Tuesday, February 16, 2016

"Insurance Crisis in Huntington" Mayor Steve Williams Delivers State of the City Address

Huntington mayor Steve Williams said Tuesday that Huntington’s $2 million hole in the budget for the fiscal year 2017 comes from the city’s insurance line.

In his State of the City address Williams said, “Today our insurance costs are spiraling out of control. Insurance costs are the only expenditure that we seemingly have no solution to establish control.” The city will have to find its own solutions. Williams said that the state legislature will not be able to help Huntington fix this problem, due to the states own budget crisis.

After the speech Williams told reporters it could be between a $2-4 million hole in the budget. He said, “We right now are rebidding our insurance contracts, we are saying to the insurance carriers for property causality, worker’s compensation and our health benefit we do not want to see a vanilla run of the mill insurance program.”

Department budgets for the city are flat. Williams said all department heads know their budgets and must maintain their spending. Williams indicated insurance costs are hindering the city and pose significant problems in the upcoming years. He said, “Our projections indicate that our insurance costs could increase 40 percent in the next fiscal year.”

The mayor said in the coming weeks the city council and his administration will address the cost with the insurance line. Williams said, “We will continue negotiations with our three bargaining units and in turn, solicit bids from prospective insurers.” Fire, Police and Public works departments will be the first to feel the effects of the insurance crisis in the city if a solution is not met.

Williams also made note of the neighborhoods with vacant houses and crumbling sidewalks. The mayor said the city council and his administration have created a fund that will address these problem areas with the additional money from the user fee. Williams said, “The Unsafe Buildings Commission has identified 250 structures that need to be demolished.” As more are identified that number could reach up to 750 buildings total placed on the demolition list.

Williams said in his address that the city is combating the opiate epidemic in the city by using the $3 million in grant money to give assistance to the various agencies in the area that fight the opiate problem. Williams also said that the community revitalization plan will help transform the City of Huntington which is one of 15 finalists in the America’s Best Communities.

After the speech City Council Chairman Mark Bates alluded to the possible option problems with the insurance crisis for the city. He said “It was looked at before for the city to partner with the state, but as you know the state employee program is in trouble and underfunded.” The city council will have a scheduled revenue budget meeting Thursday and expenditure meeting Saturday.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Mayor Williams State of the City Address Preview

Answering questions Wednesday Mayor Steve Williams announced that the budget for the fiscal year of 2017 would be $2 million less than the previous year fiscal budget.

Williams previewed his State of the City address for Marshall Journalism reporters. Williams said, “Everyone is getting cut across the board.” In regards to the deficit he also said, “Some of it is a reduction in revenues on one side, but then there are costs that continue to go up.”

A reason for the $2 million hole for the next fiscal year Williams said “The economy has slowed.” Williams did say that what his administration will not do is raise fees to offset the $2 million. He said, “We are going to be down $2 million off what we have and were counting the user fee.” The mayor said his biggest worry is that some expenses are going through the roof.

Williams reconfirmed that the last thing he would ever consider is layoffs to any departments. He said, “It would be a last resort if we ever find ourselves to layoffs.” He additionally said, “I am not talking about layoffs with any of my department heads right now.”

To start off the State of the City address Williams said “We will talk about the progress we have made, specifically the Huntington innovation project.” The environmental protection agency has given Huntington $600,000 in grants to take care of areas such as the Browns field area across from the football stadium. High speed broadband is a part of the innovation project that the mayor is hoping for businesses to use for international exchanges to better help growth economically in the city.

The mayor cited the $2 user fee hike as a way for the city to generate an additional $3 million. He said, “It will be used for road construction and capital improvements around town.” More funds will be allocated this fiscal year for road construction than last year. Outside of the additional officers and road construction Williams said, “It’s a good possibility I would use it to drive our broadband initiative.” Williams said, “It will cost about $26 million to build a broadband network.”

The mayor’s State of the city address will be Tuesday Feb. 16 at City Hall. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Preview of Gov. Tomblin State of the State Address

   Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin in his State of the State address in 2015 highlighted the elimination of the state’s business franchise tax, to encourage employers to invest in West Virginia. The governor also referenced job growth in the state that would reach 30,000 new jobs each year through 2018, while also speaking on the drug abuse problem and heroin rise in the state of West Virginia.
   On that basis in his final State of the State address expect Gov. Tomblin to talk more about the job growth in the state. Expressing how many jobs had been created in the past year and what the creation of new jobs number total will be for this year. In the CPS employment survey West Virginia added 4,889 new jobs in 2015 falling 25,111 short which is significantly under the projected number of 30,000. It is important for the Marshall community because it means there has been a drop in jobs being created meaning less opportunities for students to stay in West Virginia. What is also expected tonight with the address besides jobs creation is the energy sector. According to West Virginia Metro News coal severance, oil and natural gas collections are down 30 to 50 percent from last year.
   Gov. Tomblin big topic in the past year address about managing the budget will most likely be the same big topic spoken again tonight. There is a shortfall in the budget the same as 2015. WV Metro News reported in October that the governor announced a 4 percent budget cut for most agencies. It was projected that in 2016 the state would have a $250 million deficit in the fiscal year.
  Balancing the budget is going to be a topic point in the State of the State address because of the projected deficit. The governor should include a clear-cut plan in the address. The shortfalls in the budget are presumed severe the governor needs to send a strong message of a confident plan as one of the points in the speech tonight. It is an important to the Marshall student body, faculty and administration because high education has seen significant cuts due to budgetary shortfalls by the state.
  Another key topic Gov. Tomblin won’t skirt around the drug overdose and addiction problems facing the state. The governor’s assurance of how the state will continue to combat the issue should be expected in the annual address. This is a big issue in the state as President Obama visited Charleston, West Virginia to talk about the epidemic facing the state in October. In a report by Robert Wood Johnson and Trust for America’s Health it has been stated that West Virginia is the state with the highest rate of overdose deaths in the United States. Drugs have been affecting the Huntington area putting residents and the Marshall community in danger. Having a plan to combat this is important for curving the epidemic out of the Huntington area.
  The drug overdose and addiction epidemic should have a big part in the governor’s State of the State address. Dr. Rahul Gupta told the Washington Times that there’s a limited offering of substance abuse programs provided in the state making it hard for those in poor regions of the state to get help. 34 deaths out of 100,000 West Virginias in a two-year span from 2011-13.
Gov. Tomblin has said in the upcoming year he wanted to identify more ways to enhance the states efforts.
  Even though drugs and the budget deficit has the most likely chances of dominating the address. In the past year’s address, the governor also made note of the states infrastructure and how $48 million had been spent by the Divisions of Highways for resurfacing and bridge work. Gov. Tomblin said, “Our state’s highways and bridges are critical to our continued economic growth.” This idea of infrastructure can be expressed once again in the governor’s annual speech in the new year.

  A final note of what to expect from the State of the State address is look back in the Gov. Tomblin administration and the accomplishments made while he has been governor. It is his final State of the State address its expected to be a strong stand tonight by the governor. What he has done to better West Virginia and what his plan is to continue forward to finish out his term.  The Marshall community needs a plan and pointed strategy to combat the many problems facing the state in this new year.