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Proposed Hagerstown budget would require furlough, work stop days

Wages and benefits account for 80 percent of expenditures from city's general funds

Wages and benefits account for 80 percent of expenditures from city's general funds

December 15, 2009|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- The Hagerstown City Council on Tuesday discussed a budget plan for fiscal years 2010-11 and 2011-12 that requires employees to take five furlough days and five work stop days each year, and reduces overtime pay in the police and fire departments.

The proposed budget plan takes into account a 12.2 percent decline in projected revenue the first year and a 13 percent decline the second.

Much of the discussion centered around reductions in wages and benefits, which account for about 80 percent of expenditures from the city's general funds, City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said.

The proposed plan would affect all city employees, Zimmerman said.

Under the plan, any vacant positions would not be filled for at least six months. Any vacancies would be reviewed to see if duties could be consolidated or if the position could be eliminated.

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According to material provided to the media Tuesday, city staff focused on three goals in developing the proposed budget reductions:

o Avoiding an increase in the city's property tax rate

o Limiting reductions in services provided by the city

o Preserving employment for city employees

Zimmerman stressed the budget problems are not because of financial mismanagement.

"They are the result of the most significant economic recession that's impacted our country in many, many decades," he said.

For fiscal year 2010-11, the city predicts a reduction of more than $4.4 million in state and county shared revenue and a reduction of more than $600,000 in property tax revenue, documents show.

The proposed plan eliminates several wage increases the city no longer can afford.

March 2009 projections assumed a 2.5 percent step increase per year for full-time salary and hourly employees and a 1.75 percent cost of living adjustment for all full-time employees. The city cannot afford either increase because of cutbacks in state and county funding, documents show.

Eliminating step increases would save more than $450,000 in fiscal year 2010-11 and more than $900,000 in fiscal year 2011-12, and eliminating the cost of living adjustment would save more than $300,000 each year, documents show.

Under the proposed plan, all city employees would be required to take five furlough days each year. The plan also proposes five work stop days each year, where all but continuous-operation facilities would shut down, possibly in conjunction with holidays, to save on both labor and utilities.

Continuous-operation employees not participating in the work stop program would be required to take 10 furlough days each year, the plan shows.

The combined work stop and furlough days are "roughly equivalent to laying off 14 full-time General Fund positions," the plan shows.

Some of the items proposed by the budget plan are subject to contract negotiations with the relevant unions. The elimination of step increases and a cost of living adjustment, as well as the proposed work stop days and furlough days, are all subject to contract negotiations.

The plan also proposes eliminating the overtime premium for working holidays in the police and fire departments, at a savings of $110,000 per year. Additional reductions in overtime pay could be reached by tightening city policy regarding overtime pay, the plan shows.

The city projected overtime expenditures of more than $1.1 million in fiscal years 2010-11 and 2011-12.

Many of the city's department heads attended the Tuesday budget retreat where the cuts were discussed. The department heads have attended weekly meetings so staff could hear their input about the budget, Zimmerman said.

"If we reduce our staffing per shift, it will eventually mean there will be fire stations closed," Hagerstown Fire Chief Gary Hawbaker said after Tuesday's meeting.

Reduced staffing per shift will occur if vacancies aren't filled and furlough days are required, Hawbaker said. The fire department requires a certain number of personnel to do their jobs safely, Hawbaker said.

The proposed cuts also would cause some disruption at the police department, Hagerstown Police Chief Art Smith said Tuesday.

A lot of the proposed cuts that would affect his department are dependent on successful negotiation with the union, Smith said.

"It is doable, but will require some changes in the contract and changes in city policy," he said.

The cuts won't be painless, "but we've got to chip in," Smith said.

The plan also calls for eliminating the annual sick leave buyback program in which employees can sell back up to 80 hours of their yearly allotment of 120 hours of sick leave. Eliminating the program would save more than $110,000 each year. The plan recommends reducing the sick leave allotment from 15 days granted at the beginning of the year to 12 days granted at the rate of one day per month throughout the calendar year.

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