City Finance Chair: City Employees Should Brace for Cuts

By Erica C. Barnett August 21, 2009

City council finance and budget commitee chair Jean Godden says city departments should brace for major cuts to help balance a revenue shortfall at the city of $72 million—about $25 million of which, as I reported yesterday, can't be made up by spending down the city's "rainy day" fund, freezing positions that were cut last year, or other "easy" cuts. That could work out, Godden says, to "about 150" jobs. Overall, that works out to an average cut of about 8 percent in every city department.

However, the typical cut could be much deeper than that. Godden says the council intends to preserve human services and public-safety programs as much as possible, meaning that the remaining departments—"things like parks"—would have to take even deeper reductions.

And if the city's unions don't agree to a ten-day furlough (factored into that $25 million number) the city could find itself cutting another $8 million. The unions are voting on the furloughs this week. Godden says, "I think they do know there are going to be jobs cut if they don't [agree to the furloughs]. Their vote is going to come up so fast before the mayor [releases his proposed] budget [on September 25] that they won't be able to cherry-pick. We'll just have to cut eight percent off the top."

Godden, who has never supported eliminating the employee hours tax (EHT), or "head tax" (a $25-per-employee tax, paid by employers, that exempts workers who don't drive to work alone), says the budget may offer an opportunity to revisit a proposed repeal.

Noting that the tax brings in some $5 million a year for transportation projects, Godden said, "I do not favor [the idea that] when you're in a hole, you should keep digging. People say that's not a lot of money, but when you have no money, that $5 million matters." Earlier this week, the Bridging the Gap Advisory Committee, which oversees the Bridging the Gap transportation levy, implored the council not to repeal the tax.

Godden says that this year's shortfall is the biggest she's seen in her six years on the council. "I came in in '04 and the very first thing we had to do, even before we found our way to the ladies' room, was take $12 million off the budget. But I supposed this one would be [worse]."
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