Mayor Gabriel J. Campana painted an alarmingly gloomy financial picture for next year's budget and beyond, and he's blaming his unionized fire and police officers.
"I'm looking at the city as a business," he said Friday. "I'm looking for dollars."
He and Controller Margaret Woodring said taxpayers face a 2-mill real estate hike as of today. That translates to $200 more per year for a property assessed at $100,000.
Campana said the city is losing money because of cost increases in union health care plans and pensions, and unfunded federal mandates such as certifying the flood levee.
He's asking the unions representing police and fire, which have the highest personnel costs, to agree to a series of concessions. Thus far, the city firefighters aren't budging, he said.
"We've got to stop the bleeding," he said. "I've asked the fire union for 11 concessions, such things as capping their pensions and accepting a $500 deductible on health insurance as other unionized workers do."
He said police are not immune to restructuring, either.
Retired police and fire officers who have spouses receive full coverage for them and their wives, Woodring said. The city estimates these "legacy" costs to be $60 million, she said.
Woodring indicated the projected shortfall is $1.5 million.
"It comes from health care costs and pensions," she said.
Employees health care adds a projected $500,000 while pensions add $1.7 million, according to Woodring.
City Finance Director William E. Nichols Jr. said the pension issue was reviewed with City Council, as were health care preliminary expenses, showing an 11-percent increase.
"Budget surplus or savings from 2011 was applied to this year's budget and that is a one-time scenario," Nichols said.
Nichols said Campana's assessment shows alarming trends.
"We're concerned about it and it's a tremendous challenge to overcome," Nichols said.
Campana said he will discuss strategies to mitigate any potential tax increase.
"I have an alternative revenue plan," he said. He indicated he'd provide more details the first week of November.
"My job one is to protect the taxpayers," he said offering no other recourse but to raise additional revenue to lower the potential tax increase.
"Fire and police unions have the richest health care in the city," he said. "I believe they should provide larger concessions than the other three unions and I am asking of them more to get them on par or equal ground."
Earlier this week, Fire Platoon Chief Vince Rundio, union president, said talks continue and that it was disappointing Campana is choosing to air the discussion in public.
Other than a possible tax increase, Campana warned city money might not be used for special events, such as the Downtown Christmas Parade, Santa's Village and other family occasions.