Only a handful of the city’s regular critics spoke up at Tuesday’s budget hearing, but they had plenty of ideas on how to pare down the proposed 5.8 percent tax increase.
Harry Brand said that every city employee should check 10 parking meters before going home every night — although it’s unlikely the fines would make up for the $2.5 million that the mayor has proposed to collect in new taxes.
But with the idea that every penny helps, Vince Riggi also offered to give back the $300 promised to his wife Donna for showing up every day as a crossing guard. The incentive was added to get guards to come to work in foul weather, but Riggi said his wife would be willing to forgo it.
“My wife doesn’t need an incentive to go to work,” he said. “Add that into the budget; maybe it will help somebody.”
Pat Zollinger suggested that the council members begin with some personal sacrifice — giving up their health insurance.
The council agreed in 2007 to start paying 20 percent of its insurance cost, but only in exchange for a $4,000 raise. Zollinger told them that they should now give up the perk altogether.
“We just can’t afford it anymore,” she said.
She also proposed a cut that could save the city much more money: postponing the rest of the $20 million Bureau of Service project on Foster Avenue. Phase one is already half done, but the first payment on the $20 million bond is one of the three biggest cost increases in the proposed $78.8 million budget.
The City Council was warned last year that the first three years of debt payments for the project would be $600,000 to $800,000 more than the city could afford without raising taxes or cutting expenses. But the long-term savings by consolidating many departments into one location was viewed to be worth the risk, and the city embarked upon a savings plan that officials believed would make the payments possible. Since then, interest rates have fallen dramatically, making that plan less feasible.
Zollinger said the city should rethink the project. “The garage complex is a wonderful idea, but it’s not going to hurt to wait,” she said.
She was also suspicious about the mayor’s proposal to eliminate eight vacant police positions and then hire eight new officers with federal stimulus funds. The funds were intended to help cities reinstate officers that were laid off.
“But we’re not really going to do that,” Zollinger said. “We’re just going to say that to get the money. It seems like a scam to me because I don’t believe the city ever would have really eliminated eight police positions.”
According to city officials, the Department of Justice has approved the proposal.