City manager outlines plans to cut costs

STEUBENVILLE – City Manager Cathy Davison outlined a sweeping cost-cutting plan for City Council Tuesday night that includes proposed health care changes, the elimination of a holiday pay for nonunion and union employees, reduced work hours in the city health department, as well as a potential street lighting assessment.

Davison met with the council members for 90 minutes to discuss the administration’s plans to reduce a projected $242,000 deficit in 2013 as well as projected deficits in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

Davison said the projected $1.1 million deficit for 2013 was dramatically lowered after the city received $348,263 in estate tax revenue last year.

“We also saw a substantial increase in our city income tax revenue in the fourth quarter of 2012. The Regional Income Tax Agency has told us that increase may be from a one-time payment. We still have some work to do with RITA. And the increase in the fourth quarter could have something to do with new jobs being created in the city,” explained Finance Director Alyssa Kerker.

Davison is set to meet this afternoon with the city’s health committee, which includes a representative from all three city unions.

“We will be discussing a three-tier health care coverage program that will offer a lower deductible for a higher contribution. All city employees would have the choice of which tier they would want for a year. We can have three different plans under one umbrella. A majority of our savings would come from changes in our health care,” said Davison.

“We all have to remember this is 2013 and not 1964, when Steubenville and Weirton had the highest per capita income in the United States. We no longer have thousands of people working in the steel mills. I am interested in every city employee having a job and health care,” said 1st Ward Councilman Gerald DiLoreto.

“We can make up the budget difference in 2013 with minor changes. But we have to look at 2014, 2015 and 2016. The police department contract expires in May, the fire department contract will expire in November and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union contract ends in March 2014. We need their help, but we also need to make plans if the unions don’t agree to help,” Davison cited.

“I am recommending the elimination of one of our two holiday pays. I would suggest the July holiday pay. And we can start with our nonunion employees,” said Davison.

City employees are paid their holiday rate in special pays in July and December.

“We keep going after the nonunion employees. I don’t want to take a holiday pay off of the nonunion employees until the unions agree to give it up,” responded 2nd Ward Councilman Rick Perkins.

Davison said she also has been notified the city’s board of health has proposed a 35-hour work week for all employees, “that will keep all of their employees working. They will essentially give up their paid lunch hour, and Health Commissioner Patty Reda will stagger their schedules so operational hours will not change. We would not lose any services currently offered by the health department.

“We are looking at a street lighting assessment on property taxes. Our bond counsel will be forwarding information to our law director for us to review,” Davison said.

“We are also considering the potential elimination of two full-time employees within an agency in the city and one part-time employee. And you will have to decide what you want to do with the council clerk position,” continued Davison.

“We will work with (law director) Gary Repella on that but ultimately it’s our decision. That is our clerk and we will decide,” replied 3rd Ward Councilman Greg Metcalf.

Davison also said the city’s planning and zoning commission again will consider an increase in building fees when the commission meets Monday night.

“We are currently charging building fees based on 1965 rates. That simply can’t continue,” she added.

According to Davison, two AFSCME union employees have received lay-off notices and have been given the opportunity to “bump” a junior employee or go to one of three vacancies.

“A utility clerk has indicated she is interested in a sanitation department vacancy that would be at the Martin Luther King Recreation Center. She would work on scheduling events in the recreation department as well as other duties there. We currently have two recreation maintenance employees there and a city employee on light duty. We hope that when the recreation maintenance employees return to preparing the fields and cutting grass in March, we can keep the MLK Center open with the utility clerk and light duty employees. We have also had conversations with Eastern Gateway Community College and Franciscan University of Steubenville regarding interns who could work at the recreation center. And we are talking with the United Peace Movement and the university about providing after-school programs at the center,” Davison explained.

“We have met with community stakeholders who are looking at a cost analysis of operating the Belleview Pool. They are considering if they can run the pool and we hope to hear back from those stakeholders in February if that is possible,” noted Davison.

“Unfortunately we received a petition with more than 600 names on it asking us to keep the MLK Center open, but not one has come forward to volunteer at the center. We do not plan to replace the recreation director who resigned last month, so I will be overseeing the operations,” said Davison.

Fourth Ward Councilwoman Angela Suggs said Community Inc. would be interested in volunteering at the MLK Center and indicated she will have representatives contact Davison.

During a brief sunshine meeting, Suggs proposed a resolution to honor city resident Patti West “for her work on the Calvin Jones documentary.”