The City Council passed a hiring freeze on Monday as well as an equipment purchase freeze and will cut its own pay by 10 percent in the face of an estimated $2.2 million budget deficit.
“We know we have a huge gap here,” said city Accounts Commissioner John Franck after introducing the hiring freeze. “I just don’t think we can do business as usual.”
The other four City Council members agreed and voted in favor of the austerity resolutions.
City commissioners, who are council members, are only paid $14,500 per year for the part-time job, so the 10 percent pay cut will amount to $1,450 each.
“I think it’s a good gesture,” said Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco. He said it sends a message to other nonunion, noncontractual employees that they might consider cutting their salaries in face of the city’s continuing budget woes.
City officials thought they could span the budget gap by instituting a paid parking program in downtown Saratoga Springs this year. A concerted effort by downtown businesses and the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce put an end to these unpopular plans.
At present, council members are discussing raising the city sales tax rate as a way of generating the needed revenue. No decisions have been made on the sales tax issue and some council members say they don’t like the idea.
City Finance Commissioner Kenneth Ivins reported that sales tax revenue for the first three months of the year is showing an increase. January, for example, showed a sales tax increase of 9.7 percent over the same period in 2009, he said. At the same time the mortgage tax revenue being generated in the city continues to decline.
Ivins said he is not budgeting for the proposed sales tax increase. This means the city will again need to discuss major cuts in the city’s 2010 budget, including layoffs of city employees.
Ivins has set two budget workshops to discuss these issues. The first workshop will be at 6 p.m. April 6 and the second workshop April 8, both in the City Council chambers in City Hall.
Ivins wants the City Council to vote on budget cuts, and any possible layoffs, by April 20.
The hiring freeze will be on all full- and part-time positions, excluding the seasonal part-time positions such as summer recreation program workers. The council members discussed the plan and decided to end the hiring freeze on Dec. 31.
Ivins said he was not confident the city’s finances would be any better in 2011 but the council could consider instituting another hiring freeze in that budget year.
Scirocco said he has one or two seasonal people who work at the carousel in Congress Park when it is open in the late spring and summer months. These people would be excluded from the hiring freeze, the council decided.
The key to the hiring freeze is that no new positions will be filled or vacant positions filled unless the City Council votes for it.
Some key positions in various department could be vacated by resignations, Franck said. In such cases, the City Council would consider filling these key positions.
The freeze in equipment purchases applies to all new, noncapital project equipment costing more than $10,000. In the case of emergency equipment needs, the City Council will have to make these decision on a case-by-case basis, Franck said.
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