October 23, 2021

City furloughs 18 workers, cuts $915K in spending

After abruptly calling an emergency meeting Monday, the city Common Council voted to furlough 18 city workers from April 16 through July 30.

The council also voted to cut other expenses, including $121,500 in police overtime during the second and third quarters of 2020, saving the city a total of $914,660.

The move was prompted by a projected drop in the city’s share of county sales tax revenue, according to Mack Cook, the city’s director of administration and finance. Cook projects a loss of between $953,000 and $956,000 in sales tax revenue this year.

Mayor Brian Tobin said he called the emergency meeting to put the cuts into effect now rather than wait until the council’s next regular meeting April 21.

“We’re going to have to make hard decisions, and we either make the hard decisions now, or we’re going to have to make really hard decisions later,” Tobin said. “Time goes by, and the more time that goes by, the less potential to affect the cost savings.”

The furloughs apply to all city departments, including the police and fire departments. He would not yet name the furloughed employees or specify the number per department, saying that he wanted to inform the employees first.

Tobin said emergency services will not be hurt by the budget cuts.

A spreadsheet emailed to aldermen shows a number of cuts to summer programs – including the elimination of summer program staff, summer maintenance workers and lifeguards, as well as the suspension of crossing guards for the rest of the school year. The spreadsheet also shows the furlough of one parking enforcement officer, two public works maintenance workers, four employees in records administration, three playground workers and three in the parks department.

Tobin’s $25,000 annual salary will also be cut $5,000.

Aldermen voted on the cuts in two resolutions, one on the furloughs, which passed 6-2, and another on the non-personnel cuts, which passed 7-1-.

Alderman Bruce Tytler (D3rd Ward), who voted against the first resolution but in favor of the second, said the furlough of workers from the department of public works would make it impossible to do any road repair.

The city already faces uncertainty over state road repair reimbursement, he said, but he still wanted to have some road repair this summer, rather than postpone it until next year.

“I think we could have done enough that it wouldn’t have been a budget buster,” he said.

The cuts made Monday night would not affect ongoing capital projects, such as the highly visible water main replacement underway on Clinton Avenue near Main Street.

Alderman Troy Beckwith (D7th Ward), who voted against both resolutions, said he, like Tytler, opposed furloughing department of public works employees.

“They’re short-staffed to begin with,” he said.

He recognized, however, that cuts must be made, but he wanted the resolutions further broken down into line items. If the council had done that, he said, he would have voted to preserve DPW positions but allow furloughs in other departments.

“It’s a sad situation, and there’s going to be cuts,” Beckwith said.

Alderman Thomas Michales (R-8th Ward) said the council had to make the cuts, as painful as they may be.

“I think it’s something we need to do. Hopefully this is going to benefit everyone in the long run,” Michales said. “We could face a huge tax increase if we don’t start putting some measures in place right now.”