City Council reviews Huntington PD’s largest budget in 10 years

March 9, 2019 GMT

HUNTINGTON — Huntington City Council members held a hearing Thursday to review the proposed 2019-20 budget for the Huntington Police Department, which would be its largest budget in more than a decade.

Hearings are being held this month so council members may ask questions or propose changes to Mayor Steve Williams’ proposed 2019-20 fiscal year budget for each of the city’s departments and divisions, which begins July 1.

If approved, the proposed police department budget will increase by $471,000 from the previous fiscal year and total more than $14.5 million. Williams said this will give the police department its largest budget since he returned to City Hall more than 10 years ago.

An increase is necessary for officers to continue their valuable work within the city, which saw significant drops in the number of property crimes, violent crimes and the homicide rate last year, he said.

“This small town, just shy of 50,000 people, was setting an example that some of the largest cities in the region are coming here and asking us how we are doing things,” he said.

Under the proposed budget, Police Chief Hank Dial said the total amount of wages and salaries for his department would increase by $670,855.

That factors in a 2 percent raise citywide for all bargaining unit employees and administrative personnel. During his Feb. 15 State of the City address, Williams offered those raises and guaranteed access to the city’s insurance program for three years.

The city is currently in contract negotiations with each of the city’s bargaining units, including the Fraternal Order of Police Gold Star Lodge 65, the city’s police union. Williams said he will seek City Council’s approval if contract negotiations differ from the 2 percent raise he offered.

Dial’s proposed budget seeks to make permanent two part-time civilian positions: a manager of the department’s fleet maintenance program and someone overseeing recruitment of new officers. Those positions were previously contracted on a pilot basis.

“We think they are successful enough that we need to budget for them this year,” he said.

Officer recruitment and retention remains a challenge for the department and will be a top priority in the new fiscal year, Dial said.

He has since worked with members of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Government Innovation team, which identified several ways to hire and keep officers. Among them is a “Couch to Academy Program,” which maintains constant communication with applicants to guide them through the process. All officers throughout the department will also be involved in recruitment, Dial said. The number of budgeted employees will not change from the previous fiscal year. Dial is currently allowed to hire up to 108 sworn police officers, but the department only has 92. By the end of the next fiscal year, 11 officers are expected to retire.

Dial is seeking to increase the department’s training budget by $15,400, for a total of $50,000. This will train officers to replace those who are returning and train detectives in newer interrogation techniques.

He wants to purchase five new police cars for approximately $260,000. This will add to police vehicles council members approved last year.

“We have a goal of having enough vehicles for our patrol fleet so that the vehicles won’t be in operation 24 hours a day, thus extending the life of the vehicles,” he said.

He wants approximately $7,000 to purchase new filters to replace forensic unit equipment used by officers to protect from pathogens on bloody crime scenes.

Dial’s proposed budget also identifies several savings, including in payments to two separate pension plans. The city is keeping up with its pension payments so Dial’s department will see a net savings of $85,063 for payments into that system, he said.

“That’s something we are all happy to see,” he said.

The department recently switched its phone services to FirstNet, which is offered by AT&T specifically for first responders and city governments. That will save his department approximately $4,000.

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.

Upcoming budget meetings

> On March 14 from 5 to 6 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m., City Council members will hold hearings to review budgets for Public Works and the Sanitation and Trash Enterprise Fund.

> On March 21 from 5 to 8 p.m., they will review contributions, transfers (including capital improvements), grants and budgets for the fire department, civic arena and coal severance fund.