Cracks are already starting to show in the budget agreed upon by the city about three months ago. In a special meeting of the Committee of the Whole on Friday, City Administrator Jeff Horne presented a tentative plan to patch up the budget over the course of five years. The committee passed a non-binding resolution showing support for the plan.
Horne presented several possible ideas to help the city, already in the red $800,000, cut costs over the coming years. Though the issues can be addressed in a variety of ways, Horne said personnel cuts may need to be considered.
“We’re going to try to minimize the effect on personnel to the extent we can,” Horne said, later adding “...yes, there are going to be some positions affected.”
Horne provided council members with a sheet detailing what expenses he thinks should be cut in each department.
He emphasized that this was an initial estimate of how much money needed to be trimmed from each department and was not written in stone.
The biggest proposed cuts are projected to come from the two biggest city departments.
The fire department may be expected to trim $300,000 and the police department may have to shed $350,000. Also expected to cut substantial amounts are the library department and building and grounds department to the tune of $75,000 each. The rec department is expected to be cut by $150,000.
Layoffs are not expected to be the first course of action for department heads. Horne said he will help evaluate each department to determine what the best option is. Furlough days can save sizeable sums for the city employees not represented by a union.
Third Ward Council Member Bev Hermann said she would be opposed to the bargaining employees avoiding sacrifices being asked of the non-union employees.
“I don’t really think it’s fair to expect all the furlough days to fall on the non-bargaining employees,” Hermann said.
Horne said he planned on discussing the matter with union officials, and believes that they will be willing to work with the city.
Police Chief Brian Guy and Fire Chief Mark Regenwether were both present at the meeting. They represent the two departments poised to make the most drastic spending cuts. Both departments are represented by unions.
Guy said that the police department will definitely work with the city on the issue, but expressed concern over limiting the police presence in Clinton.
“Obviously my concern is for the safety of the public, and the safety of my people doing their jobs,” Guy said.
Regenwether echoed Guy’s sentiment. While he assured city officials that union representatives will be open to budget cuts, the ramifications of a $300,000 cut could be significant. Regenwether said that such a cut could mean the loss of up to six firefighters and a potential shutdown of fire station number three.
He said that citizens would likely see response times increase, and that the department may require more frequent assistance from neighboring fire departments.
“With the reduction in people we’ll rely more on our neighbors for help,” Regenwether said, adding that the department will strive to provide adequate protection for the city. “You do what you can with what you get.”
The burden would not fall solely on the shoulders of other departments, according to city officials. Both Holm and First Ward Councilwoman Maggie Klaes have offered to contribute a portion of their salaries back to the city.
Capital projects like the railport, have also fallen under hard economic times. The city is facing a $5 million deficit, something Horne said could be fixed by charging a 3 percent franchise fee on Alliant Energy, which could allow the city to break even by 2014.
Horne said several things led to the city’s economic woes. Legal fees and settlement costs loom over the city, and retiree medical expenditures have been abnormally high over the past three years.
Fourth Ward Councilman Paul Gassman said he would support the non-binding resolution, as long as it meant that progress would begin immediately.
“My concern is that we get on it as quick as possible,” Gassman said. “Not like other city problems that can go on for six months.”
Horne said he would begin work on it right away and expects to have a detailed breakdown of spending cuts in the coming months.