City leaders approved a $170.8 million spending plan Thursday that would freeze property taxes, ax 14 currently vacant positions, snatch $2.5 million out of the rainy day fund and lay off three public works employees.
“The economy and the taxpayers are at the edge of a cliff and I don’t think we should push them off,” Finance Chairman Rich Miecznikowski said.
The budget approval at a joint session of city councilors the Board of Finance locks in the mill rate at last year’s level and preserves municipal services.
Two councilors voted against the budget -- Democrats Craig Minor and Kevin McCauley. They said it took too great a bite out of public works.
“This was a tough, tough, tough budget,” Mayor Art Ward said, but one that takes into account the dire economy and sinking revenues coming to City Hall from a fiscally strapped state.
It calls for spending $108,000 less the city allocated in last year’s budget, which apparently proved insufficient to cover costs. Ward said a deficit looms as the fiscal year approaches an end this month.
To keep spending down, officials delayed bonding, put off nearly all equipment purchases, cut road paving in half and other measures that for the most part merely postponed spending that will ultimately prove necessary.
“We’ve made hard choices and difficult choices,” Miecznikowski said.
For city Councilor Mike Rimcoski, a Republican, it proved the first budget in four years he could support -- because it freezes property tax rates.
Minor, who is not seeking reelection, said a half a mill tax hike would have covered many of the needs in public works that are going begging in Ward’s budget, including building repairs and road fixes.
Public works is “taking big, big hits,” said city Councilor Cliff Block, who voted to make those hits. He said officials are merely doing what the public demands of them.
McCauley, who wanted a .39 mill hike, said that public works spending has reached “a dangerous and critical point of not being able to maintain our infrastructure.”
“It’s a safety issue,” he said.
Janet Moylan, a finance commissioner, said the city has to make hard choices just like families must when their income shrinks.
Ron Messier, another finance board member, said the budget process this year “brought everyone together” as a team in ways he hasn’t seen in recent years, when factions have clashed on spending priorities.
This time around, education, which has been a battlefield, provided few fireworks. Officials provided about half the increase sought by schools and nobody protested. School officials are working out how they’ll cope but have said they won’t let any cuts hurt classrooms.
Councilors and finance board members alike said they figure next year’s budget will make this year’s version look like a walk in the park. They promised to start working on it in August and keep at it all year.
Three layoffs likely in public works; police take hit, too
Unless the municipal union that represents public works employee agrees to wage concession that it has already rejected, three workers will be laid off this month.
Targeted for elimination -- in a bid to save $138,000 -- are a maintenance equipment operator, labor and solid waste driver.
Officials of Local 1338 of Council 4 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers said they don’t know if the union will reconsider its stance on concessions.
Mayor Art Ward said if they want to change their position on wage concessions in order to save the trio of jobs, they need to act swiftly.
The other city union that declined to make concessions, which represents police officers, won’t face layoffs.
But the police are getting socked under the new budget as well.
If the police union refuses to make contract concessions to save money within a few days, the budget would take both a lieutenant and a sergeant and return them to the ranks of patrol officers.
That would save $30,000 but would make it less likely that officers as a whole would collect overtime and limit their promotional opportunities.
The city is also planning to trim overtime by $78,000 as part of the move.
But Democrat Frank Nicastro abstained on the public works cut because his son, Frank Nicastro, Jr is the maintenance equipment operator.
The younger Nicastro wouldn’t lose his city job, however, because he has the right to bump more junior personnel in lower positions.
In the end, typically, the three newest hires wind up with pink slips in this situation, the city’s personnel director, Diane Ferguson, said.
City Councilor Ken Cockayne said he appreciates the concessions made by other city unions and hopes Local 1338 and the police follow suit.
“I don’t want to see anyone lose their jobs in these tough times,” Cockayne said.
Proposed spending: $170.8 million
Education share: $102.3 million
City share: $67.7 million
Proposed mill rate: 25.99
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