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Cuts: What Will Be Left?

Tom PattonWith a balanced city budget due at the end of the month, the city council finance committee has been trying hard to find the $55 million needed to avoid a property tax increase.

Some might say they are trying too hard.

Across the board, city departments have been cut at least three percent. While city employees may find that a bitter pill, I hope that they will take a look outside to see what is happening in the state. Many businesses have imposed five to 10 percent salary reductions, and over 10 percent of the workers in the state have suffered a 100% salary and benefit cut. To them, three percent would have seemed like a godsend.

Some departments have been cut further. IT, for example, reduced $5 million or about 10 percent, and the City Attorney’s office had all of its vacant positions eliminated.

But at least the FTE’s that actually equal people are still there.

The finance committee reportedly just cut off the IT manager Kevin Holzendorf during his presentation. The committee thinks the department is heavy on middle managers, Holzendorf said critical upgrades and things as basic as phone service are in jeopardy.

Special Events has been reduced to (in order of expense) the Jazz Festival, July 4th, Sea and Sky Spectacular, Florida/Georgia weekend (if it doesn’t go to Atlanta half the time), The Light Parade, World of Nations, New Years Eve, and the Veterans Day Parade. That last had initially been cut, but the public outcry forced Council President Richard Clark to promise it would be funded, but through private sources. Other special events, many of them targeted at senior citizens, have been cut in the process.

And with all that, they’ve only found about half the needed savings.

Mayor Peyton is still on the hustings pitching for the budget he proposed in June, or something like it. But the milage rate will have to be locked down soon, and there is still a big gap to fill.

Public safety takes up more than half the budget. If you take half your potential cuts off the table, that obviously makes the job of cutting from the rest twice as difficult. And yet no one would argue that public safety is among the core functions of government. We depend on government at all levels to keep us safe and secure in our homes. We also hope they’ll build and maintain roads, and provide a “free” (taxpayer supported) public education system for our kids that is safe and fosters actual learning. We expect that it will provide clean water and dispose of the waste and pick up the trash (which is not done everywhere). But beyond that, it gets squishier. Everyone expects government to do what it can to attract jobs, but some of those same people howl about incentives. Understandable when they’re misused, but necessary in the business world. Right or wrong, governments have to provide some incentives to foster economic growth, because businesses expect it and if one government doesn’t, another will. Does that make economic development a core government function? Will incentives be subject to cuts when jobs are sorely needed? And that’s just one example. There are obviously a lot more questions than answers, and time is getting short.

So what will be left at the end of the day? When Mayor Peyton first raised the specter of a milage boost, he warned of draconian cuts if property taxes were not increased. I guess looking at what’s already been cut, you have to determine your definition of “draconian”. Some will say what’s left will be a leaner, more efficient city government.

Others will say “not much”.

1 Responses »

  1. It looks like the answer is to put public safety (police/fire) back ON the table.

    Why should city employee pay cuts be limited to 3%? We're in a recession, remember? The unadjusted, 12-month CPI annual rate was DOWN 2% (Aug 2008-July 2009).

    Regarding public safety costs, I say we need to sit down with the police/fire unions and totally renegotiate their contracts. The current "Defined Benefit" pension program should be scrapped for new-hires, but we need to keep our promises made to current employees. Or implement a phase-out of the defined benefit over a number of years. There's lots of ways to do it. Cut salaries 5% minimum, across the board - no exceptions, no excuses. Charge mileage for personal use of public vehicles (police cars).

    I don't buy Peyton's argument that his pittance of a cut back has eliminated all fat/waste from the City budget.

    I also disagree with Peyton calling budget cuts "draconian". If a 3% cut to him is draconian, he should try a 100% cut!