Mayor Williams discusses proposed budget, opiate epidemic in State of the City


Ryan Fischer

Huntington Mayor Steve Williams delivers his State of the City address Monday in the city council chambers at city hall. Williams discussed his proposed budget for the 2017 fiscal year.

Mayor Steve Williams focused on the proposed budget for fiscal year 2016 to 2017 during his State of the City address Tuesday afternoon in the City Council chambers.

Williams said while departmental budgets were flat, the city’s insurance line was creating a hole in the budget.

“Our insurance line is made up of property and casualty insurance, workers’ compensation and our health care benefits,” Williams said.

Williams said insurance posed a much larger problem than the public safety pension challenges the city faced seven years ago.

“Seven years ago we had a legislature that was able to step in to help us resolve this problem. No such luck now,” Williams said departing from his prepared speech. “This is our problem, we have to own it and in owning it we have to resolve it.”   

Williams said insurance costs were seemingly the only expenditure the city had no solution to establish control.

“The reason is, that we’re having this difficulty, we are a self-insured entity, and subsequently, we have a very small pool in which to spread our risks,” Williams said.

Williams said the city’s projections indicate insurance costs could easily increase 40 percent in the next year.

“When we consider the last budget that some of us as city council in the fiscal year of ’13 passed,  if the projections are accurate the insurance costs in that five year period of time—four year period of time will have doubled,” Williams said.

Williams said the city would continue negotiations with three bargaining units and solicit bids from prospective insurers in the coming weeks to find a solution to the “hole” in the budget.

Williams spoke about the vacant buildings ordinance passed by City Council six to two on January 21. Williams said the ordinance would enable the city to create a registry for vacant properties.

“Our Unsafe Buildings Commission has a list of 250 structures that need to be demolished,” Williams said. “I’m told that there can easily be an additional 500 buildings on that list.”

The cost to demolish all the buildings on the list would be in excess of $2.5 million. An anonymous donor has given $100,000 for demolition purposes and the city pledged to match that donation with $100,000 from the capital budget.

Williams discussed the opiate epidemic and the Mayor’s Office of Drug Control Policy, which he created in November 2014.

“All segments of our community have joined together to radically change the dialogue about addiction,” Williams said, again departing from his prepared speech.

Williams was interrupted by applause while recognizing police chief Jim Johnson, deputy fire chief Jan Rader and Huntington Police Department Criminal Intelligence analyst Scott Lemley for saving lives in a fight against the opiate epidemic.

Williams concluded the State of the City address with the mention of radical cooperation, a phrase he repeated numerous times.

“As we exercise this community endeavor of radical cooperation, imagine the community and the destiny that we will have created,” Williams said.

Clara Maynard can be contacted at [email protected].