Though Mayor Art Ward has ruled out layoffs to save money – a step some other cities have taken – he’s pinching pennies where he can in a bid to lower spending.
One of the steps he’s taken to hold the line on a possible budget shortfall is to order the Main Library to remain closed on Sundays.
Ward said he’s also pushed for consolidation of solid waste and recycling routes, clamped down on municipal fuel use, left open positions unfilled, rejected most travel requests and toughened the scrutiny of overtime.
Ward said he plans to talk with the city’s unions about other cost-cutting measures, including the possible closure of the solid waste transfer station on Mondays so that workers there would routinely have a Tuesday to Saturday shift.
The mayor said that he’s also looking into the possibility of four-day work weeks for some employees.
“We’re basically in a maintenance mode,” the mayor said, trying to hunker down and ride out the recession with as little pain as possible for residents, taxpayers and city employees.
But, Ward said, there may have to be more services reduced or eliminated in order to keep providing those that “the most beneficial.”
Ward said that he hopes the economy will turn around so that harsher steps aren’t needed.
“Every day, I hope we’ve hit bottom,” Ward said, so that things can begin to get better.
It’s unclear at this point whether the city faces a deficit at year’s end. Traditionally, it has had strong reserves and been able to ride out recessions without massive cuts.
But in the early 1990s, the city laid off about 50 employees to cope with sinking revenues and rising costs, many of them slots that were never reinstated.
Ward said that he figures that to save half a mill in property taxes – 50 cents on every $1,000 of assessed value – he would need to lay off 50 employees since he can’t just knock off the ones with the largest salaries.
He said it doesn’t make sense to lose the services those workers provide to save so little.
Besides, the mayor said, most of the employees who might fall to a budget ax are also “taxpayers, homeowners and they have families.”
“It’s important in these types of times that people have a sense of security if at all possible,” Ward said.
He said that he would rather lose positions to attrition by not filling slots when people retire or move on to new jobs.
Ward said that Bristol is in a better situation than most Connecticut cities because of its financial strength, a legacy of the reforms pushed through during the Great Depression that included creation of the Board of Finance to oversee city budgets and bonding.
The mayor asked the city’s state and federal lawmakers this week to look for ways to reduce the number of costly, unfunded mandates to lend a hand. Ward said that particularly in education, the mandatory expenses are driving up the budget by millions of dollars.
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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