2009 Budget Hearing: Act IV Scene 1

2009 Budget Icon

Whew!  What an interesting night was had in City Council Chambers last Tuesday!  Unfortunately, the fat lady did not sing and won’t for a few weeks at least due to Election Day (11/4) and Veteran’s Day (11/11). The complete audio recording and documentation have been uploaded to the AFW Audio section.  Load the page and scroll down the right side for a complete listing.  

Tuesday’s meeting began at 5:30 pm and ended shortly after 9:30 pm.  I think there were one or two meetings concerning Harrison Square that went longer last year, so it’s been a while since we’ve had one of these marathon sessions.  I am going to cover the hearing in several posts; some of them will deal with specific cuts.

The meeting began ominously when it was revealed that the Council had only earlier in the day received the final list of proposed cuts the Administration had agreed to.

How to make 3% cut

Carol Taylor, City Attorney addressed the council as to whether they could make a straight 3% cut across the board to the budget.  The short answer was that the Council would have to go through and vote to reduce every line item by 3%.  This is one of those topics for later.

Group Cut Vote

If you would like, you may download a copy of the Proposed Budget Cuts that were voted on.  There were 84 proposed cuts.  Several were withdrawn with little or no discussion.  Right off the bat, the following were grouped into one vote and passed: 7, 9, 14, 15, 30, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 44, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 71, 73, 75, 76, 78, 79, 80, 81 and 84.  These were cuts agreed to by the Administration.

Raise for City employees

The next cut to be discussed and voted on was the 1.5% raise for city workers.  This was originally a 3% raise, however it was halved when discussions first began.  This means city workers will receive no wage increase for the 2009 calendar year.  While on the face of it, this seems like a good idea.  However, the problem is that if the city indeed faces a possible $9.3 million shortfall in 2010, (closer to $4.5 million if half is indeed cut from the 2009 budget) what happens when it comes time to add a raise for city workers back into the budget?  

You cannot go for many years without giving the workers something.  I have worked for a few employers that cut raises when times were tough.  If it went too long, morale went down and good employees soon moved on while the not-so-good ones stuck around.  Cutting this today seems a good idea and is a good quarter of what Councilwoman Liz Brown had set as a target for cuts this year.  Problem is, it should not be considered by any means to be a permanent cut and when time comes to reinstate some sort of raise for the then deserving city workers, something else will have to be cut to squeeze it in.  By that time, the budget will already have undergone several rounds of cuts – what will be left?

Mayor’s Area Advocates

The proposed cut of two Mayor’s Area Advocate positions was next for discussion.  Concerns and questions were raised over how much work was taken away from the Advocates with the fairly new 3-1-1 “One Call to City Hall” call center – especially with six employees working in this call center.  Councilman Pape supported cutting the positions.  He stated that there seems to be no one, he included the public in this, supporting the increase of governmental revenues – i.e. raising taxes.  He further stated:

One of the most concrete ways you can send a message to the citizens of the City, that we can no longer afford on the current revenue streams that we have, the local government they’ve gotten used to, is to cut a couple of the Area Advocates.  Because they are so important, because they are so used, because they do do necessary important things – maybe in that fashion, we’ll start having the neighborhoods and citizens start to be engaged in the decision about what’s the best size and role and function of government here locally because you don’t hear anything, any concern beyond maybe Public Safety about cutting government.  

So one of the reasons I proposed this was that it would hurt and it would be felt and we would start to maybe engage the citizenry in the conversation, because right now, the only thing you hear is, we have to cut.  And that’s what I’m hearing, that’s what other council members are hearing, I think that’s what Mayor Henry has heard, so if that’s going to continue to be the thing, that’s going to continue to happen.

He went to add that the Council is going to have to start cutting positions and he would rather do it in areas other than Public Safety. There was discussion about the changing scope of the Area Advocates as well as the Council itself taking on some of the workload.  In the end, the cut failed with 4 yes votes to 5 no’s.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see some movement or exploration of this in the coming year.

Mayor’s PR

Cuts #5 and 6.  In the Mayor’s Department, there is a line item of $30,220 for Public Relations.  This is used to provide lunches, dinners, donuts and coffee for various meetings the City hosts, lapel pins and other various items.  It is not only used by the Mayor, but all City departments have access to the funds.  Councilwoman, Karen Goldner proposed cutting $22,000 while Councilman Harper proposed a cut of $20,000.  The Administration agreed to accept a $15,000 cut which would bring it closer to it’s historic level.  The later cut of $20,000 was agreed to in a 7 yes to 2 no’s vote.

Public Information Officer

Cut #10.  I already blogged about this cut as proposed by Councilman Harper.  I will add a few additional comments here as I have reviewed the audio file.  

Councilman Harper stated this was not a reflection on any of the PIO’s personally, but that there had been an “inflation in PIO’s”.  He stated he had heard about this inflation quite often from  citizens.  There had been as many as three until Ozzie Mitson was moved to the Legislative & Business Liaison position.  He felt that Department Heads should be treated as the professionals they are and allowed to talk directly to the press about their areas of expertise.  

Councilwoman Goldner stated that she opposed the cut as she feels the area has been understaffed in recent years making it more difficult for citizens to obtain information.  She cited the old practice of citizens having to submit requests through the City’s Law Department.  She further added, “You simply cannot have a proactive community outreach effort without having enough humans to do it.”  The cut passed with 5 yes and 4 no votes.  Read the previous post here.

For other AFW Budget Hearing posts, click here.

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