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City expense cuts include furloughs, hiring freeze

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Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

One of the hardest things to balance in creating a city’s budget isn’t about how much money the city will have, Roswell City Manager Joe Neeb said.

“The real argument or the real conversation that everybody should have is what is the money spent on,” Neeb said in a Monday afternoon interview on the budget and personnel.

How a city spends its money shows its priorities, Neeb said, and one of the most important aspects of the 2021 budget is that despite cutting $31 million in expenses, the city does not expect any involuntary employee layoffs.

That’s not to say city staff won’t face hardships. The city’s personnel budget has been reduced by almost $5 million.

Those savings will come from a hiring freeze, removing about 40 vacant positions from the budget and furloughs of all full-time personnel.

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“The furloughs just mean that we need a little bit of help from our employees,” Neeb said.

All city employees will be furloughed for 10 days in fiscal 2021 — one pay period — but the days will be spread out, one day a month except for November and December.

“That’s right at the holidays, so we would keep everybody paid well for November and December,” Neeb said.

Employees will not be paid for the furlough days, but will keep benefits.

By spreading out the furlough days, the city could have the option of ending them should the economy recover faster than expected, Neeb said.

The city expects to save $1.5 million from the furloughs, which figures out to saving 14 jobs from layoffs, Neeb said.

Another 13 layoffs were prevented by a direct transfer of funds from the city’s enterprise funds — water, sewer and the Roswell Air Center — to the police, fire and dispatch funds.

“Direct allocation was important for those because you have limited ability to charge for police service, you have limited ability to charge for fire service, all those emergency services,” Neeb said.

“It allows for another source of income in order to cover the services that we’re all utilizing,” he said.

The $974,000 transfer essentially pays for 5% of the salary costs for those public safety departments. In return, personnel from those departments will be trained in the locations of those systems, such as city water wells, and how they work so they can provide security for them.

“We want to make sure that as our officers are out doing patrols they can essentially check those sites as well. It’s almost like stopping at the bank and checking the doors to make sure all the doors are locked and everything,” Neeb said.

Security for public infrastructure became more important all across the country after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The resolution passed by the Roswell City Council in May that approved the transfer of funds will help not only help train police, fire and dispatch personnel on the workings of the infrastructure, but also provide a review and expansion of emergency response plans for those systems.

Neeb acknowledged the 5% figure was an estimate to start from.

“We’ll have a plan in place that will track the training expenses, we’ll track what the true cost is, and depending on how close to the mark we were, plus or minus, we’ll have that conversation at next year’s budget,” he said.

The city has made other changes regarding personnel, such as offering voluntary early retirement and severance packages. About 40 employees have taken advantage of that since it was opened on May 15.

Initially, the city limited it to the first 30 employees, but within a few days, 25 people had expressed interest, Neeb said, so the limit was increased. Employees have until June 15 to sign up through the city’s human resources department.

The voluntary severance, as of May 25 with 35 employees, had allowed a budget reduction of almost $2.4 million.

The city might have to fill some of those positions, however.

“You can’t manage where they all come from. We had five or six firefighters interested in the program. We had a few out of the enterprise funds,” Neeb said.

“We will try to determine if we have to backfill some of those positions, if we have to move some other positions around because all of our services need to have at least a minimum level of assurance,” he said.

In addition, two open department director positions were combined with other departments, resulting in a savings of about $200,000, Neeb said.

The fleet manager position — which mainly oversees the contracts for the city’s 800 vehicles — was combined with the transit director position. Facilities and solid waste have also been combined.

About 31 part-time seasonal contract staff were laid off in March as the COVID-19 pandemic started causing the closing of city facilities and businesses. Those cuts are in the fiscal year 2020 budget, but the savings will transfer to next year’s budget, Neeb said.

In all, the city has cut its budgeted workforce in 2021 to 560.5 full-time equivalent positions from 641.5 in 2020.

To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.

 

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