City Council hears feedback on budget

A brief public hearing on the City of Warren’s proposed budget for 2014 on Wednesday resulted in only two speakers attending on behalf of the public.

Mayor Mark Phillips noted prior to any member of the public addressing council that the hearing was designed as an opportunity for council to hear feedback on the budget and not as a question and answer session.

Pauline Steinmeyer spoke on a number of issues.

“When I was looking at the budget, I was looking for any disturbing trends,” she said. “I’m not an accountant or anything, but I was looking for potential trainwrecks.”

Steinmeyer noted concern with the city’s reliance on grant funds.

“I’m afraid there isn’t going to be as much money as the city is used to,” Steinmeyer said. “The city looks great, but it came at a heavy cost.”

Andy Moore, president of the collective bargaining unit for the City of Warren Fire Department, also spoke.

“I spoke last year to council,” Moore said. “We’ve been able to make some very positive steps forward. There seems to be an error that all of the things in the city are going to be made right next year during contract negotiations. I wanted to dispel some of that.”

Moore noted fire department pension funding stands at less than 40 percent and also addressed health care costs.

He said that the firefighters union had suggested the city meet with an agent on possible changes to insurance. The city never pursued that meeting.

“At that time, it seemed that the only interest from Mr. Nelles and the city was to make us pay higher out of pocket expenses,” Moore said, noting insurance quotes were obtained independently after this. “That’s what we proposed to that manager and to say that that meeting went badly would be an understatement.”

Moore urged reconsideration of the issue.

“What I would suggest council do over the next year, is explore outside the box,” he said. “I think we should put out an RFP (request for proposal) for health insurance. I truly believe it’s something we could look at, then sit down and discuss it.”

He also noted he disagreed with the debate over whether to provide the same pay raises and insurance to city employees who are not part of a collective bargaining unit.

“I think it’s wrong to give them insurance or pay raises not commensurate with their employees,” Moore said. “If you’re giving raises above CPI (consumer price index) that’s a true raise, but if you’re just going to negate it with insurance premiums… They’re losing money.”

Moore concluded, “You need to try to think outside the box… rather than, as one councilman said, tell them if they don’t like it to go pick up the want ads.”