Friday, January 29, 2010

Metro asks departments to prepare for 7.5 percent budget cuts

By Michael Cass • THE TENNESSEAN • January 29, 2010 A Metro government could be looking at budget cuts of more than 7 percent in the next fiscal year but will try to preserve basic services, a top aide to Mayor Karl Dean said Thursday. Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling asked the city's department heads to prepare budgets showing the impact of 7.5 percent cuts on operations and staffing by Feb. 25. Dean has until May 1 to give the Metro Council his operating budget proposal for the 2010-11 year, which starts July 1. The city, which cut $27 million and made some painful choices when it started the current budget year last summer, is facing another difficult cycle as the nation tries to crawl out of the economic recession. "Obviously, all budgets are tough, and this one won't be any different," Riebeling said. "The economy is still fairly weak." Dean could seek a property tax increase but might choose not to do that for economic and political reasons. Riebeling didn't discuss potential budget fixes in his brief meeting with the department heads and their finance aides. Instead, he asked them to follow a few guidelines, including: • Maintain and, if possible, increase reserve funds. The city's general reserves are in better shape than they were when Dean took office, but school reserves are on shakier ground. • Maintain the level of services to the public if possible. • Bring potential sources of new revenue forward for consideration. • Keep in mind higher costs for employee pensions and health care, and try to increase employee pay after two years of no raises. Some departments have already been thinking along those lines. Terry Cobb, director of Metro Codes Administration, said some fees, like building permits, probably would go up so they can cover the department's costs to provide services related to construction. Covering those costs with fee revenue used to be routine, but taxpayers are subsidizing construction services this year to the tune of about $2.5 million, Cobb said. "It's appropriate that the fee schedule be adjusted so that subsidy doesn't continue," he said. 'Cautiously optimistic' Nancy Whittemore, director of Metro General Services, said she was concerned that a 7.5 percent funding cut could affect direct services. Her department has already reduced trash collection in government buildings from five days a week to two, and some routine maintenance might need to be delayed. "We'll do everything we can to be efficient in how we cut back," Whittemore said, adding that the 7.5 percent guideline was "better news than what I thought we'd hear." Sgt. Robert Weaver, president of the Nashville Fraternal Order of Police, attended the meeting and said he was encouraged by Riebeling's comments about employee pay. "We're cautiously optimistic," he said. "We encourage investment in the employees as a true asset to the city".

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