London may slash police force
By Jane Beathard
London City Council members began deliberating a 2013 budget on Thursday, noting proposed 15-percent, across-the-board expense cutbacks won’t be enough to close a projected $223,581 shortfall.
City auditor Katy Hensel expects the city to generate $4,065,512 in revenues and spend $4,289,093 next year. Although she noted revenues could improve with higher employment rates.
Voter approval of a 0.5-percent income tax increase to independently fund the fire department will also help city finances, but not in the short term.
“That money won’t start coming in until April,” Hensel said. “The full amount won’t come in until 2014.”
In the meantime, council agreed to collect only 50 percent of the property tax that currently supports the fire department. The city will end that property tax next year, if the income tax increase passes.
Hensel said the city will supplement the temporary gap in fire department operations with money from the general fund.
“The (proposed) 2013 budget will be hard on every single department,” said council member Stan Kavy.
Hardest hit will be safety forces: police and fire.
Three full-time patrol and two full-time dispatcher position are slated for elimination within the police department.
One open full-time firefighter position will remain unfilled and money earmarked for part-time firefighters will decline $56,600. More cuts are likely in funding for uniforms and training.
London’s municipal pool will remain shuttered next summer.
Some union employees, mostly clerks and firefighters, will receive raises negotiated last year. Police employees will not receive raises. The city’s premium for healthcare insurance will go up 5 percent, Hensel said.
Salaries for department heads remain at current levels. Hensel, building inspector Vince Benedetti and council president John Dixon agreed to voluntary pay reductions.
If the proposed 0.5-percent income tax increase fails, the city’s financial pinch grows deeper.
“Without the 0.5 percent, we won’t be able to operate the Community Center next year,” Kavy said.
Dixon said coming changes to the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System should will ease the burden slightly.
Council member Pat Closser called for a long-range financial plan.
“We need to prioritize departments and cuts if the levy does not pass,” Closser said. “We need to keep police and fire strong.”
In other meeting business on Thursday, council:
• Appropriated $20,000 for repairs to the Community Center’s heating system. Safety-services director Steve Hume said repairs to the boiler and replacement of a 6-inch underground pipe from the boiler to the former gym will cost at least $16,000.
Council members Steve Scaggs and Closser voted against the measure.
• Authorized Hume to advertise for proposals to reduce the city’s energy consumption. The London City School District is currently evaluating similar proposals for energy reduction.
• Authorized the lease of city-owned farm land adjacent to the municipal waste facility.
• Accepted a $14,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to defray the cost of a narrow-band radio communication system for the police department. The system is expected to cost $100,000.