The Richmond Register

Local News

February 6, 2013

Commission newcomers pushing to reverse policy decisions

Longevity pay, fire station closure

RICHMOND — Although they were unsuccessful Tuesday in overriding a decision by City Manager Jimmy Howard, the two newcomers to the Richmond City Commission appeared undetered in their effort to overturn other decisions made in the past two years by either Howard or a previous commission.

Commissioners Laura King and Jim Newby were on the losing side when Commissioner Robert Blythe voted with Mayor Jim Barnes and Commissioner Donna Baird to uphold the daily schedule of the city's maintenance set by Howard.

However, Newby won agreement to have restoration of the year-end longevity bonus paid to city employees until 2010 considered as a proposed budget for 2013-14 is drafted.

Newby had originally proposed that an order be drafted so the commission could vote on the issue. However, he consented to having it made part of deliberations for the budget that will take effect July 1. If paid at year's end, as was previously done, the bonus would come out of that budget.

“So much has been taken from employees” since the city began cutting costs in 2009, Newby said.

Now that its finances have improved, he said the commission should restore the bonus that employees had received at year's end when they were paying their property taxes and buying Christmas presents.

Both Barnes and Baird said they were opposed to longevity pay. They mayor said it was started in the late 1980s when the city was having trouble retaining police officers, he said.

When last paid in 2009, Howard has said the longevity bonus had cost the city about $100,000.

Newby said the city, which once had as many as 350 employees, now has about 230, and many of them have shorter tenure. Restoring the bonus would cost less than in the past, he said.

Even if the cost is reduced, “We can't just up and add $75,000 to the budget,” the mayor said, adding that the city's financial outlook is still not as bright as some assume.

Newby said the city recently hired a new employee for $32,000 to help collect business taxes, “and they just sit in their office.”

With planning for the 2013-14 just beginning, Blythe said, “Why don't we see how much (the longevity bonus) would cost us and go from there.”

If the finance department would calculate the cost and then factor it into a budget draft, Newby said he would agree to having the commission decide the issue then.

Backed by Newby, a former city firefighter, King said she wanted the commission to reconsider Howard's decision to close Fire Station No. 5 in the city's industrial park off Duncannon Lane.

When the station was closed, the city had reached an agreement with the county to swap responsibility for different areas around the city limits.

However, the county is not offering the same level of coverage to the homes and industries in the Duncannon area that was provided by the closed city station, King said.

The county fire station at the US 25/421 split often has only two firefighters on duty, Newby said, and sometimes none.

When the county is unable to answer a call in the area, the Blue Grass Army Depot Fire Department responds, as called for in its mutual-aid agreement with the county, King said. Last year, depot firefighters responded without assistance from the county to 25 calls in the area previously serviced by Station 5, King said she learned during a recent visit to the depot.

With the federal government looking to reduce depot funding, its fire department may not be able to justify renewal of the mutual-aid agreement, she suggested.

Newby recounted an incident last year when he was part of a firefighting crew that responded from the city's fire station on North Keeneland Drive to an auto accident on Interstate 75 just north of Exit 83. The crew had to drive to the exit and then enter the northbound lane to reach the scene, he said. The trip took about 13 minutes, when only five would have been needed to respond from Station 5.

When the city's fire insurance rating is reviewed, rating could be lowered without an a station in the Duncannon area, King said, forcing up fire-insurance premiums.

However, insurance costs are not the main issue, she said. “What is a human life worth?”

Barnes said the decision to close Station 5 was reached only after six months of study, and 12 people are required to keep a fire station open, he added.

King suggested that only nine would be needed, and the city has six people certified to fight fires who are assigned to desk jobs or other duties. They are the chief, assistant chief, fire marshal and mechanic, plus two assigned to rescue work. If those six were assigned to firefighting teams, the city would need to hire only three additional firefighters to reopen the station, she said.

Barnes said he would schedule a special commission work session to discuss the issue.

King also said she would like to see work sessions televised on the city's public access cable channel. Work sessions, conducted in the City Hall conference room, had been televised until the video camera there stopped working, and King said she had a camera she could donate, if cost was the issue.

Barnes said a camera wasn't the only cost. A city employee would be required to operate the camera, he said.

The mayor suggested the commission do away with the 4:30 p.m. work sessions that precede the 6 p.m. regular sessions on the second and fourth Tuesdays. Discussions that would have taken place in those work session would then be conducted during the later meeting in the City Hall auditorium where they would be televised.

For the past two years, the commission also has conducted work sessions at 1 p.m. on the first and third Tuesdays of each month.

The commission reviewed the draft of an ordinance designed to prevent businesses from avoiding unpaid taxes by reorganizing under new names. It will likely be heard on first reading at the Feb. 20 meeting, according to City Clerk Lisa Cassity. City Attorney Garrett Fowles gave a preview of another ordinance he is drafting to prevent occupancy of dwellings suspected of contamination by a methamphetamine laboratory.

It also opened four bids for the city's commercial garbage collection franchise. Cassity said the commission likely will meet in called session Friday to award a contract.

Bill Robinson can be reached at editor@

richmondregister.com

or at 624-6690.

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