Last Updated: Apr 27th, 2015 - 11:04:56

Hopewell budget would add positions
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Mar 7, 2014, 15:52

HOPEWELL — In what will be the first of four public meetings regarding the city of Hopewell’s budget for fiscal year 2014-2015, the presentation of the proposed $44 million budget included new positions in the city along with additions that will further the city’s focus on beautification. 

Though it was the first presentation to City Council, the proposed budget for FY 2015 is balanced, with reoccurring expenses matching reoccurring revenues, a trend that Jerry Whitaker, finance director, plans to continue in the coming years. 

“And by matching reoccurring revenues with reoccurring expenses, the city should have no difficulties in maintaining a very healthy fund balance and being in very good fiscal position,” Whitaker said. 

Before the presentation to council at a work session on February 25, Whitaker, along with City Manager Mark Haley, met with each department in the city to review their individual budgets before including them in the city’s budget. 

A review of each and every line item was completed in the budget requests per department and then requests were submitted to Haley. Before the recommendations were made, Whitaker had criteria set up for each department: was the funding justified and was the increase comparable to two years prior. 

“If there was no justification, their funding remained the same as it was in the current fiscal year,” Whitaker said. “This is something different from the past. Departments actually had a voice in their budgets.” 

One voice that was heard at the council work session was that of Sheriff Luther Sodat for the approval of two full-time I-295 deputies. Sodat told council the two deputies were already employed with the department, working full-time and receiving benefits, however council had to make it official for the department to go from 10 to 12 full-time positions. 

“It was supposed to be done last budget cycle,” Sodat told council. “They’ve been working, they’ve been getting paid, they’ve been getting the benefits, we just want to make it right now. It was paid through our budgeted money. We used our money to get it done as far as I know.” 

The two deputies at full-time would cost the city $77,600 in salaries, with benefits at $30,000, for a total of $107,600. 

Another voice that was heard at the work session was that of Hopewell Police Chief John Keohane, who was requesting an administration sergeant/accreditation. 

“We lost [a position] last year inadvertently in a budget session,” Keohane said. “... We went from 64 [positions] to 63 without my knowledge and I found out three to four months after that had occurred.” 

The position, which would cost the city a salary of $54,000, with benefits at $18,100, for a total of $72,100, would be in charge of upkeep for accreditation for the department. The Hopewell Police Department became an accredited agency in June of last year, becoming one of only 84 agencies in the state, to hold the title.  

The department worked for 21 months, completed a re-write of over 100 policies and created a 1,000-page policy manual. Keohane said with each passing year the work required to keep the accreditation becomes more rigorous. 

“To upkeep accreditation is a heck of a lot more each year than it is to get accredited that one year,” Keohane said. “I’m just requesting a position that was inadvertently deleted from my budget last year.” 

Haley said another position was requested from the Department of Neighborhood Assistance and Planning for a property maintenance inspector. This position would cost the city a salary of $34,500, with benefits at $14,000, for a total of $48,500. 

One position that has yet to be included in the FY 2015 budget is a construction manager position, which would be employed through Public Works. The position would cost the city a salary of $75,000 with benefits at $21,200 for a total of $96,200. Haley, along with other city staff, is still reviewing approval for this position. 

Haley said there is a long list of projects that have been requested by residents that have yet to be completed. He said this position helps ensure these projects start to get off the ground and get done. 

“We need people out on the street going out and fixing potholes and curb and gutters,” Mayor Mike Bujakowski said. “That’s where we need to spend money on, manpower, is putting people out in the city actually doing work.” 

The key to making sure these potential positions get filled, and funded, in the city, is to find reoccurring expenses. One new addition for the FY 2015 budget in terms of reoccurring expenses is a real estate tax increase of $0.03 per $100 assessed value. This is going to add $390,000 to the budget. This tax increase represents the last installment, for a total of a $0.09 real estate tax increase over three years, in the debt services for the school system, which goes to paying for the $24 million renovations to Hopewell High School. 

Another way the city is adding money to the budget for FY 2015 is by cutting the tourism budget from $194,000 down to $60,000. Whitaker said the decision had been made to transfer tourism over the Hopewell-Prince George Chamber of Commerce. To compensate for the transfer, the city has agreed to contribute $60,000 a year to the chamber to manage tourism. 

The budget still has $80,000 in question in regards to the continuance of the bus route in Hopewell. Whitaker told council the city is still in negotiations with the city of Petersburg in terms of a firm dollar amount.

The city originally agreed upon $180,000 in a vote by council last year to fund the route for another year. Whitaker said they are trying to negotiate to get the number down to $100,000 for the budget. 

“This number may go up to $180,000. It just depends on how successful we are with Petersburg,” Whitaker said. “We planned for the lower amount but there is a plan to increase that. This is kind of wishful thinking and if we need to increase that we certainly can.” 

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