On Tuesday and Wednesday, June 9 and 10, the Finance Committee for the City of Milford worked through the city’s budget, creating a balanced budget of almost $43 million. Jeff Portmann, Finance Manager for the city, reviewed the entire budget, explaining each change to the committee and allowing questions from council members.
Initially, the budget had a shortfall of $50,000 that the committee had to address. On Monday, June 8, 2015, Dr. Phyllis Kohel, Superintendent of Milford School District requested that council allow them to cancel a contract between the district and the city for two additional School Resource Officers (SRO). The district is facing a budget shortfall due to cuts in federal and state funding. A referendum designed to assist them with the shortfall failed in May 2015 as did a previous request for an operations increase in March 2014.
“When we prepared the budget, we did so without the $200,000 funding from the school district,” Mr. Portmann explained. “I know it was discussed at council and that no decision has been made. Right now, we have currently have a budget for 32 officers, three of which are SROs. There are two open positions. If you allow the district out of their contract, two of the officers will return to the force into those open positions. This lowers the number of officers and would give the city a surplus of $150,000.” Hans Melarz, City Manager, said that the surplus could be used as part of the current union negotiations with the police force which expires in two years. The SRO contract with Milford School District also expires in two years.
Mr. Medlarz asked that council approve 30 police officers with one officer continuing to act as an SRO, release the district from their contract and move the other two officers back to the force. Councilman Garrett Grier asked Police Chief Keith Hudson if he could manage with 30 officers and the Chief said that he did not want to drop below 30, especially since one officer would remain in the schools.
“I am a fan of keeping all three in the schools,” Councilman Grier said. “I say we leave them in the schools and refuse to void the contract. Safety in schools is important. Two years down the road, there should be a referendum passed. If not, there is a huge problem in this community. There is going to be a referendum passed or the state will be in here managing them.” Councilman Doug Morrow agreed with Councilman Grier stating that the district should be held to their agreement.
Councilman Morrow said that it was clear that the district wanted the officers to stay in the schools but simply did not want to pay for them. Chief Hudson said that having the officers in the schools benefitted the force because road officers were not required to respond to the schools each time there was a problem. After much discussion, the committee decided to recommend to council that they not allow the school district to cancel their contract, making them responsible to pay $200,000 per year to the city in order to keep two additional SRO officers in the schools. In addition, with the agreement of Chief Hudson, they agreed that they would not hire two additional officers until the contract negotiations were completed with the understanding those positions would be filled once there was a contract agreement. The committee decided not to fund an assistant position for the city manager, requesting that duties be divided among the current City Clerk, Deputy Clerk and the receptionist in City Hall. This would reduce personnel costs and eliminate the $50,000 deficit in the budget.
In addition to the discussion about the police budget, Milford Parks & Recreation Director, Brad Dennehy requested an increase in capital expenses for equipment and upgrades to Goat Island. According to Mr. Dennehy, the department wanted to replace the van used to transport children to various locations as part of their programs. The van they currently use is a 1996 and in poor mechanical shape.
“We could get a van from the state bid, but it has to be a 15-passenger,” Mr. Dennehy explained. “For insurance purposes, we want to purchase a 12-passenger. An estimate for a new one is $32,000 or we could purchase a used one for about $23,000. The one we have now is a safety hazard.” In addition to the van, Mr. Dennehy requested to replace a mower and an irrigation wheel.
He explained that the new mower would be a Kobota because they were the most dependable. He explained that a home mower runs about 30 hours per year while the mowers used by the department run 30 hours per week. The irrigation wheel currently used is ten years old and the department has been using it to irrigate the soccer fields. If a new one was approved, it would be placed on the soccer fields while the old one would continue to be used in the dog park.
“My goal is to have irrigation in the dog park eventually,” Mr. Dennehy said. “But that is a few years down the road. Until then, we can nurse this irrigation wheel along to keep the grass in the dog park watered.”
When City Council approved the Goat Island upgrades, the plan included three overlooks and a pavilion. Mr. Dennehy said that he would like to see Goat Island used for more than just a place for people to walk their dogs. He said that the pavilions would cost about $50,000 and the overlooks $10,000 each for a total of $30,000. In addition, the decking in some sections of the Riverwalk were in need of replacement due to weather damage. He said that he was in talks with the state regarding grants and that at least two grants had been identified that may provide assistance with some of the projects, but that he could not apply unless the city encumbered funds.
The committee agreed to encumber funds contingent upon obtaining grant money for the Goat Island projects and to recommend that council agree to the equipment purchases.
Councilman Jamie Burk questioned why the city was not using all of their training funds. He said that, based on information provided to him by Mr. Portmann, the city was almost 95 percent through the fiscal year, but had only expended 46 percent of the training budget.
“At least four departments have used no training money,” Councilman Burk said. “I am a huge proponent of training. I think we need to develop a policy that outlines training for each employee. Our employees are our customers as well and I think they need to get the training they need. I also think that when an employee goes to training, they should be reimbursed for their expenses. They need a budget and a mechanism for turning in their expenses.”
Mr. Medlarz agreed to develop a training policy as well as a policy regarding travel reimbursement for all employees that would be presented to council at a future meeting.
The finalized budget will be presented to council at their June 22, 2015 meeting for approval.