The city of Columbus spent about $12.4 million to run police, fire and other departments through the first half of the year — leaving about 57 percent of the budget to cover July-December spending.
Barring weather catastrophes or other unpredictable events, Mayor Kristen Brown and leaders of the city’s three biggest departments — fire, police, parks — assert that they’re on track to stay within the 2012 budget.
“Overall, we’re in good shape,” Brown said.
Fire, police and parks departments each had at least 54 percent of their budgeted expenditures remaining through June.
The Columbus Fire Department spent about $3.3 million, leaving about $3.9 million — or 54 percent of budget — for the second half of the year.
Its biggest budget category, personnel, has at least half its funds available for the remainder of the year.
For example, the department had spent nearly $2.2 million on salaried employees, or about half of what was budgeted. But other areas had significantly more than 50 percent remaining. With unscheduled overtime, for example, the department has budgeted about $112,000 for the year. As of July 1, about 83 percent of that remained.
However, the fire department has faced unexpected expenses this year due to failing machinery and damaged buildings.
Workers from HRC Roofing are fixing the roof at Fire Station 1, at the northwest corner of Washington and 11th streets. Fire Chief Joel Thacker said part of the roof had collapsed.
The department recently requested, and the City Council approved, spending $95,000 beyond what was budgeted to repair the damage. Thacker expects that project to be completed in about a month.
Fire Station 5 in Tipton Lakes is another trouble spot, where roof damage was allowing rain into the building, Thacker said.
The department also has replaced 25-year-old boilers at Station 1 with more efficient ones, which are lowering the department’s utility bills.
“I think we’ve addressed the major issues with the buildings,” Thacker said. “Hopefully we’re in good shape until 2013.”
Columbus Police Chief Jason Maddix has to worry less about the department’s offices — they’re in City Hall — but more about personnel costs and police cruisers.
The department had spent nearly $2.9 million through the first half of the year, leaving about 54 percent of the budget for the final six months.
Maddix has to watch overtime more closely than any other item. The department incurs overtime expenses whenever the SWAT team is called, when a situation requires hostage negotiators or during a major criminal investigation.
One example is this year’s raids on two Columbus massage parlors. The owners were suspected of corrupt business practices, including racketeering, promoting prostitution and failing to pay state sales taxes. Maddix said those investigations required considerable surveillance and overtime.
Through June 30, the department had spent about $68,000 on overtime, but 59 percent of that budget remained.
The mayor said the city is estimating that the police department will incur about $10,000 in overtime the first weekend in October, when the intersection of State Roads 11 and 46 will be closed to replace railroad tracks.
Maddix said the department’s fleet of police cruisers received a needed boost this year when the city bought 12 new cars, typical for annual replacement. The cars typically last five or six years.
The Dodge Chargers have engines with slightly less power than vehicles they replaced. But Maddix said they produce enough horsepower to meet officers’ needs. They also result in savings on fuel, adding to the savings the department is realizing with more officers riding bicycles.
Maddix said the department also has cut expenses more than $5,000 annually by replacing pagers with mobile phones. Also helping the budget is a grant of about $8,000 for surveillance equipment.
The parks department, through June, had spent nearly $2.1 million, leaving about 56 percent of its budget remaining for the year’s final half. The department had more than 50 percent of its budget remaining in most areas, especially in the costliest line items such as those related to personnel.
The department’s grounds-keeping budget had been reduced to 14 percent by June 30, which didn’t faze Parks Director Ben Wagner. The department buys materials, primarily fertilizer for soccer fields and other areas, in bulk early in the year when it can get a better price.
Wagner said building improvements that will be paid through part of a loan the City Council recently approved will address some of the most pressing maintenance issues at Donner and Hamilton centers. Repaired roofs, new heating and cooling systems and new doors and windows also will lower the department’s utility bills, he said.
Wagner said some worries remain. If the city is hit by severe wind or winter storms, the department could incur significant costs related to limb, tree and snow removal.
The city’s smaller departments — including sanitation, transit and thoroughfare — also had more than 50 percent of their budgets remaining after June.
Mayor Brown expects the city’s departments to have some money left over when the year comes to a close. She said that money can be used to address city road repairs, building maintenance or even vehicle replacements.
Looking ahead, Wagner said one small insect could cause big headaches over the next few years.
The parks department is budgeting $10,000 next year to cut down and replace some old and sick ash trees and treat healthy ones in anticipation of arrival of the emerald ash borer. Wagner predicts the city will have to deal with the ash borer for the next decade.
The insect has been destroying trees in about half of Indiana’s counties and has already been sighted in nearby Brown and Johnson counties.
The ash borer has left a significant trail of damage elsewhere in Indiana.
The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reported that the city of Fort Wayne expects to spend $900,000 to combat the pest next year. And in neighboring Illinois, “Chicago can expect to treat or replace most of its 93,000 ash trees through 2020, spending as much as $46 million,” Time magazine reported.
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