Vice Mayor Larry Small and Councilman Darryl Glenn are often on the opposite side of issues that come before City Council, but they’ve found some common ground.
In an e-mail this morning detailing his suggested budget cuts in the wake of Tuesday’s election, Glenn called for reducing the $500,000 budget for next November’s election to zero.
“There’s no need to retain that in the budget,” he said, “I don’t foresee that we’ll want to place any items on the coordinated election a year from now. If something changes, we can make that decision, but I’ve called for eliminating it.”
Small called the election “a perfect storm.”
“The voters are reacting to the economic environment,” he said. “During 2005, when we had our town meeting (to receive public input about the proposed budget), we got through the public comments in less than 15 minutes. This year, it took more than three hours.”
In a wide-ranging interview this morning, Small outlined a series of steps that, he believes, City Council needs to take.
Small said that the Douglas Bruce-initiated Issue 300, which the voters approved by a 55-45 percent margin, could be interpreted in such a way that its passage would not materially affect the enterprise.
“But that’s not what the voters intended,” he said. “They voiced dissatisfaction, and their intentions have to be honored.”
Small said he favors winding the enterprise down, and completing already-funded projects, unlike Glenn, who called for its immediate termination.
“At some point in the future we might bring it back and ask the voters if they want to reinstate it,” Small said.
“Furloughs really don’t have much impact,” Small said. “We can’t furlough public safety employees, so there are only about 400 employees who could be part of a furlough program. Similarly, pay cuts don’t have the impact the people think because so much of our employee costs are tied up in benefits, and those costs grow over time. Pay cuts aren’t an efficient way to get to where we need to be.”
“I believe that’s something we should consider,” Small said, “There are savings connected with closing non-public safety facilities. The county has saved more than $250,000 in utilities costs by going to a four-day work week, and that’s significant by itself.”
Small acknowledged that the cost of payments made to Public Employees Retirement Association, the city’s defined benefit pension plan, is a major component of the city’s budget. He called for changes.
“Employees and retirees who are currently covered by PERA will continue to receive PERA,” he said, noting that such coverage constitutes a contractual commitment by the city which, by state law, cannot be altered. “But we can freeze our plan and create a new plan for all subsequent employees. It would be a defined contribution plan, not defined benefit. That wouldn’t have any impact on our present situation, but it could make a big difference a few years down the road. It’s something we need to do.”