Lakewood City Council held a three-hour long hearing on Monday, December 14th to figure how to plug an approximate $1.2 million gap in the 2010 municipal budget. The details are not final, but it appears as though the goal can be accomplished without the same kind of cuts to city services and lay-offs that occurred in 2008 and 2009.
Getting down to brass tacks
President of the Finance Committee and Ward 3 Councilperson Michael Summers said the city recently received a new estimate from the county indicating 2010 property tax revenue would be down 7.5% from this year. That figure is 1.5%, or $117,000, greater than original projections.
Summers provided an Excel spreadsheet outlining council’s suggested budget reductions. (Download it here.)
|2010 General Fund
|Deficit to overcome
|Maintain existing staffing/pay levels
|Eliminate separation payments (use reserves)
|Decrease economic development fund
|Reduce hospitalization charges 6%
|Reduce workers compensation 6%
|Mayor’s discretionary cuts. Attrition/across the board (6% excluding Police/Human Services)
|Total proposed reductions
Police dept. will try combination of things to save money, raise revenue
Police Chief Timothy Malley said his department will try a variety of different things to find budget savings of $150,000 and locate additional sources of revenue. In the area of personnel, he expects three positions – dispatcher, corrections officer, and cadet – will be left vacant in 2010.
Mayor Edward O. FitzGerald is very keen to zero out the salaries of one or two data entry clerks whose jobs exist, he said, solely because certain databases aren’t interconnected. FitzGerald said there is a “decent” chance technology consultants hired by the city will figure out a low cost solution and connect them.
In a blatant money grab, Malley has asked City Council to approve the creation of a $25 towing fee surcharge to compensate the department for time it spends processing tow-related paperwork. The city has about 2,500 vehicles towed annually, and could realize $65,000 with the fee.
The finance department will audit an evidence trust fund that has accumulated about $250,000 over the last 15 years. Malley said anywhere from $15,000 to $75,000 of it could go unclaimed and would revert to the city’s general fund.
There is an effort underway to retool the parking ticket penalty collection system. The mayor wants parking violations to be designated as a civil offense (as opposed to a criminal offense) in order to make collection easier.
The city currently has over $300,000 in uncollected fines, which could be turned over to private collectors. “The problem is our collection system doesn’t work,” FitzGerald said.
So far, 500 fewer parking tickets have been issued this year versus last year. About half of the tickets are written by the parking enforcement squad, and the other half by police officers. FitzGerald said moving parking enforcement responsibilities from Public Works to the Division of Police “brought discipline” to the process it had been lacking.
Malley noted the number of parking tickets issued last year spiked to a 10-year high, so the statistics are deceiving. “This is a good year for enforcement, just not as good as last year,” he said. The mayor attributed last year’s jump to snow ban ticketing.
Malley couldn’t recall how much parking ticket fines had risen during his decades on the force. A few council members said they would oppose an effort to raise parking fines purely for revenue purposes.
The department has $100,000 budgeted to hire part-time officers. They currently have five part-timers and expect to bring on more in 2010. There are now 99 full-time officers. Six officers are participating in the program that allows them to take a squad car home if they live in the city. Three of cars are K-9 dog units. Two of them live in Lakewood.
As a side note, compared to Cleveland Heights, Lakewood has fewer police officers who are also residents. The timeframes are different, but as of July 2008, only 15 of Lakewood’s 90 police officers were residents of the city. As of November 2009, 50 of Cleveland Heights’ 101 full-time officers lived within that city.
Vultures again circle human services’ budget
Director of Human Services Dorothy Buckon is a good soldier. She is more familiar than most with the kind of human suffering residents must endure when social service programs are reduced or eliminated. Yet, she never makes a public peep of protest when City Council slashes her budget, or when the mayor unnecessarily limits community development block grant funding requests.
The budget vultures are again circling the Department of Human Services, this time looking to chop administrative costs in the neighborhood of $100,000 – a bit of a surprise considering just a couple of months ago Finance Committee members specifically expressed an interest in leaving Buckon’s department alone.
Buckon indicated the assistant director in the Division of Aging recently retired and will not be replaced, for a salary savings of about $70,000. Another person retired from the Division of Youth and will not be replaced. The position was funded from a non-general fund source, so it won’t result in any savings. Buckon thought $7,100 could be saved in insurance premiums, but Finance Director Jennifer Pae later clarified that claim and said no savings would be realized due to the way the insurance system is set up.
