Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Mayor's budget plan cuts 200 jobs

Few departments to get more funds.
By MICHAEL CASS • Staff Writer (tennessean) May 7, 2008

Metro Nashville's budget is expected to increase slightly in 2008-09, edging toward $1.6 billion.
But rather than adding a job here and a job there, the city will lay off 200 people and eliminate 127 vacant positions if the Metro Council approves Mayor Karl Dean's budget recommendations.

Most Metro departments would receive less money in the next fiscal year, which starts July 1. The school district, Davidson County Juvenile Court and some programs for the homeless would get more, however.

Mark Naccarato, political director and spokesman for the union that represents many Metro workers, said Dean seemed to be "robbing Peter to pay Paul" by boosting schools' funding 4.8 percent at the expense of some employees.

"We think you can do both," Naccarato, with Service Employees International Union Local 205, said Tuesday. "It's about priorities. … What these people do is important to the city. You get what you pay for."

Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling said he and others in Dean's administration tried to limit the cuts to jobs that aren't involved in providing direct services to the public. Riebeling also said many of the 200 people who would be laid off would land in other Metro jobs.

"Technically, it's still a layoff, but the good news is that they won't be without a job," he said.
Whether those people will still make as much money remains to be seen, Naccarato said. SEIU represents more than 2,500 Metro employees, including some who work for the school district, he said.

Erik Cole, chairman of the Metro Council's Budget and Finance Committee, gave Dean and Riebeling credit for "an extraordinary job" of balancing competing priorities in a tight year. But he said the job cuts were his biggest concern.

"At this point, my inclination would be that if we do something (to adjust Dean's budget), it would be to try to ease the pain of the layoffs," Cole said.

School funds to increase

Metro schools would be the biggest winner under Dean's plan, reflecting his consistent statements that education is the city's top priority. The district's budget would increase by about $29 million, including about $10 million in state money, to reach $627 million.

It's not yet clear where the new money would go, said David Fox, chairman of the Metro school board's Budget Committee.

The school district is under great scrutiny from state education officials after years of failing to meet federal standards, and the state could take over the district if its performance continues to lag.

School board members are getting input from the state on how they should spend the additional money to address the district's most pressing needs, Fox said.

"We've been in a lull for a month," he said.

The Davidson County Juvenile Court's budget would increase so the court could start another education-related program, a $500,000 truancy center. The center would take teenagers who regularly skip school and work to get them back on track educationally.

Dean also would increase the budget for the city's homelessness commission by 18 percent, pushing it to $1.15 million. There would be more money for direct health care for the homeless and a $110,000 software package to help city and nonprofit agencies better manage and avoid duplicating services.

New jobs found elsewhere

Metro Human Resources Director Dorothy Berry said her office has placed at least 40 to 50 layoff victims in new jobs, mostly within the government. She said she expects to be able to place "a large number" of the eventual 200 victims.

But Berry acknowledged Naccarato's point about the possibility of reduced salaries.

"You can't guarantee everybody's going to stay whole when you're doing a reduction in force," she said.

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