Carson City to ‘scrub’ budget for savings
April 20, 2012
Faced with imposing a proposed 3 percent tax increase to make up a $3.7 million budget shortfall next year, Carson City officials on Thursday took a hard look at other ways to fill the gap.
But when Carson leaders were stumped after a long morning of earnest, thoughtful and collegial searching, Mayor Bob Crowell directed city staff to take a closer look at areas of the budget that could be cut.
“Let’s go back and scrub this budget,” Crowell said.
No action was taken. A final budget won’t be formally adopted until May 21.
Finance Director Nick Providenti presented the $57 million budget to the Board of Supervisors.
The tax increase would raise about $3 million, with the remaining $700,000 to be paid from the city’s ending-fund balance, but many hoped another way could be found.
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“Where else could we save money?” asked Supervisor John McKenna. “Cut the Fire Department in half? Cut out Parks and Rec?”
Public safety, which includes the Sheriff’s Office as well as fire and ambulance services, makes up more than 46 percent of the general fund’s expenditures, but City Manager Larry Werner explained that seven positions were cut from the fire department a couple of years ago and 12 from the sheriff’s staff.
“We don’t see an opportunity to reduce public safety; we can’t cut our service levels any more,” Werner said.
Fire Chief Stacey Giomi said his department is at bare-bones staffing right now.
“I don’t think we could continue to operate with less staff,” Giomi said.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has requirements he must adhere to, as well, Giomi said.
“We have minimum staffing requirements, we have mutual aid agreements with other counties, we have partners within the community, and we work very hard at being fiscally conservative,” he said.
Sheriff Ken Furlong echoed Giomi’s concerns, and said cutting his budget would severely cut into response times.
“We’re staffed minimally as it is. We took hits in 2010, and (if more cuts were made) you’d leave part of the city not covered. We’re divided into five sectors, and they’re covered 24 hours a day right now,” he said.
Furlong also suggested that cutting from Parks and Recreation (about 9 percent of expenditures) could have a negative effect on his department.
“Parks do not bring in bad things. You generate good things, and that reduces our call levels,” the sheriff said.
Supervisor Shelly Aldean reminded the board that parks are revenue generators for Carson City.
“Parks are used for tournaments which bring in revenue. We have to be a little bit careful about killing the golden goose,” she said.
The second-biggest piece of the expense pie – 24 percent – goes to general government, which includes departments such as the assessor, district attorney, treasurer, city clerk, city manager, human resources and information technology.
Werner said the problem is the city would have to cut 25 to 30 people to make up the shortfall in the $57 million budget.
“It’s a crystal ball, but if we cut 30 positions, I don’t know where they’d come from, and there would be a spiral effect,” Werner said.
Resident Tina Leahy said Carsonites are being hit hard.
“Taxes are hitting people left and right, and I think things (in the budget) need to be looked at very closely. I appreciate my Sheriff’s Department and I appreciate my Fire Department, but if the money is not there, we need to live within our means,” she said.
Political activist Ande Engleman said she’d like the city staff to look at the fine details of the budget for savings before raising taxes.
“What are we paying in consultant fees and for a full-time lobbyist? There are a lot of things we don’t have to have,” she said.
Aldean said the city often gets a bad rap for things out of its control.
Aldean said that during last year’s state legislative session, legislators are “kicking the can down the road (referring to previous state health care costs being forced on local governments), and we’re cast in the role of the bad guys, and it makes it impossible to balance our budget” without taking drastic measures.
Engleman suggested a compromise, with budget-trimming and tax-raising.