Baker studies budget cuts

The City Council looked for ways Wednesday to cut next year’s budget, while also tossing out ideas for increasing revenue by stimulating business activity.

Mayor Harold Rideau’s May 14 budget message predicts the city’s general fund will end the fiscal year on June 30 with an operating loss of $902,600 because of increased expenses and lower-than-anticipated sales tax revenue.

The general fund covers operations of the police, fire and public works departments, general city administration and council expenses.

Rideau’s proposed general fund budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, which the council is attempting to bring into balance, anticipates revenue of $6.84 million and expenses of $8.66 million.

“We will have to transfer $1,823,000 from the general fund prior year surplus to
cover these expenditures,” Rideau wrote in his budget message.

On July 1, 2009, the city’s general fund had a surplus of $9.3 million, but deficit spending had reduced it to $4.17 million by June 30, 2012. The net loss projected in the current fiscal year would reduce the balance even further.

Council members have discussed a possible budget cut of 21 percent in recent discussions.

Police Chief Mike Knaps, an elected official, said Wednesday a 21 percent cut to his budget would require him to lay off seven officers.

“I am not going to allow that to happen,” Knaps said. “I have worked hard to make this city a safe place to live.”

“You will have to command it,” he added.

Knaps offered to make selective cuts in several areas, but suggested the council put $100,000 into his budget from a separate account for revenues generated by speed vans stationed on city streets.

“My only gamble is if the Legislature kills photo enforcement,” the police chief said, referring to the speed vans.

Fire Chief Danny Edwards did not offer specific budget cuts for his department, but said a 20 to 21 percent
decrease would require layoffs.

He said he wants to use the city’s Class 2 fire insurance rating as a “hostage” in the budget negotiations, saying the depth of the spending cuts he can make is directly proportional to how much the council wants to retain the rating.

Edwards also said he will be the first to go if layoffs are necessary.

Public Works Director Julie McCulloch said she has six vacant positions covered by the general fund budget that cannot be filled because of the low starting salaries. They could be eliminated, and capital improvements purchases could be delayed to lower her department’s budget.

The council will meet again at 9 a.m. Monday to continue the budget talks. The city charter requires that the budget be adopted at the June 11 meeting.