Buckon said The West Side Community House will pay the city $31,500 to house a couple of staff members in the Division of Youth building to operate a tapestry program. $12,900 will be conserved when New Day Adult Day Care closes and the department no longer needs to provide them with two transportation vehicles. New Day was funded by the Lakewood Foundation and had a partnership with the city.
Councilperson Summers (Ward 3) and Nickie Antonio (At-Large) have been meeting with human services staff members to do a service and cost analysis, and compile metrics showing exactly who is helped and at what cost. The information they gather will allow the city to optimize offerings and streamline costly services like senior transportation.
The mayor, of course, felt the need to repeat his standard talking point that even though human services have been slashed since he took office, the city still offers more services than any other suburb in Cuyahoga County.
Judge Carroll grouchy about court budget estimates
Lakewood Municipal Court Judge Patrick Carroll complained that the finance director’s 2010 budget numbers make it look like he’s seeking a 4% operating increase. When in fact, he said, the numbers submitted for 2010 are 1.5% to 2% under what was budgeted for the current year. “I want to make that clear,” he said.
Finance Director Pae later explained that the numbers she provided take into account estimated expenditures in 2009 versus budgeted 2010 expenditures. Carroll got his calculation by comparing budgeted expenditures in 2009 versus budgeted 2010 expenditures.
Carroll said the municipal court will underspend its 2009 budget by about $70,000 and may return as much as $220,000 to the general fund. Court employees received a 2% raise in 2009 and will receive an unspecified increase in 2010. He has cut the “vast majority” of court publications, and no longer authorizes out-of-state trips.
Carroll explained municipal courts around the state are subject to new rules that shift the burden of payment for certain services from the state to cities. For instance, he said, visiting judges who serve in his absence must now be paid by the city instead of the state.
Carroll repeated a statement he made during his 2009 budget presentation and reminded council he is doing his best to be responsive and save the city money whenever possible. He checks the city jail roster twice a day and cuts loose people who don’t necessarily need to be there.
For instance, he recently got an early evening phone call from a sergeant who informed him that a woman with a minor warrant had overdosed, and was on life support at Lakewood Hospital. Carroll ordered her released and saved the city from $10,000 to $15,000 in medical obligations. He described another situation where he released a lady who had been transferred in from Cleveland without the proper medication.
Carroll pointed out that the city loses money when its Burmese-speaking residents get traffic tickets. State law requires the city to pay for a translator. The going rate is $55 per hour with a two hour minimum.
The recent incident at Mansfield City Hall caused Carroll to give serious consideration to adding security to his courtroom. He believes it is one of the least secure courtrooms in Cuyahoga County. The only security presence for the western side of City Hall (which also houses the mayor, law dept., etc.) is a guard at the information desk. Carroll said he’d like to at add a manned metal detector. The metal detector could cost as little as $500. The real expense would be the salary of the person operating the device.
“We’re all at risk,” he said. “The bad news is we might be coming back for even more money.” Carroll said he would go to the state supreme court and get an order forcing the city to pay for security improvements if he has to.
Water and sewer rates will rise
The city faces big expenses down the road in order to comply with federal clean water laws. To meet these obligations, it must increase rates each year over the next decade.
It is a virtual lock that City Council will vote to raise water and sewer rates for the coming year, but they will hold off on setting rates beyond 2010. The one-year-at-a-time approach will allow them to scale back planned rate increases in the event the feds provide money for clean water projects.
Cuts at the mayor’s discretion
The mayor maintained most job-related cuts in the budget would come from attrition, although a small number of people could still be laid-off. He said lowering the fire department’s minimum man per shift to 20 has helped out the budget situation.
He said the city reached a tentative agreement with the leadership of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Union that represents many employees in the public works dept. The agreement still needed to voted on by membership.
Monique Smith makes unofficial debut
Councilperson-elect Monique Smith fired off two questions during the three hour budget hearing. One question was about the drop in parking tickets and the other question was about the arrangement human services will have with The West Side Community House.
Majority of Lakewood residents just don’t care
There were about five people in attendance to witness the budget hearing.
That’s all there is?
One of the good things about the budget hearings held last year was that each department director gave a little presentation to council outlining their upcoming plans. It was an excellent way for a citizen to learn how things work and where taxpayer money was being spent.
For some reason, the city didn’t do it that way this year. So, if some genius at city hall wants to build a $40,000 wireless Internet access corridor along Detroit, between Bunts and Arthur, taxpayers may not learn about it until it’s too late.