Citizen Committee: No Budget Increase
Amirault said given the short time the committee had to work and the fact that the city is already five months into the 2009 fiscal year, its findings may serve mainly to guide future budget prioritizing. Councilman Rashid Burney, chairman of the governing body’s Finance Committee, said several of the proposed cuts made their way into documents the council is now using to finalize the budget. A public hearing on the budget will be held at 7 p.m. Dec. 15, when amendments will also be offered. The council hopes for final passage on Dec. 22.
At present, the budget reflects a 9.5 percent increase that is expected to be offset by extraordinary state aid to be announced next month.
Much of Amirault’s presentation had to do with the way the city operates in general, with a report card laden with C’s, D’s and F’s in five areas. The group deemed public safety most important, with improved schools, economic development, communications and beautification as other targets for improvement. Amirault acknowledged that the school district was not under city control, but in comments after the presentation, Council President Harold Gibson expressed surprise that there would be any reference to the educational system in the report.
Besides recommending no budget increase, the committee suggested a salary freeze for non-contract employees for 15 months, a half-day weekly reduction in work hours for several weeks, removal of Dudley House from the city payroll and perhaps hiring more firefighters to cut down on overtime costs. Amirault credited committee member Nancy Piwowar with identifying $1.7 million in savings in the “other expenses” category, which covers items such as bottled water and supplies.
Committee members sat in on budget sessions led by Dashield and Finance Director Douglas Peck, but Amirault flatly called the presentations “sloppy.” Peck was not present Monday, but Gibson expressed disappointment with what he saw as “subjective criticism.” Noting his tenure ends Dec. 31, Gibson said it will be up to the other council members to decide how they want to handle the budget process next year.
Because a public hearing was advertised for Monday, the council permitted public comment, but most speakers expressed concern about Dudley House, a grant-funded program for addicted men. The program required only $28,000 in city funds until this year, when repairs had to be made to make the Putnam Avenue residence handicapped-accessible. Speakers said they want the program to be restored because it has saved lives.
Resident Dottie Gutenkauf asked that the report be made available to the public on the city web site and in print. The session was taped using new sound equipment and will be broadcast on the city’s local Channel 74.