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City officials must balance wishes, needs


Columbus Fire Chief Ken Moore

Columbus Fire Chief Ken Moore



Nathan Gregory



As city officials prepare to meet for a second special workshop to set the city's Fiscal Year 2014 budget, one thing department heads will have to consider from the previous meeting is reality. Whatever is on their wish list will likely have to stay there, at least another year. 


One department budget that will be retooled for Wednesday's 3 p.m. workshop will be the Columbus Fire and Rescue Department. Columbus Fire Chief Ken Moore, who budgeted for 67 positions in the proposed first draft, actually wanted to have 75 on staff. He's working with 65 people right now, which is below the 73 considered to be at full staff. It's been a year-and-a-half since CFD has been at that number. The two additional employees he wants to make permanent? One employee who is undergoing accreditation and another who has been coordinating public relations for the fire department, including magazines and events, Moore said. 


"I'm asking they be put permanently in those positions as they've been working in a year and a half, but to do that I've got to replace those two on shift," Moore told councilmen during the first workshop. "I've cut the staffing back, and I want to bring staffing back to normal so I can cut back on overtime some." 


The addition of eight people at a salary of $47,000 each would mean an extra $376,000 taken from the city coffers, some of which could not be justified right now, Mayor Robert Smith said.  


"I can understand the 73, but these other two additional people is what you would hope we would give you. If we gave you two additional people, chief, some of the other requests, we might have to go in and delete some," Smith said. "What would you prefer? Adjust and let it stay the way it is? It's give or take by department. Everybody is running tight. You've managed prior to without these two people. My suggestion is ... you're going to have to come up with some up with some creative way to continue to manage." 


Another issue CFD faces: Overdue capital improvements. Station No. 4, Moore said, is outdated and needs replacing. It would also likely need to be relocated to better serve everyone in its coverage area. Station No. 4 is on Airline Road in East Columbus. 


"Station No. 4 was built in the late '40s. The facility is dilapidated to say the best. We've tried to keep it up, but it's old. I'm having to rotate all the trucks out there because the new trucks we have to buy today won't even fit in that space," Moore said. "I keep locating the older ones out there so they'll fit. It does need to be redone...but deciding where to put it to meet those issues is another meeting in itself." 


CFD has proposed nearly double in capital outlays than it did for this year. The department has exhausted the budgeted amount of $448,705 this fiscal year. In two scenarios for next year as presented in the initial draft, he asks for $942,500 and $925,500. Overall, he requests at least $5,531,549.62 in either scenario, subject to change as councilmen fine-tune figures. 




Building inspection 


Another department head who said he needs more hands on deck is building department director Kenneth Wiegel. The department has been using a 1994 Ford Ranger that routinely stays in the shop and needs to be replaced, which would be about a $25,000 expense, but Wiegel also wanted to move a part-time employee up to full-time. That would add an extra $10,816.43 in salary pay to the requested total budget of $114,603.00. 


"It is a wish I hope you'd seriously consider. We have a lot of overgrown lots. We need somebody full time that's specifically to deal with abatement properties. All of us, including myself, work on overgrown properties," Wiegel said. "There's a tremendous amount of clerical work. It's not just field work. A full-time person can send out more notices and get quite a few lots cut by property owners if we contact them properly." 


Ward 3 Councilman Charlie Box said part of the issue he saw was with upkeep of properties the city previously voted to re-mediate. 


"If we have overgrown lots, and we vote to re-mediate, and we put that clause in there that we can enter so many times within 12 months, I think that's where we're falling down," Box said. "I've got lots out there that we've re-mediated but we've never gone back to. It's the same lots that are getting grown up over and over." 




Police services 


One suggested area where the suggested budget for next year was down from the amount budgeted from this year was Columbus Police Department. This year CPD was budgeted $5,309,661. The suggested amount for next year was $5,120.907.10. 


Chief operations officer David Armstrong noted the department was down more than $337,000 in personnel services for next year's proposed budget.  


"There are key positions we've lost that we haven't filled," Armstrong said. "A lot of people have retired." 


Armstrong then asked CPD Chief Selvain McQueen to elaborate further on the change. 


"You said it best," McQueen said, deferring back to Armstrong. 


Councilmen then asked where CPD was in the process of hiring those people, which include a commander and second assistant police chief. 


"We are in the process of scheduling the interviews for the commander and we've pretty much nailed the assistant chief's spot down," McQueen said. 


Smith asked how many staff members McQueen was short of full staff. McQueen told him that number was about 17. 


"The 17 that you have short means you're hiring people that have to go the academy. Is that not correct?" Smith asked. 


"Unless we hired officers who are already certified, but you've got to budget for it," McQueen said.  


The police budget also asks for the purchase of five new Dodge Charger squad cars -- a total of $135,000. McQueen said 2011 was the last time the city had purchased a vehicle for CPD, and that was one car.


Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.



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