By David Taube
STAFF WRITER - Published: December 12, 2012
MONTPELIER — While the proposed reductions in the city’s workforce include a firefighter, police officer and public works position, cost savings and personnel reassignments may help soften any blow to city services.
The proposed budget, which will be further unveiled tonight at the City Council meeting, calls for a reduction of five positions through the elimination of four full-time jobs and one part-time job through attrition — retirements or resignations. In addition, one municipal position would be reduced from full time to part time.
The overall reduction planned is the equivalent of 4.22 full-time positions because two other part-time jobs are being added and one position would see an increase in its hours.
Aside from the firefighter, police officer and public works jobs, other positions to be eliminated are an administrative assistant at the fire department and a half-time geographic information systems specialist. Also, the city’s zoning administrator is expected to be reduced from full time to half time.
The proposed budget includes a 2 cent tax rate increase, meaning the municipal property tax on a house valued at $223,000 would increase by $44.60.
The budget also assumes the city can erase a projected $50,000 deficit in the parking fund. City Manager William Fraser indicated to council members in a letter Tuesday that the city’s parking fees have remained unchanged since 2004.
Fraser said Tuesday that rather than increase meter fees, the city could increase fees for parking in city-owned and city-leased lots. The city could also look to cut costs, Fraser said.
“It doesn’t break even if we don’t raise rates,” he said. “If the council says, ‘We’re not going to raise rates,’ then we have to have that discussion. What are we going to cut for expenses or what are we going to do? Or are we going to subsidize it with the general fund, picking up … taxes?”
A public works street division position, a year-round job until now and an important part of a five-person salting crew in winter, was filled by a new seasonal employee beginning Tuesday, so no adverse effect is anticipated for the current winter. Public Works Director Todd Law, however, said next winter could be problematic. He suggested some department changes could help realize savings and allow the department to re-examine its staffing needs next winter.
This winter, six highway plows equipped with computers will allow drivers to see how much salt they’re using. The cost for the computers was about $12,000, but Law said the new system could actually save the city $40,000 annually.
Fire Chief Robert Gowans said the duties of his retiring lieutenant firefighter could be fulfilled by existing staff. Despite the expected loss of that position, the department also has two so-called operations lieutenants to continue to carry out such duties as medical training, school and community outreach, and grant proposal writing.
The other fire department position to be dropped is an administrative assistant, whose duties could be passed onto the chief and assistant chief, Gowans said. But medical billing duties would likely need to be contracted, and the city is interested in possibly collaborating with other emergency services units in the region to see if those tasks could be merged.
Fraser’s letter to councilors also identified several specific effects on services that could result from the proposed personnel changes:
— Police: There would be fewer foot and bike patrols in the downtown, Fraser wrote. Response times could also be affected, though the department has operated successfully in the past with the newly anticipated level of staffing, according to the city manager.
— Fire: Phone answering would be automated, among other changes. Fraser wrote there would be more times during the week when fewer staff are on duty.
— Planning and zoning: The administrator’s reduction from full time to half time could mean longer waits to process zoning permits, but existing staff could be picking up some of the work.
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