Follansbee considers steps on saving cash

FOLLANSBEE – Police matters again were brought up by City Council during a discussion Monday of proposed changes in personnel policies cited as ways to cut costs for the city.

Fifth Ward Councilman Tom Ludewig suggested council adopt about 30 possible steps compiled by Mayor David Velegol Jr. following meetings with city employees and department heads to discuss budgetary concerns.

The steps ranged from limiting vacation time to four weeks per year, based on seniority, to directing police as to when they may provide mutual aid to a neighboring law enforcement agency if there is one city officer on duty.

Velegol said the proposals were made because there wasn’t room in the 2013-14 budget for street paving, repairs to sidewalks and playgrounds and other capital improvements.

Ludewig and 4th Ward Councilwoman Iris Ferrell said the changes could be “tweaked” as needed but should be adopted before the city enters the new fiscal year.

Velegol disagreed, saying of the list, “This document was meant as a collection of ideas. It was never meant as final.”

He said it called for city officers to transport only those charged with a felony to the Northern Regional Jail, but it’s since been pointed out that state law requires them to transport some for misdemeanors such as domestic violence.

“I think we need to go item to item because we know there’s conflicting information in this,” Velegol said.

None of the measures proposed for the police department were adopted.

First Ward Councilman Tom DiBattista said he believes such matters as scheduling the city’s police officers and approval of their overtime should be handled within the police department, not by council.

And several council members agreed they don’t want city police to be prevented from aiding an officer in another department any more than they would want an officer from a neighboring community to be hampered in aiding a Follansbee officer.

“We don’t want to put you in harm’s way,” Ludewig told City Police Chief John Schwertfeger and police officers attending.

Velegol said some concern was raised that city officers have left the city to assist with minor incidents when they weren’t called to assist. He and Schwertfeger agreed to work together to address that concern and overtime issues raised by council.

But before that, the discussion became heated when Ferrell suggested someone with the city was attempting to panic the public with rumors.

Schwertfeger told Ferrell he believed she was directing her comments at him, which she denied. He said city officials should be open to the public about their plans.

Later Ferrell suggested the department designate an on-call officer who could be called out to assist when needed. City Police Officer J.R. Ewing said that’s been considered but the department lacks the manpower, with just five officers.

Schwertfeger said four part-time officers, all working full-time for other law enforcement agencies, have been employed in recent months to provide additional coverage.

Also drawing from the list of proposals, council moved to cap vacations at four weeks per year, based on seniority, and eliminated the “selling” of unused vacation time to employees when they leave.

Council tabled a proposal to allow city staff to replace unused sick days with short-term disability coverage, pending more information.

City officials said earlier the city has paid as much as $10,000 to employees for unused sick days.

Council also agreed to extend office hours at the City Building from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with office staff working staggered shifts, in response to public requests.