost for the public works building to $250,000, with the hopes that the committee will find ways to reduce the cost of erecting the building. Mitchell opposed the vote, stating he believed the building could be built for even less.

The town Homecoming event is listed as a $5,000 line item in the current budget, and council on March 1 questioned whether or not it should remain in the budget at all.

“I think that the reinstitution of the Homecoming as an Ocean View/Ocean View Historical Society event last year was an extraordinary benefit to our town,” said Lawless. “I think it is something that I would be eager to see renewed each year. I think that the town’s support of $5,000 is necessary to help defray the costs.”

Gregory noted that the event is not for profit and the town would be reimbursed with any leftover monies not used to fund the event.

Mitchell voiced his support of the town funding the event. “It’s important to this town. It gives the town visibility.”

“I respectfully disagree,” said Christ. “I applaud what they do, and I did attend the Homecoming event with my children last year, and it was a rousing success. My conflict lies in the fact that the town already supports the Historical Society.”

He noted that, not only is John West Park used free of charge for the event, but that town employees work at the event, which in turn impacts overtime, which he requested be quantified.

Gregory said overtime expended for the event was valued at approximately $1,400.

Steffens added that she likes the event and would support the funding if the $5,000 could be found somewhere else —”Rob Peter, pay Paul.”

“I walked into this meeting as a supporter of the Homecoming,” said Wood. “I think it’s a good event.”

Last year, Wood lobbied Delaware National Bank, where he formerly served as a member of the board, to help sponsor the event. He added that, like last year, the bank would be sponsoring the event with a $3,000 donation.

Gregory commented, “$5,000 in the scheme of a $2 million budget is not a lot of money. … For the bang for the dollar I think we get a good event.”

George Keene, the chairperson of the Homecoming Committee spoke to council, emphasizing that the event was a town council-created event and noting that it was simply happenstance that the event’s committee is made up of mostly Historical Society members.

“We want it to be a town event enjoyed by the townsfolk. … We just want to run the event, and we really think it’s a fun event,” he said. “We would like to see it stay as a $5,000 line item, and what we use we use and what we don’t we don’t. It’s a little bit difficult for our committee because the budget gets passed in late April. Well, the event is May 14. So we sit on pins and needles, waiting to see if we’re going to get any money to run the thing.”

He added that the money is spent on advertising, games and entertainment, among other things.

Christ said, “The Historical Society has been working under the assumption that they are going to have the money. I understand working so hard for something, to not have it come to fruition… in this fiscal year, I’m OK with this contribution, but maybe discuss it in the future.”

Council voted 5-0 to keep the $5,000 line item in the budget for the Homecoming event in the coming year.

Council also voted 5-0 to sell the property where the public works equipment is currently stored.

Gregory voiced concern to the council about letting go of a valuable piece of property.

“I think you’re making an unwise decision doing this. It’s easy to sell land; it’s a lot harder to buy it,” he said. “I think, in the future, you’re going to regret selling that land… God’s still making people, but he’s not making land any longer. This is a pristine location.”

McMullen echoed Gregory’s sentiments, stating that the land could be used for parking for town events, as the current parking is minimal.

Wood said that he had spoken with a reputable local real estate agent, who said the lot would be worth approximately $100,000.

In selling the lot, the council hopes to use the profits to offset the costs of the new public works building, which will sit on land near the town’s administrative and public safety building, being leased to the town at $1 per year.

The council also voted 4-1 to budget for prison labor to be used within the town. The first year would be $16,000 to cover equipment costs, with $5,000 for each subsequent year. Mitchell, who voted against adding it to the budget said, “I don’t think it’s worth it.”

The council will review a revised draft for the 2012 budget at the next regular town council meeting, set for March 7 at 7 p.m.