Saratoga Springs official: Layoffs possible in 2011

City Finance Commissioner Kenneth Ivins said Wednesday he is not ruling out layoffs in the 2011 city

City Finance Commissioner Kenneth Ivins said Wednesday he is not ruling out layoffs in the 2011 city budget as a way to reduce the new budget’s impact on city taxes.

Ivins said he didn’t yet have any specific number of layoffs, only that they were “being considered.”

The city’s current $35.4 million 2010 budget required eliminating positions in the Police and Fire departments as well as in the Public Works Department. Despite more than a dozen layoffs, the 2010 budget still included a 7.8 percent tax hike.

Ivins said that developing the city’s 2011 budget is one of the most difficult challenges he has faced since taking office in 2008.

“New revenue sources are drying up and cutting is getting harder and harder,” Ivins said. He said 80 percent of the city budget is devoted to personnel.

The finance commissioner will unveil his proposed 2011 city budget Tuesday night in City Hall.

Ivins said the city is facing increasing costs from new union contracts and health insurance premiums. There has also been a slight decline — instead of the usual increase — in the value of taxable property in the city, he said.

Public Safety Commissioner Richard Wirth, who is responsible for the Police and Fire departments, said his departments can’t sustain any more cuts.

“We can’t afford to lose any firefighters or police,” Wirth said on Wednesday.

He said this year he was forced to eliminate seven positions in the Police Department and another seven positions in the Fire Department.

Wirth said his department was forced to eliminate the Police Department’s canine patrols as well as the popular DARE program in the local schools because of the staff cuts.

“We are at the bare minimum, to say the least,” Wirth said.

The city Fire Department has a more optimistic outlook. A federal grant of more than $650,000 will allow the Fire Department to hire seven firefighters for at least a two year period, Wirth said.

If the city’s finances remain the same in two years, the city can seek to renew this federal grant program for another two years, he said.

Background checks are currently being done on prospective firefighters.

With the loss of firefighters this year, the city was not able to conduct as many fire inspections as in the past, Wirth said.

Wirth said he hoped that Ivins and other city officials will be proposing new sources of revenue for the 2011 budget rather than just cutting staff.

For example, Wirth said that each city department currently does its own payroll with its own payroll clerk. He said if this payroll function were combined in a central payroll office in City Hall considerable savings could be achieved.

The Public Safety Department has increased its revenues this year with more parking tickets being issued. Wirth said his department lowered the amount of parking fines a person can accumulate before his or her car is towed away and the person is prosecuted from $500 to anything over $350 and this change has generated additional money for the city.

The City Council has until Nov. 30 to adopt a 2011 budget. If the council can’t agree on a new budget, as happened in 2009, then the budget Ivins proposes in October becomes the new budget by “default,” according to the City Charter.

A new city budget needs to be in effect in early January because the city must submit tax rate information to the county by the second week of January, Ivins said.

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