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Police layoffs postponed to January

Chief asks for time to work on solution
By: BY STEPHANIE DUMM NEWS MESSENGER REPORTER
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Tuesday’s City Council meeting was tense as Lincoln City Manager Jim Estep asked for a five-minute recess to amend the city’s proposed 2011-12 budget and postpone seven police lay-offs. This followed the City Council’s dismal budget presentation by Lincoln Assistant City Manager/Chief Financial Officer Anna Jatczak. The new fiscal year begins July 1. Estep was responding to Police Chief Paul Shelgren and Fire Chief David Whitt’s last-minute pleas to Lincoln’s City Councilmen to put the lay-offs of seven police personnel on hold until January. Shelgren explained how some of his staff members are currently looking for other jobs. That includes one dispatcher and two police officers who have resigned, three who “in all probability will have jobs in August” in other departments and “three to four seriously looking” for jobs in other cities, according to Shelgren. “We know the situation with the budget and that’s why people are leaving,” Shelgren said. “Not because of the market. They are leaving because of the instability of the city, for their own good.” Earlier during the General Fund budget discussion, Councilman Spencer Short brought up the economy. “It sounds like for some of our policing cuts, the decision may have been made for us by the market. That’s a much better thing than having to lay off folks,” Short said. Shelgren asked the City Council for more time before the layoffs. “Give us time, keep things going to January so maybe we can come up with another way, put a plan together,” Shelgren said. “It’s not turning things over for the long-term but reductions are going to take place. We have to have time to plan on how to fill the void and come up with a plan to provide services on our side and on the fire side. We need more time.” Shelgren was expecting only four layoffs Tuesday, not the seven mentioned in Jatczak’s budget presentation Tuesday. Whitt said that the “city is in a very tough spot.” “The argument is coming back down to service levels and what a city is supposed to have for our size,” Whitt said. “You don’t have to have any fire engines at all until you need them.” Whitt said the fire department has “tried to be prudent.” “From the fire side, we’ve never been fully staffed. We’ve always done things on the cheap. We’ve tried to be best to be prudent with resources, support personnel, and we don’t do so well with that at all,” Whitt said. “We are lucky we don’t hurt our people and our people provide good service to the public.” After a five-minute huddle by the pavilion’s back counter including Shelgren, Whitt, and Jatczak, Estep had an answer for the City Council regarding an amended budget for 2011-2012. “I think we can put together a budget that balances the budget in January. We will make those cuts effective in January,” Estep said. “I would hope in the meantime through attrition we would lose enough staffing, and we believe there’s a reasonable chance of that happening on the police side.” Jatczak had additional comments. “What we would do is rework the budget, and include in there the defunding of seven police officers as of Jan. 1, 2012,” Jatczak said. The City Council unanimously adopted Lincoln’s fiscal year 2012 proposed operating budget and capital improvement plan, with some amendments. Those amendments are to restructure library services to keep the Twelve Bridges Library open for 23 hours per week and to postpone the seven police layoffs until January, according to Jatczak. The 2011-2012 fiscal year proposed operating budget for the Lincoln Redevelopment Agency was also adopted. On May 10, City Council gave direction to city staff about balancing the city’s General Fund balance, which pays for police, fire, library and recreation services, according to previous News Messenger reports. The May 10 direction was to lay off four police officers, have no lay-offs in the fire department and increase the self-check out of items at the library. According to direction from the council, the proposed development services department’s administration budget was reduced from $149,505 this current fiscal year to the proposed $95,496, starting July 1. “One of the details of the reduction occuring in devleopment services is the elimination of one administrative services support (position), which results in shorter counter hours for the public,” Jatczak said. The prepared budget for the city as a whole was $46.2 million, according to Jatczak. That number, she said, was down from $131.1 million five years ago. Tuesday’s proposed General Fund budget meant a starting balance of $1.7 million on July 1, according to Jatczak. The General Fund’s ending balance as of June 30, 2012 is projected to be $433,000. A difficult night for public safety Shelgren and Whitt’s comments, as well as deliberation by Jatczak and Estep, came after members of City Council differed on the number of cops to be cut prior to adopting the budget. “We’re headed for a cliff, literally in terms of finance,” Councilman Tom Cosgrove said. “We’re about one year, probably two years away from having to make those cuts and deeper cuts. It’s just inevitable. It’s coming.” Cosgrove said the city must “plan for the worst and hope for the best,” in terms of revenue. Councilman Gabriel Hydrick said he would “like to fall in line” with what Cosgrove said. “If we lay off police officers, three of them are waiting to see if they go somewhere else,” Hydrick said. “I think we need to draw a harder line and work as a council, and really define the numbers and just do them. It’s unfair for the officers to leave them in limbo and not really cut them because we are waiting to see if they go anywhere. It’s just not fair to the families.” Councilman Stan Nader discussed the safety of residents and personnel, as well as delaying layoffs. “I appreciate the fact that the council wants to buy a few more years. My question is, buy a few more years of what?” Nader said. “The police and fire departments painted a vivid picture of what cuts would do.” “We could have a fire truck showing up with three people or they have to pick between which call to go to,” Nader said. “They may have an officer in a shooting situation with no back up. It’s unconscionable to put our people in jeopardy, not only employees but the public.” Mayor Paul Joiner asked Nader how he plans to finance that. “We all agree with you. We would love to be able to maintain (public safety levels),” Joiner said, speaking to Nader. “How do we pay for it?” Joiner addressed the economy. “To my perceptions, there is no improvement in the economy. This is the new normal. We have to live within our means,” Joiner said. Hydrick said the City Council “has to work harder.” “I don’t want to let any more police officers go, but considering the tight position we’re in, I could let maybe two go but not four. We can work harder as a council to gain the confidence of the citizens we need,” Hydrick said. Councilman Spencer Short mentioned bankruptcy in his comments about the proposed budget and proposed amendments made by his fellow councilmen. “Gentlemen, 18 months, I’m sorry, but the facts are the facts are the facts. We’ve brought this out time and time again. First we kick the can down the road,” Short said. “I can almost guarantee that next time around, we are going to get a concern letter (from the city’s auditor). In the audit report, they said to address budget issues and bring the budget under control or else.” Short added, “We are showing zero fiscal control.” “The letter says the city is likely to be bankrupt after 18 months,” Short said. “None of us want to lay off policemen. We all like warm apple pie, too.”