The city faces a $7.9 million budget gap between its expected revenues and its proposed spending.
“For everybody to survive, something has to budge,” Mayor Art Ward said.
To close the fiscal hole, the city is likely to cut deeper into next year’s spending plan, tap rainy day funds and perhaps thrash the $3.7 million request that the Board of Education is seeking merely to keep on doing what it is now.
“We have a problem,” city Comptroller Glenn Klocko said.
Both the mayor and city Finance Chairman Rich Miecznikowski said they are angling to keep this year’s property tax bills from rising, which would mean that additional property taxes wouldn’t be available to help.
“Our goal is to have a zero increase,” Miecznikowski said.
“Absolutely,” responded Ward. “There’s not a lot of flexibility there.”
At this point, it’s hard to know how officials will cope with the looming deficit for the budget that begins July 1. Doing nothing would hike taxes by 1.8 mills.
Klocko said that officials may bump up “overly pessimistic” revenue estimates. He said that might bring in another $600,000.
Paring city department budgets – mostly by leaving out money for unfilled positions – might reduce the hole by another $1.7 million or so, Klocko said.
But because Ward has already insisted city supervisors deliver budgets that rise no more than 2 percent – forcing most to leave out every request for new equipment – there’s not much to pare.
Klocko said that rising health care costs for employees is responsible for most of the increase in City Hall’s proposed budget.
On the education side, Superintendent Philip Streifer said he needs a $3.7 million hike in his $101 million budget to maintain existing programs and teachers.
It appears the state’s aid may remain level next year, which would prevent the direst scenarios, but without mandate relief or more money from the city, there’s no easy option for getting the money.
The Board of Education is already eyeing layoffs to make up the gap, a move that would increase class sizes, take a slice out of music instruction and other potentially explosive steps.
At City Hall, too, there is a chance that layoffs may prove a necessity in order to hold the line on taxes, officials admit.
Since there are no projects or equipment to cut, further reductions would be “all about people,” Klocko said.
“We’re going to make it work,” Miecznikowski said, adding that he doesn’t want to see layoffs..
Where does the gap come from?
$3.7 million increase sought by schools
$2.5 million increase sought by City Hall
$1.7 million drop in expected revenues
Note: The figures in this story have been updated to reflect the best information the comptroller's office had as of this afternoon.
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