The most recent budget proposal at City Hall calls for laying off at least 30 municipal workers unless union concessions allow for $1.8 million in savings.
“That’s the scenario right now,” Finance Chairman Rich Miecznikowski said Thursday.
If the city’s unions don’t cut a deal in the coming weeks, Comptroller Glenn Klocko said “the final alternative would be to lay people off.”
Negotiations between the city and its union employees are slated to begin in about a week and a half, Personnel Director Diane Ferguson said.
Ferguson said she hopes all the municipal unions will participate – which apparently is not a sure thing – and that both sides will consider seriously ways to save money.
Among the possibilities are furloughs, wage freezes and closing City Hall on some days.
Mayra Sampson, who heads the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers’ local inside City Hall, said her union “is always willing to sit down and listen” but can’t promise that it will agree to any changes in the contract.
Sampson said the union will, however, “show ways the city could save money.”
In addition to the possible layoffs in city government, it looks as if there will be some layoffs at the Board of Education as well.
Proposed cuts in its requested budget would leave the schools short nearly $2 million in their bid to maintain existing services and staff. Klocko said that layoffs will probably follow there, too.
School Superintendent Philip Streifer could not be reached Thursday.
In a nutshell, the budget request from the city departments and educators required about $180 million for the fiscal year that starts July 1. That’s more than $8 million more than the city anticipates it will have if it freezes property taxes, as politicians and fiscal overseers appear determined to do.
To cover the gap, Klocko proposed cutting the education increase by nearly $2 million, saving $500,000 by leaving open positions unfilled, paring public works by $1.4 million, tapping reserves for $2.5 million and squeezing $1.8 million more through concessions or layoffs.
The choices are tough, he said, because “there’s no more lollipops on the trees. All the places we rat-holed money are gone.”
If the city doesn’t make layoffs, squeeze concessions from the unions or find some other way to save $1.8 million, property taxes would rise .39 mills, or about $40 annually on the average Bristol home.
Mayor Art Ward said he’s “striving for 0 percent” because he doesn’t want to shove property taxes higher for hard-pressed residents.
Faced with the $1.8 million gap this week, Ward told Ferguson “to review other options,” including concessions from the unions or possibly layoffs.
Ferguson said that the unions are under no obligation to talk about settled contracts.
Having just won relatively small raises that also required higher medical co-pays, at least some employees don’t want to agree to wage freezes that would essentially reduce their pay to last year’s level while forcing them to cough up more for healthcare.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that union members won’t back efforts to save money in order to prevent layoffs.
The last time the city laid off employees to save money during a fiscal crisis came more than 15 years ago when more than 50 workers were trimmed during a recession. The biggest hit at the time was absorbed by public works and parks, who lost many ‘outside’ workers.
Assuming city councilors agree to a proposed ordinance change, Bristol’s budget will be set at a joint meeting of the City Council and Board of Finance on June 4.
Until then, officials are still hoping for help from Hartford, Washington or the economy.
As it is, “we’re standing alone in the raft,” Miecznikowski said.
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