published: Friday, June 29, 2012
Fire, police pension debate looms over Sebring budget
By SAMANTHA GHOLAR
SEBRING - Pension outcomes were the major point of focus regarding the city's tentative budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
The Sebring council met with each city department during the city's budget workshop Wednesday evening, but were bombarded with "maybes" and "if's" when it came to a handful of items trying to find their way onto the budget.
Three items - city bonuses and/or stimulus, a proposed millage decrease and a transfer from the enterprise fund - all hang in limbo and depend on the pending outcome of the fire and police departments pension fund bargaining.
"There is a huge unknown with the pension funds ... I'm scared to death of these pension numbers," councilman John Clark said.
Although the pension is one big potential problem for the city, Finance Director Mike Eastman is OK with the tentative budget.
"We're operating on a fund less than $8 million; that's pretty good," Eastman said.
Sebring's current fund balance sits at $5,639,633. Those funds are unassigned or available for use.
The city has budgeted a total of just more than $9.1 million for the 2012/2013 year; an increase of $601,000 from the estimated actual total for the 2011/2012 year ($8.8 million).
A large portion of the tentative budget, as always, is the fire and police departments. The budgeted amount for the Sebring Police Department for the upcoming year is $3,242,612, an increase of just more than $100,000. SPD has budgeted additional funds for the purchase of two police vehicles (including graphics, installation of video, gun rack, etc.) and equipment upgrades for the department's generator.
The Sebring Fire Department has budgeted $2,279,306, up nearly $347,000 from the current fiscal year's estimated actual budget.
Fire Chief Brad Batz explained the budget increase was due to costly overtime dollars, which have been added to next year's budget, as well as the purchase of a new fire engine. The fire engine purchase is expected to cost around $255,000, which the department has budgeted for.
Other additions to the budget include education and training costs and scuba gear.
"This (scuba gear) is something I wouldn't support at this time," Clark said.
Councilmen Scott Stanley echoed Clark's statement.
"I don't think that it is imperative. It's not something that we should rush out and support," Stanley said.
The fire budget discussion then became less than pleasant when the topic of funds for additional employees was brought to the table.
Batz requested budgeted funds to be used for four additional, unfilled part-time firefighter positions.
"They're being run into the ground," Batz said regarding the current staff.
The part-time positions would allow current staff the ability to work normal hours without having the department rake in a multitude of overtime dollars.
"There's so many other things that are going to be discussed. There should be no discussion at this point of any changes in the budget for wages when we are currently under collective bargaining negations. What comes of that will come of that ... The firefighters have chosen to do their wage requests under collective bargaining, then you don't get a second dip at the well by coming here and getting this and probably getting more later in the collective bargaining. It's one or the other. We shouldn't be discussing this any further tonight while it's under collective bargaining. Take it off the budget," Stanley said.
Council members continued discussions following the fire department's review and found little to no issues with other departments. Council members Clark and Andrew Fells commended Public Works Director Ken Fields on the cut backs in his department. Fields has managed to save approximately $14,000 within his first year as director.
City officials also discussed cutting back on grants and aids to local organizations including the Highlands County Boys and Girls Club, Children's Museum of Highlands and the Highlands County Family SafeHouse pending the fire and police pension outcomes.
Just wondering (by: Me - 7/2/2012)
Having had a relative in another city as a firefighter, I was always amazed at how much money goes into a fire department for overtime. Is the city paying their firefighters overtime to take training? To go to pension meetings?
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