EYEWITNESS LOCAL NEWSHUNTINGTON BUDGET ISSUES
from Eyewitness News Online
Pensions and Infrastructure Two Main Obstacles For Huntington Budget
Reported by: Dave Benton
Web Producer: Jeff Morris
Reported: Sep. 27, 2012 10:04 AM EDT
Updated: Sep. 28, 2012 7:29 AM EDT
Huntington , Cabell County , West Virginia
For a while, Huntington's reputation was tarnished with high crime and financial problems. Now, city leaders say crime is down and the budget is balanced. But there are two obstacles the city continues to face: pensions and infrastructure.
Mayor Kim Wolfe said 25 percent of Huntington's budget goes toward paying police and fire pensions, that's more than double what Charleston pays in pensions.
Councilman Steve Williams said the Legislature needs to contribute more money toward pensions so “the pie starts to grow."
Williams is currently running against Wolfe for the mayor's seat. When asked if filing Chapter 9 bankruptcy is an option, Williams said, "No, everyone gets burned. Other cities have done it, and it destroys the local economy and what you end up saying to every retiree is that their pension now goes into receivership. That would be the worst thing."
Wolfe agrees. "That's been brought up and I said, ‘No, we'll find a way out of this.’ The bonding rate would be reduced," he said.
When asked if the city could tax its way out of the pension problem, Wolfe said, "No, you have to allow businesses to grow. You don't tax your way out of anything. I'm a conservative Republican. Allow businesses to grow, make the city safer, cleaner and promote the city."
Wolfe said working with the Legislature to cap the amount paid for pensions has helped. "When we came in office, we were heading for a train wreck. Escalation of the budget was going to be unsustainable. We worked with then-Gov. Joe Manchin and accomplished a budget reform," he said.
Wolfe said violent and property crimes are down nearly 40 percent. The police department is fully staffed and the fire department is getting closer. But infrastructure is a major challenge. City leaders say a new sales tax brought in more money than projected. The trick now is to set that money aside for capital improvements.
The city desperately needs to separate the storm and utility lines to help prevent flooding.
Williams said, "We need to make sure we have additional money for capital improvements. Right now, there is more than 2 percent or 4 percent that goes to capital improvements and that needs to be 5 or 6 percent.”
Other city leaders believe a good way to raise extra money is to implement a storm water utility fee. Council discussed that issue Monday night during a council meeting. That idea is in its infancy and would take several public meetings before it’s even considered by council.
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