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City faces $4.6 million shortfall
by Joshua H. Silavent
Jan 19, 2011 | 1904 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune/Nathan Orme - Sparks City Attorney Chet Adams presents information about his office’s budget and personnel to the City Council during a workshop at Sparks City Hall on Tuesday.
Tribune/Nathan Orme - Sparks City Attorney Chet Adams presents information about his office’s budget and personnel to the City Council during a workshop at Sparks City Hall on Tuesday.
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SPARKS — Facing an estimated $4.6 million budget shortfall for the 2011-12 fiscal year, the City Council on Tuesday identified several possible sources of cuts, savings and funding redistributions in order to fill the gap, beginning with a proposed 6 percent reduction in wages, benefits and personnel, or some combination of the three.

These concessions will have to be negotiated with public employee union brokers. And though the target reduction level would produce $1.9 million in cuts and shrink the portion of the budget spent on employee pay by nearly 8 percent, officials said reaching that goal is unlikely.

“Not in our lifetime,” Mayor Geno Martini said, particularly after concessions already have been made in recent years.

But directing the city manager’s office to pursue concessions reveals an emphasis council members have placed on restructuring how municipal government operates.

“Are we going to fundamentally change things or maintain the status quo?” Councilman Ron Schmitt asked rhetorically.

Martini said changing the culture of government begins with curtailing excessive spending on government pay packages. Currently, 90 percent of the city’s budget expenditures support employee salaries and benefits.

Wage reductions also are seen as a way to obviate more layoffs, most especially within the city’s police and fire departments.

Maintaining service levels have been a key priority of council members.

“Customer service is what we’re all about,” Councilman Ed Lawson said.

But even while the mantra “do more with less” is often heard in the halls of federal, state and local governments, few Sparks officials believe service levels can be sustained with additional personnel cuts.

Nevertheless, layoffs and furloughs are part of the discussion, which is why Lawson and Councilwoman Julia Ratti support using monies from the stabilization fund and ending fund balance to help cover budget shortfalls. They likened building either fund to pouring money into a savings account at the expense of jobs.

Though city staff was directed to review both, not all council members agree with the proposal.

Councilman Mike Carrigan said now was exactly the time to be funding a “rainy day” fund.

Schmitt said he is concerned about the city’s unfunded liability debt, which is growing at upward of $1 million per year, and how redirecting funds might contribute to the city’s inability to repay its bond obligations.

The council also directed staff to review cuts to programs, services, supplies, department reorganization initiatives and frozen job vacancies.

Jeff Cronk, finance director, said he would work through budget reduction proposals prepared by each city department and line-item cuts as needed.

Cronk must submit a tentative budget no later than April 15 with a final budget draft due June 1.

In the meantime, council members will hold another budget workshop in March. For now, nothing is set in stone.

Indeed, as evidence of the many possibilities that remain for addressing shortfalls and constructing a balanced budget, the city is expected to review a new privatization and outsourcing policy at its Monday meeting.
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