One way or the other, it appears the city’s $130 million budget pinch will impact the number of police in our neighborhood, as well as how much they are paid. A draft budget being discussed at today’s City Council meeting suggests cutting police overtime pay by 25 percent as well as ending additions to the force, stopping the city’s long-stated plan to build the force to a level that provides 2.8 officers per thousand residents. Other ideas: require businesses to pay the city a surcharge of $2 per hour when utilizing off-duty police. The Morning News has a thorough discussion of the topic in today’s paper.
These draft budgets, at least in the past, have tended to be trial balloons floated by the city manager’s office. Generally, things have gone like this: A draft budget is announced, a lot of public hand-wringing by council members and city staffers ensues, council members say “hell no” to raising taxes and cutting money from policing, and then adjustments are made to make everyone look like a hero in the fall when the budget is adopted (the city’s budget year begins in the fall).
This year, though, the sales tax and property tax revenue shortfalls are likely to be significant enough to require either honest-to-goodness cuts in the budget or a property tax increase. And since, as the DMN points out, the police department’s $412 million budget is about a fifth of the city’s overall budget, some cuts inevitably are going to be made there.
According to Mayor Tom Leppert and a few council members, a tax increase should be off the table, meaning that the city must find $130 million in additional cuts (over last year’s budget) to stay in the black this year. Some of the ideas (not including whacking away at the police department): reduce library hours, reduce replacement of traffic signs that are faded or graffiti-riddled, cut arts program funding, close pools and rec centers. And those are just the “easy” cuts that save the first $50 million. That leaves another $80 million in cuts to enact.
The DMN quotes city manger Mary Suhm as saying “everything is on the table.” Sounds like a fun summer.