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Time for Nigh to probe city's budget for savings

December 04, 2003

When the City of Hagerstown presented its budget in May, City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said that after three years of tax increases, officials wanted to focus instead on cutting expenses.

Now city officials are asking their union employees to help save $60,000 a year by altering a sick leave buy-back program, an idea opposed by Councilwoman Penny Nigh and Jim Bestpitch, chief negotiator for the city's four unions. If Nigh wants the program to remain intact, she has to find that $60,000 somewhere else.

The city's proposal would save cash by giving union employees one day's pay for every two days of sick leave they sell back, instead of the one-for-one deal they have now. The number of sick leave days would also be cut from 15 to 12. Non-union employees' sick-leave buy-back plan was cut in the same way earlier this year.

It seems fair to ask union members to either do the same, or help find the savings elsewhere, although they may be in no mood to do so after the terrible way in which the idea was proposed.

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With no advance notice to union officials, city staff made the idea public in an agenda packet released at City Hall last Wednesday. Then, in an ultimatum guaranteed to cause ill will, Mayor William Breichner told union members that if they didn't accept the idea, they wouldn't get a 2.5 percent raise next year. Is anyone surprised that they're upset now?

Instead of treating union members like greedy children, out to get all they can no matter what the consequences, why not approach them like adults and ask for their help in cutting the budget?

We're confident the budget can be cut, because Councilman Kristin Aleshire did it in his first year in office, going through the 800-page document line-by-line and finding more than $300,000 in savings.

It's time for Nigh to take a crack at that budget book and to look at non-tax possibilities for additional revenue. Aleshire's review found that some city fees, for inspections and the like, weren't covering the cost of providing the services.

Nigh should follow Aleshire's lead, because if she wants to preserve the sick-leave program as it exists now, she's got to find a way to pay for it.

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