By Ed Runyan
Warren City Council has approved a $26.5 million 2014 budget that anticipates no big changes in the cost to run any of its departments.
But the city estimates its health care costs will rise by 15 percent, so it’s taking steps during contract negotiations to offset that with a contribution from employees.
Warren employees currently don’t pay a portion of their health care bill, but city officials are working toward a 10 percent contribution for 2014, said David Griffing, Warren auditor.
While most government employees started contributing to the cost of health care several years ago, Warren officials “have not pushed it” because of the theory that employees would use their health care more if they were paying part of it, Griffing said.
One thing the city did do to hold down health care costs was to start a wellness program in 2013 designed to catch illnesses earlier through annual physicals, blood-pressure screenings and flu shots.
As part of the program, the city pays a portion of the cost of an employee’s fitness membership. “It’s been cost neutral,” Griffing said.
The budget for the police department provides enough money to continue to employ 65 officers plus the police chief. It allows for about $50,000 worth of unemployment benefits to about 10 firefighters likely to get layoff notices when a federal grant runs out in May.
The $26.5 million 2014 budget is about $400,000 higher than the $26.1 million 2013 budget.
The fire department received a one-year extension on its U.S. Department of Homeland Security Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant last May, meaning it runs out this May.
The grant was meant to pay the salary and benefits for 25 firefighters for three years, but the department currently is paying 16 firefighters with the money.
The department, which had 51 firefighters before the grant, has 67 now and expects to be at 64 by spring, based on retirements and a resignation, said Ken Nussle, Warren fire chief.
The city is budgeting to pay for 54 firefighters and unemployment benefits for about 10 who probably will be eligible, Griffing said.
The fire department has applied for another two-year SAFER grant and is waiting to hear a response to the application, Nussle said.
The budget anticipates the police department remaining at 65 officers plus the chief in 2014, Griffing said.