A month after supporting the spending of $95,000 for full-time economic development director, Mayor Gabriel J. Campana pulled the plug on the idea because of budgetary concerns.
"We don't have enough money in the budget," Campana said Tuesday, reviewing the proposed expenses the city faces.
He placed the blame on rising health care insurance and retirees' pensions.
Council President Bill Hall wanted to see creation of the department, saying it would provide a central office developers could turn to and market city assets.
Hall said he wanted to see money put aside in the 2013 budget for the economic development director position.
But Campana said he would continue to manage economic development with the help of John Grado, director of community and economic development, and William E. Nichols Jr., director of city finance.
Campana said he will consider further cost-cutting measures should the unions representing city employees not concede on city employees contributing to their health care and benefits packages.
"To prevent strain on the proposed budget and any spending plans in the future, I will consider outsourcing jobs," Campana said, a decision he is considering after researching how other communities pay for public safety positions.
But as he said he would have to make tough decisions, Campana added how he appreciated city employees but said those workers should have health care benefits similar to those who are footing the bill (taxpayers).
"Consider the fire department's successful arbitration to receive benefits equal to those of the police," he said. "That has put a financial strain on the city."
Under the contract unionized firefighters and police officers who reach age 50 after 20 years of service can receive benefits of $40,000 to $51,000 a year for life along with cost of living increases. Should they die, their spouse receives the payments, Campana said. "Retirees get health care for themselves and spouses for the rest of their lives," he said. "Is it fair to ask senior citizens on fixed-incomes and others to pay higher taxes because of overly generous packages for unionized workers?" he asked.
Solutions to a growing crisis
"We've been proactive in budgeting approaches starting in February (to get ready for) what we're facing in 2013," Nichols said. "We're looking at trends and benefit costs that will be difficult, and trying to be prepared."
Nichols noted how Campana has been trying to raise revenue and cut costs all year.
"We're right now getting into budgeting process and we'll see all of the different expenses anticipated for next year and any anticipate revenue," he said.
The city is selling property for private development purposes, adding fees, such as $75 whenever police services are required for towing vehicles, switched its health care consortium to cut down on administrative costs and is using attorneys experienced in labor negotiations to negotiate labor law and contract talks.
"Taxpayers should know what their dollars are being spent for," Campana said.
In addition, Campana said another cost-cutting measure he is considering is re-evaluating who manages the city's investments, stocks and bonds.
Councilman Jonathan Williamson, chairman of the city finance committee, said the budget season is never an easy time of year.
"The challenge of these legacy costs are probably, to me, the most frustrating part of what we deal with on a budgetary basis because of decisions we made in the past and have little control over in the short-term that lock our hands and make us less fiscally able to respond to current needs and the things citizens want this city government to deal with," Williamson said.
Williamson supported efforts by Campana, council and rank and file members of the collective bargaining units to come to a "fiscally sustainable model for providing city services."
"To deal with legacy costs handed to us by our predecessors, we're going to have to restructure in a way that is more sustainable, given the economic realities that we face."
While Williamson said council has yet to see "the numbers," or be provided the "level of detail" Campana is privy to, he could understand the mayor's argument.
"The mayor makes his case, and we will have to work together with him and the rest of the administration, and to the degree that is appropriate, (with) our collective bargaining units to ... make legacy costs more manageable and look to the future."