Dashield: Zero Tax Increase Means Deep Cuts
Dashield gave a budget overview at Monday’s City Council agenda session. The presentation was not on the agenda, but was mentioned on Councilman Rashid Burney’s blog, where he called on the public to attend the meeting. Burney, head of the council’s Finance Committee, also advocated establishment of the 16-member Citizens Budget Advisory Committee that studied the FY 2009 budget and made its recommendations on Nov. 24.
Dashield explained that most of the budget pays for public safety, including 23.53 percent for the Police Division and 14.35 percent for the Fire Division. Insurance, pensions and debt account for another 33.8 percent and all other city functions make up the balance of 28.47 percent. He outlined measures the city has taken to curb costs in each category, but said contractual salary increases of $2.2 million and other personnel-related expenses added up to a $4 million increase. To offset it, the city is counting on $1 million in increased revenues, a $150,000 health insurance giveback and $1.7 in other reductions in order for the FY 2009 budget to come in at just $2 million over last year.
To get to zero, the city would have to lay off 98 people, or 21 percent of the workforce, including more than 30 police officers and 30 firefighters. Streets and roads worker would have to be cut 43 percent, more than 18 other employees would have to be laid off and the Recreation Division would have to be eliminated, he said.
Dashield gave a sweeping list of city services and programs that would have to be reduced or eliminated, including loss of one of the city’s three fire companies, no road repair or reconstruction, elimination of all special events including the July 4th celebration and less cleaning of streets and sidewalks.
Resident Gail Bayse, who had a laptop loaded with budget statistics from Burney’s web site, called attention to the general economic climate.
“We’re in a time when no one is getting a salary increase,” she said.
Bayse also questioned overtime and “$30 million in ‘other expenses,’ “ as reflected in the budget.
“I can’t believe we couldn’t come up with $4 million,” she said.
As projected, the budget reflects a more than 9 percent tax increase.
Although Burney had pressed for resolution of the budget by the end of the month, the city has still not heard how much extraordinary state aid it will receive. The timetable for passage will now go over into the third quarter of the budget year that began July 1, meaning half of the FY 2009 salaries and expenses will have already been paid out.
Other residents questioned the need for city cell phones and vehicles for officials and asked how the city can keep raising taxes in what has been called the worst economic times since the Great Depression.
“You can’t keep squeezing the stone,” resident Quin Jarrett said.
Dashield briefly spoke about revenues, but will give a full presentation next Monday at a 7 p.m. meeting in City Hall Library. Burney and City Clerk Laddie Wyatt clashed over the nature of the meeting, which will include voting matters even though the council officially closed out the year at last week’s regular meeting.
“You’re going against the law, but go ahead,” Wyatt said.
“Am I wrong?” Burney asked.
“Yes,” Wyatt said.
Burney said the council needs to authorize the tax collector to send out estimated tax bills, otherwise the city will be billing in April for February taxes. In addition, the city needs to approve a temporary budget and may also need to approve a contract to place a restroom at the Bryant Park playground before the end of the year, Burney said.