After going through every page of the proposed 2012 city budget, City Council members haven’t found anything to cut.
So they’re looking for places to add fees or increase existing ones.
“We’ve cut most departments to the bone already, so I’m trying to see if we can get more revenue,” said Councilman Thomas Della Sala, who is chairing the budget committee. “We need to find more income.”
Some of the city’s existing revenue lines might bring in more money than they’re anticipating, Della Sala said. But, he added, he believes some other revenue estimates are too high.
“So I’m not sure how to balance that out,” he said.
Council members are meeting for one last budget committee session on Monday at 5:30 p.m. They must approve the budget by the end of the month.
Ideas to bolster revenue are already flowing. Councilman Joseph Allen suggested changing the way in which the city charges for false alarms from automatic burglar alarm systems.
Police told the council this week that although they send the law department three or more addresses a week to be billed for false alarms, they never receive any revenue. They only send over addresses after several false alarms.
Allen suggested the city charge every alarm user $15 a year, and then $25 for each false alarm.
Fire alarms that go off for smoky conditions that don’t turn out to be fires would be exempt from any false alarm charge. Acting Mayor Gary McCarthy said firefighters prefer to be called out to minor kitchen fires, even though most are put out before firefighters arrive. Many of the city’s group homes and institutional living centers have fire alarms that automatically call the dispatch center.
Councilman Carl Erikson is weighing the costs of hiring more employees to offset higher overtime.
He noticed that overtime for deputy fire chiefs is budgeted to increase $135,000 next year because the city no longer has an assistant chief. The deputy chiefs are called in regularly to help with large fires, a role the assistant chief would have had. The assistant chief does not get overtime.
Likewise, overtime for police and police dispatchers is going up.
In all three divisions, it may have reached a point where salary and benefits are cheaper than overtime.
“Hire more people,” Erikson said simply.
Della Sala added, “We have found [in previous years] that hiring more people saves money.”
No revenue stream is being overlooked, no matter how small. The council is considering raising the Music Haven event fee from $100 to $300.
Council members found out this week that it costs the city $188 to set up and close down the stage in Central Park during business hours and $312 on weekends, when most events are held. Raising the fee to a minimum of $300 would be a step toward making the facility pay for itself.
But Councilwoman Barbara Blanchard said the city might be going too far.
“I’m afraid to raise the minimum fee too much because I’m afraid music groups wouldn’t book,” she said.
Councilwoman Denise Brucker said it was worth a try.
“If we find it’s cost-prohibitive and people are not booking next year, we can take another look at it,” she said.
There’s another big cost to running Music Haven — the graffiti. City workers must repaint or scrub off graffiti once a week, before every concert, all summer long. It costs $4,000 a year.
Given that cost, Erikson said, the city should buy the expensive, graffiti-resistant paint that allows spraypaint to be washed off with a fire hose. The paint might be nearly as expensive as a year of graffiti removal, Brucker warned, but Erikson said it would be a wise investment.
“If they’re doing it weekly, it’s a situation where it’s probably worth it,” he said.
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