By Frank Lewis
Portsmouth City Council past the 2014 budget at Monday night’s meeting, but not before a considerable discussion about the possible reinstatement of $25,000 for the Southern Ohio Port Authority (SOPA).
Portsmouth City Health Commissioner Chris Smith started off the meeting by asking for the appropriation.
“We ask that $25,000 be put back into the budget,” Smith said. “There’s still a lot of details to be worked out. But we are passing the budget now and if that money is earmarked, then we can work on it. Also, I can promise you that I will do everything I can to keep the Health Department cost down as far as possible.”
Next up was SOPA Director Jason Kester.
“I hope you guys are going to be able to find the funds, but if you are not, we’re still going to be able to work together,” Kester said. “Everybody is kind of strapped financially, whether it be the Port Authority or the city, the village of New Boston or the (Scioto) county. It’s the circumstances we find ourselves in. I’m going to try to do my best. I have been working with Vice Mayor (Kevin W.) Johnson to try to come up with some creative ways to try to see what the city does and what the county does in an effort to try to eliminate some of the duplication of work.”
Fifth Ward Councilman Gene Meadows called attention to the $104,000 remaining in the General Fund.
“I do agree that SOPA is an important function. And it’s important to the city,” Meadows said. “However, just a little over $100,000 is not much of a cushion. It doesn’t leave us any room for anything to go wrong. If we can save $25,000 here, as the year goes on we can always propose an ordinance, if we have the extra money then and pay it then. I don’t see it as something that needs to be added in now when we don’t have the cushion to add it in.”
It appeared that all members of City Council were in favor of the appropriation, but also understood the money is not available.
“No one sitting around this table feels worse about not being able to fund this $25,000 for SOPA than I do,” Mayor Steve Sturgill said. “I am the one who basically made the commitment that I certainly believed there was money available, basically at a time when I probably shouldn’t have.”
City Manager Derek Allen offered a stipulation should the city decide to put the money back into the budget.
“If you do put this back into the budget or put it in for the first time, we should have an inter-agency agreement from SOPA that explains what we are getting for $25,000; what are both parties expectations, so there’s no confusion,” Allen said. “I want to get away from just handing money out.”
Allen said he has talked with members of the SOPA board and told them the city does not currently have the money to do it.
When the budget came up for a vote, Fourth Ward Councilman Jim Kalb made an appeal for Council to put the SOPA appropriation back into the budget. Kalb said the city should give the same consideration for funding that it has given other organizations and make the appropriation with the warning that the money may not be there next year.
Kalb specified that the City Auditor (Trent Williams) determine what fund to put the money in.
“Right now, or after it’s passed?” Williams asked.
“After it’s passed,” Portsmouth Mayor Steve Sturgill said.
Council chose not to add the $25,000, but to have Kester come back with specific details as to what the city can expect from the funding, and possibly re-consider the reinstatement of those funds in the future.
Allen recommended the money, if allocated, be put under “miscellaneous” in the General Fund.
“We finished the city budget for 2014,” Allen told the Daily Times. “The General Fund’s deficit spends around $450,000, which will eat away at the carry-over, and leave us at around $104,000 at the end of the year, projected. But there is nothing left to cut. And with the mandated 88 police and fire, that’s where we are. Sanitation and Wastewater funds are deficits. They were deficits when I arrived and we will be looking at what we have to do there to correct those situations.”
The Times asked Allen if layoffs are possible.
“No. I’m mandated to have 88 police and fire, so there’s no layoffs in police and fire,” Allen said. “And on the non-safety, we have some open positions that we just aren’t filling right now. Some people call it a hiring freeze but we’re just going to wait and see, but I don’t have the ability to lay off people. We’re looking at what we can do to improve service and improve our efficiencies.”
Frank Lewis can be reached at 740-353-3101, Ext. 252, or on Twitter @FrankLewispdt.