August 23, 2013 10:10:29 AM
Nathan Gregory - [email protected]
Councilmen approved to split a five percent insurance rate increase between city funds and city employees during their Thursday budget session for the 2014 fiscal year due to a rise in dental coverage costs and claims experienced.
Based solely on the amount of people on staff right now, that means an extra $40,433.64 will have to come from city coffers, and employees will have an estimated extra $1.50 deducted from each pay check to maintain coverage. Single city employees with no dependents would add that amount to the $28 already deducted from each check they receive every two weeks.
Because several departments are understaffed, the total amount becomes a moving target if more hires are made, chief financial officer Milton Rawle said. Either way, the city will absorb half of the insurance increases.
In a worst-case scenario, that number could jump to about $100,000 for the city, but if the city doesn't approve a lot of hires next year, the projected amount should be sufficient, Rawle said.
"This does not include any vacancies or any new employee hires. Even though we have an (estimated) $80,000 per the insurance company, for budget purposes that number will likely double because they do not account for vacancies like the police department," Rawle said. "They only have 49 sworn officers. (Chief Selvain McQueen) is budgeted for 67. The renewal does not include those 17 additional officers."
The first public hearing on the proposed 2014 budget will be held prior to the Sept. 3 city council meeting.
Little change in appropriations
Of the 20 organizations the city appropriates funding to, only two received increases. The Link Blaze Morale Fund amount increased from $7,500 this fiscal year to $10,000 when the new budget year begins Oct. 1. The Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority's $601,960 funding for this year was bumped to $610,693, which director Roger Short said was needed to cover increased utility and insurance expense as well as the installation of Internet service in CLRA facilities.
All other amounts remained as they were this fiscal year. For example, the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library received $250,000 despite requesting $263,217. Library system director Erin Stringer said Tuesday during an another appropriation session that the library needed that money to balance its budget.
"Without the increase, we will not be able to balance our budget, which will result in us having to cut some of our services, which we do not want to do," Stringer said Tuesday.
Fourteen of the organizations requested more money than they received this year.
An hour-long executive session was held before discussion on appropriations and insurance increases. In executive session, the board approved to increase the hourly rate of two municipal court employees to $13.03 an hour and cut $100,000 out of overtime in the fire department budget. Columbus Fire Department initially had $460,000 budgeted next year for overtime, so the reduction is to $360,000.
The council also voted to increase chief operations officer David Armstrong's salary by $2,000 a year. He currently makes $73,206.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.