MANSFIELD — Mayor Tim Theaker says he’ll try to seek at least partial reimbursement for costs the city incurred while providing beefed-up security for a presidential visit.
But so far, no entity — White House, Secret Service or the Obama for America campaign — has stepped up to accept an invoice.
Mansfield, in fiscal emergency since August 2010, hosted a presidential campaign visit Wednesday downtown. That meant pre-planning meetings for area police, fire and emergency management personnel, and required safety personnel from the city and several nearby towns and townships to report to duty downtown starting at about 5 a.m., the day of the event.
Some city police officers worked seven hours at the event, then continued working second shift.
Firefighters trained in handling hazardous materials were called in for the day, sometimes even if they had been scheduled to be off.
Mansfield Service-Safety Director Lori Cope said she is still assembling figures for city-related costs, including police and fire department overtime.
“We won’t have figures in for a couple of weeks. We don’t even do time sheets this week,” Theaker said Thursday. “Logically, the greatest expense will be labor.”
The mayor said it remains to be seen how deeply the visit could cut into the budget. The city “is in dire straits” for accomplishing some services, he said.
“Our understanding, from the very beginning, is that none of that is reimbursable,” Cope said.
Theaker said he hasn’t ruled out applying to various sources, including the Obama for America campaign. “We will try to investigate every single avenue.”
Maximum overtime spending for the city’s safety forces for 2012 was budgeted early this year. Finance Director Linn Steward said the budget allows for $370,374 in police overtime and $523,117 in firefighter overtime for the entire year.
The prospect of planning for a presidential visit crept up on local officials with little warning.
Organizers for the rally started making very quiet inquiries about locations and local resources about a week before Obama’s visit — without, at first, confirming anyone from the White House would be there, Theaker said.
Early questions seemed to imply a business convention was in the works. “It was almost like they weren’t going to say it was the president who was coming,” Theaker said.
The mayor said the Secret Service looked at a variety of possible locations before settling on Central Park — and that location was not at all final, until very late.
“We were not privy to those decisions,” he said. “We asked, ‘Where were you thinking about holding the event? (The reply was) ‘Well, you don’t need to know that right now.’ ”
The mayor said there was a need for secrecy and to avoid leaking itinerary information. “They have to keep the president safe at all costs,” he said.
Theaker, a Republican, was not among the group of 20 to 30 local people allowed into Cafe on Main shortly after the rally to briefly meet the president.
“I was never even contacted. The mayor’s office was not even contacted,” he said.
Secret Service officials were in town for a couple of days before the event inspecting locations, he said. In a city where many pedestrians dress casually, “I noticed there were some individuals with suits,” the mayor said.
Security requirements for a presidential visit included a ladder truck used to lift snipers to their observation posts on top of buildings; law officers from several entities; fire engines and their crews; advanced life support rescue personnel; and the hazardous materials team.
Dump trucks, semi-trailers and school buses were pressed into service to fill the Park Avenue cut-through to prevent vehicles from coming into the area.
A Richland County Emergency Management Agency communications vehicle and radios were made available. Agencies outside Mansfield were on standby.
Richland County Emergency Management Agency Director Jim Southward said some entities outside Mansfield that provided manpower at the event did not use overtime to do that. “They were just taking people on duty. Everybody in the county is in trouble, and we’re trying to pinch pennies,” he said.
Sheriff Steve Sheldon used only deputies scheduled to work that shift “and did not pay any overtime,” Richland County Commissioner Ed Olson said.
“The sheriff had no other security cost that would have been beyond his budget,” he said.
Local officials were told the federal government does not offer financial help for local manpower needed for a visit from a top official, Southward said.
And “nobody seemed to have an answer” for whether Obama for America would step forward, the EMA director said.
When the News Journal asked the White House and Obama for America about their policies on reimbursement, spokeswomen for both referred the questions to the Secret Service.
The Secret Service’s public affairs wing, contacted after the president’s visit, has not responded to the question.
Despite concerns about where the city will find funds for security expenses, local officials said they were pleased the city hosted a president for half a day.
“It was a great event,” Theaker said. “It was nice to have the president here. It put us on the map.”
“It was a long day, but that’s OK,” Southward said. “I thought it was very good that we got the president here and got to hear him speak.”
Southward said he believes the day showed that a mid-sized city could accomplish the considerable organization needed for a a presidential visit. “I thought it was pretty seamless,” he said.
The only problems local safety forces had to deal with related to heat. On the hot, sunny day, 14 people were treated by rescue squad.
Southward said he was concerned about issues with heat stress, since the Secret Service wasn’t allowing bottled water in. Large containers with water were on the premises, but that wasn’t cooled, he said.
Police officers on duty, watching for security breaches, also were subject to the heat, with no easy access to water, the EMA director said.