Council talks about budget, police spending

FRONT ROYAL – Town Council plans to hold a public hearing Monday on next year’s proposed 2017 budget.

Members continued their discussion on the spending plan this week. Several ranking officials with the Police Department also attended the work session and responded to questions about the agency’s funding request. Officials also met with staff and council in closed session to further discuss “personnel matters” and seek legal council with the town attorney.

The total budget as advertised of $45.78 million includes general fund spending of $10.91 million. The general fund covers government operations, financial administration, public safety and other functions. The police department budget of $4.87 million makes up almost 45 percent of the proposed general fund.

The town also operates enterprise funds for its utilities. The budget includes $18.52 million in spending on electricity, $5.74 million on water, $6.5 million on sewer and $1.06 million on solid waste collection.

Council plans to consider more than a dozen amendments to the draft ordinance, most of which seek to cut spending in the proposed budget. An amendment would, if approved, reduce overtime funding for the patrol division in the police department by $23,400 to $225,000. Town Manager Steve Burke said the $225,000 is an estimate of how much the department might spend to cover overtime pay.

Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger has asked for more information about overtime pay. Egger recently drew criticism for comments she made about the police department’s budget request and its operations. Egger has since apologized. The police department provided more information to council members including staffing data.

Councilman Jacob Meza asked Burke how much of the overtime would likely go to cover training. Meza said he’s concerned that officers put in too many hours. Overtime accrued through training and working holidays taxes the budget and the officers, Meza said.

Councilman Bret Hrbek said he would like the town to look at increasing patrol division staff rather than continue to pay overtime.

Councilman John Connolly said he felt members had singled out the police department by asking questions about its operations. Connolly said he had similar concerns about overtime pay but did not want to come off as micromanaging the agency. Council doesn’t ask other departments for the level of justification for funds as other agencies, Connolly said.

Meza and Egger said council was not micromanaging. Egger noted that the police department is asking for an increase in funding for next year. Egger added that council had asked for basic, supporting data for the agency’s request.

Councilman Eugene Tewalt had distributed a list of proposed cuts he said would reduce the budget by $1 million. Tewalt said the budget contains a lot of “fat” that council could cut. Tewalt also suggested that rather than give a $1 an hour pay raise to employees that would affect subsequent budgets, the town should give the salary increase as a one-time bonus.

If the enterprise funds contain “too much money,” the town should lower the utility rates, Tewalt said.

Council usually votes on the first reading of the budget ordinance on the same night as the public hearing. Connolly told council he would not be able to attend the meeting for the hearing. Mayor Timothy Darr said council could hold the hearing and then delay the vote on the first reading of the ordinance until the next meeting.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com