STEUBENVILLE - City officials are preparing to go public with their request for health care concessions from the three city employee unions.
City Council agreed with a recommendation from City Manager Cathy Davison to hold a townhall meeting in the near future.
"Representatives from Health America will offer what a city similar in size to Steubenville and with union workers is doing with their health care program. Health America will present the benchmarks during the townhall meeting. You have seen the results from our Joint Health Care Committee meetings," Davison told council members during a finance committee meeting Tuesday night.
"We will invite the public to attend the meeting to learn what we are asking from our unions as far as changes to our health care program. We hope city residents will then put pressure on the city unions to consider our proposed changes," Davison stated.
"The Joint Health Care Committee has been working for months and we have gotten no concessions. The health care provider was willing to go to the union meetings to explain the situation, but we got no response," said Davison.
First Ward Councilman Gerald DiLoreto supported the idea of a townhall meeting.
"I am tired of this council being the whipping boy. Ninety percent of our city budget goes to salaries and benefits. That's 20 percent over the national average. Only 35 percent of our city residents are paying taxes. This city has become a retirement community subsidized by the government. If everyone gave back what this council has given back, we could erase our debt," said DiLoreto.
"In 2010 we were paying $8,500 a year for an employee's health care coverage. In 2012 that cost was $11,000 for each employee. Everything we do affects the cash flow. We will have to tackle the health care issue," noted 6th Ward Councilman David Lalich.
"There are no other cuts we can make except in the contract negotiations. We will have to look at health care, a wage freeze and maybe vacations. But we are also going to have to make decisions as a council. We are going to make some very good friends unhappy with us, but we have to do this," remarked Councilman at large Kenny Davis. And, 3rd Ward Councilman Greg Metcalf called for the city administration "to prepare a game plan for the future as soon as possible."
"We want to save manpower so we need to look at health care. We are looking at a $262,034 deficit this year, but in 2014 we are looking at a $2 million deficit and a $4 million deficit in 2015. We really need to look at our future. We need a plan we can look at now," said Metcalf.
Davison said she has been meeting with Finance Director Alyssa Kerker and will continue to meet to prepare recommendations.
"I am glad to see that happen. I have been asking for that for the past two years. The sooner you get back to council the better it will be. It is not fair to ask this council to make decisions in November and December that affect people's lives," said 2nd Ward Councilman Rick Perkins.
Davison said the city will have to hire a new police officer in order to stay in compliance with a federal grant.
Council members questioned Davison and Kerker about plans to install a new water meter system designed to save the city money.
"We have prepared a draft of a request for proposals and are now waiting for our department heads to review the document. We will have that RFP out to the Neptune Technology Group by the end of this month. We will then put a notice in trade publications that the city is accepting bids for a new meter program. We should have someone in place starting the meter replacement process by April," explained Davison.
Lalich said the finance committee will meet again at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 19 "because we need to stay on top of this."
Council's service committee also met Tuesday night to discuss overgrown properties, high weeds and a recycling program.
"I want to get a jump on weeds. I want to get a program started rather than wait until May when the grass and weeds start growing," said 5th Ward Councilman Willie Paul.
Perkins suggested a four-day sanitation collection schedule. "On the fifth day six of the sanitation workers could be used to cut lots and patch streets. I'm trying to look at ways we can do more for the community. I'm looking for a way to give you extra help one day a week," Perkins said.
"That is a feasible idea. And there are many things we can look at. But we have arrived at the point where we need to discuss what services we provide and how we can provide them. We can do many things but it is difficult to do everything," responded Street and Sanitation Superintendent Bob Baird.
Baird said a pilot recycling program in the Buena Vista neighborhood remains a good idea.
"I'm committed to more automation that protects the men. I would like to see the sanitation department become a job you can retire from and not get beat up by the job. But in order to go down that road we will all have to make decisions," said Baird.
He also said the city can consider a weed killing program that would allow workers to spray a vacant lot in the spring.
"I know the weed issue is killing us but I would rather see Bob's department focus on recycling. Code Enforcement Officer Shawn Scott and the Municipal Court Community Service program can deal with the weeds and high grass," said 4th Ward Councilwoman Angela Suggs.
During council's sunshine meeting, Perkins proposed legislation to advertise for bids for the 2013 Community Development Block Grant-funded street improvement program.
He also introduced an ordinance to advertise for bids for a 2013 parks security lighting program.
Metcalf proposed an ordinance authorizing the purchase of property at the marina from the Ohio Department of Transportation for $1.
Metcalf said the property is part of the marina observation deck project.
A resolution declaring February as Black History Month in Steubenville was proposed by Suggs.
Lalich introduced legislation for the payment of purchase orders over $3,000. And an ordinance to approve and adopt current replacement pages to the city's codified ordinances was introduced by Davis.