The Council will be voting to approve the FY2016 budget at the next City Council meeting tomorrow evening. In February, the City Manager presented a budget that did not contain adequate funding for our street and sidewalk work. This budget appeared to be based upon the assumption that the bond issues would pass and most street and sidewalk work could be removed from the budget for a period of years. In April the voters overwhelmingly rejected the streets and parks bond issues, and the City Manager was asked to amend his draft budget with adequate funding for street and sidewalk work, maintaining the current levels of funding for Public Safety. Instead, the City Manager made amendments to the budget that reduced current levels of funding for Public Safety, included cuts to recreation programs, and failed to provide for any additional street or sidewalk work. Now it appears Mr. Walker is proposing committing $7 million for a future police station we have yet to discuss as a Council to ensure that there are no Reserve funds available to fix our streets.
One of the more troubling cuts is to personnel in the Fire Department. The proposed budget eliminates four of the currently vacant paramedic/firefighter positions (instead of three originally proposed in February), and two vacant Captain positions - again, paramedic/firefighters. Since the suspensions of 6 Firefighters in May - July 2014, the City has been meeting daily demands with overtime. Five of the six suspended paramedic/firefighters, as well as two captains have found positions with other fire departments.
Our hiring and training has not kept up with the loss of personnel, so the demand on existing paramedic/firefighters for overtime has been persistent.
• Over the last 69 days (from April 1 - June 8, 2015), 3,031 hours were needed to maintain the minimum requirement
of 11 personnel (firefighters) per crew.
• During that period 2,743 hours of overtime was paid, leaving 288 hours of overtime unfilled.
And yet the City manager has proposed that six of these currently vacant positions be eliminated, making this personnel shortfall permanent. I have asked the City Manager
• To please explain why these positions are no longer needed, and
• To please explain how the gap created by the elimination of 6 paramedic/firefighters will be filled?
I am gravely concerned for two reasons. First, state law forbids using a mutual aid agreement (coordinating emergency service with nearby cities) to lower manpower. The second concern is for safety: Is the City Manager and the Council (should these cuts be approved) putting our residents at risk?
The other cut to Public Safety is the elimination of $100,000 in overtime for the Police Department. The City Manager’s rationale is that if we hire full-time Police employees, we will need less overtime. Why is this appropriate for the Police Department and not for the Fire Department?
The City Manager’s proposed budget also contains cuts to recreation:
• Eliminate hours at Centennial Commons;
• Eliminate the public indoor swim sessions;
• Reduce hours at Heman Park Pool, and
• Eliminate the summer camp program from the summer of 2016 and going forward, unless, perhaps, we raise fees
or find a funding partner. It appears that the funding for the summer camp program is not in the FY2016 budget.
Currently, 100 children, who would otherwise be “on the streets” or in an unsupervised environment without the enrichment so necessary for children, attend this camp .
When the City Manager was asked to present a new budget to incorporate funding for street and sidewalk work, it was not intended that Public Safety or recreation services to be cut in order to preserve the City Manager’s bloated budget, and the legislative budget of the Council. The increase in the City Manager’s budget, $168,000 for this year exceeds the amount of money in the Capital Improvement program for streets - $140,000! The money for funding the street and sidewalk work (roughly $400,000) is clearly available in the Capital Improvement Sales Tax Fund, but is being held as a “reserve” for some future, as yet unapproved, grant match, which would not, in any case, be required before June 30, 2016 — after which we will have a new budget and have collected another year’s worth of sales taxes for Capital Improvements. These sales tax revenues collected this fiscal year 2016 should be used for the street and sidewalk work in FY2016.
There is no incentive for Mr. Walker to find ways to cut discretionary spending. It would only show that his budget is padded and the fat that he purportedly cut out of the budget several years ago to produce “record surpluses” has gone right back into the budget. Instead, cuts will are being made to services so citizens are sure to feel it… even if it creates a risk to our safety. Creating a new position for a Senior Coordinator, funding Fair UCity, funding the Chamber of Commerce, increasing his own budget, and increasing the council travel budget, among a long list of discretionary items are all, apparently, more important than fixing our streets. This Administration’s priorities are misplaced. This budget was designed to send a message of retaliation to our community for the failure of the bonds to pass.
I cannot support the City Manager’s proposed changes to recreation. I am extremely reluctant to approve the elimination of 6 paramedic/firefighter positions unless adequate explanation is provided and I am sure we are not jeopardizing the safety of our residents. Additionally, the Council has, to date, not been provided with a list of line items, which have been amended and by what amount. The information provided to us prior to this vote is incomplete. How can we make any decisions regarding this budget without this information?
This budget causes so much pain to our citizens, and no pain to the people who are making the decisons. In her recent letter to the Editor in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Mayor Welsch wrote:
“What we are seeing is the tea party approach to budgeting: vote against any taxes, even for admittedly needed work
for streets and to make our facilities ADA-compliant, and then try to gut the budget of programs and services that our
community needs and deserves.”
If this budget is approved as presented, each and every member of the Council who votes to approve it is personally responsible for gutting the budget of programs and services that our community needs and deserves. Council should not pass a budget that does not reflect the priorities of this community.