Council candidates mull cost-cutting possibilities

Today’s question for City Council candidates focuses on finances.

Seeking re-election Tuesday are Councilmen Randall J. Allison, of 1308 Elmira St., and N. Clifford “Skip” Smith, of 835 First Ave., both Republicans, and Councilwoman Liz Miele, of 525 W. Fourth St., a Democrat.

Challengers are Scott Miller, of 822 Tucker St., a Republican, and Alison D. Hirsch, of 423 Rural Ave., and Kelly Anderson, of 533 Seventh Ave., Democrats.

Q: Where in the city government do you see areas where costs could be cut, personnel reduced or there be alternatives to doing business as usual?

Allison: It’s difficult to identify areas of personnel reduction as the fire and streets and parks departments have already been reduced to their minimums, and the police are not up to their budgeted complement and codes will have to be increased to meet the added demands of the rental ordinance. Keep in mind that personnel costs are around 75 percent of the budget.

As we bring the city up to 21st century standards in the area of technology, we will be able to realize savings due to efficiency and production that should allow us to keep our operating costs as low as possible. We are always looking at ways to cut energy costs and get the most value out of the money that we spend for the day-to-day costs of running city government.

Regionalization of services where neighboring communities share costs for things like firefighting, for example, are areas to look at going forward that may afford significant savings.

Anderson: Whenever we spend money we have got to make sure it is economically feasible because there are always hidden expenses in every project. I don’t have any access to the personnel records, so I can’t comment on what departments or personnel could be trimmed, but I do believe the city needs to find a way to communicate better, especially in the improving of its website, and I believe there are more opportunities where outsourcing could take place.

Hirsch: Since I became a candidate, people have been telling me horror stories of money wasted, city property given away, taxpayer dollars invested in schemes that had little or no chance of success. I believe City Council members need to be vigilant to prevent that sort of waste of taxpayer dollars and giveaways of property that’s owned by all of us in common.

One source of waste is overtime. Senior police officers should not be using overtime as a way to jack up their base wages for the purpose of calculating pensions. City departments should not be relying on overtime to finish ill-advised projects like ice-skating rinks.

Council needs to examine any proposals to give away land or future tax revenue to entice new businesses to come into the area. To secure a few extra parking spaces for Kohl’s, I have heard that the city gave away the Highmark parking lot and land -land that Highmark would have paid $27 million for over the course of the 99-year lease it had signed. The Cinema Center, Kohl’s, and other new businesses are operating tax-free for years. But were these giveaways really necessary?

Miele: Codes, community policing and recreation.

Personnel costs account for 80 percent of the city’s budget, with the costs of our public safety departments making up 66 percent by themselves. Codes should be the front guard, public-safety force, a preventive approach that can save the city both time and money … without as much cost to the taxpayer as added police presence.

Once codes (office) has helped to tidy up our neighborhoods, improve the overall quality of our property maintenance and thus force out many of the bad actors. Good police enforcement then becomes the secondary part of the approach, as our police go in to clean up remaining crime problems.

Community policing … because the rapport they build with all the valued citizens .. and we have a dedicated and motivated police force in the city.

Recreation can lead the way in providing programming to keep our city kids off the streets and to engage all of our citizens.

Miller: I see areas of pension reform that would be needed to look at. Health care alternatives for employees and retirees should also be reviewed annually to see what would be best for the city. I don’t believe that Obamacare would prevent the city from seeking other alternatives for its health care for employees. I honestly don’t see any other places where the city can sustain any further cuts, especially in personnel. We need to make the most of technological advancements to increase employee production.

Smith: There are 49 cities in the state that are technically in bankruptcy – ours is not one of them. That is due to the fact that council has been prudent in preparation of the budget in recent years. There are no areas were the current budget can be reduced. All departments are at the minimum of staffing. A city must provide for public safety, clean streets and operation of government functions. Cutting any further will reduce the level of service to our residents. We must contininue to balance the needs of our citizens with our ability to pay for these services.