City Council members waded into the details of the proposed 2013 budget Tuesday, poring over the spending plans of the police and fire departments.
Mayor Tom Henry's proposed $140 million budget includes a $4.8 million property tax increase, a move council members have said they are unlikely to approve. Henry says the increase is necessary because of big budget cuts already made as the state imposed property tax caps and to prepare for revenue losses that are expected to be even bigger for 2014.
Most of the increase in spending is for public safety, officials say, including a 2 percent wage hike for city employees – three-fourths of whom are in public safety – and items such as badly needed police cars.
The proposed fire department budget is $39.9million, a $1.3 million increase over this year. Chief Amy Biggs said almost half of the increase is simply due to a change in how the city accounts for fire hydrant maintenance and that the extra $594,000 in that line item will be paid for by a water rate increase, not property taxes. Another $553,925 is for the wage increase.
Even so, she said, the department is already 30 firefighters below the 375 authorized, but cannot afford an academy class. It also needs to replace six fire trucks, but cannot afford to. She said the empty positions mean other firefighters have to work longer hours.
"That's a hazard in my opinion," Biggs said.
Councilman John Crawford, R-at large, asked both departments their opinions on a matter of contention between the council and the mayor's office: Who should make the budget cuts. Council members have found it difficult or impossible, administration officials say that shows they're producing lean budgets. This year, council members have suggested it makes more sense for them to set a spending target and let department heads decide where to make the cuts.
Both Biggs and Police Chief Rusty York said they would rather decide where to cut than leave it up to the council.
The proposed budget for the police department is up 4.4 percent to $55.4 million.
Much of the $2.3 million increase is made up of $486,000 for the wage increase, York said, plus $500,000 toward retiree health insurance because the state is not allowing it to come from pension funds this year.
Another $586,159 is in the amount of vehicles the department wants to purchase, and $494,000 is for a new phone system to handle 911 calls.
York said the budget will get the department through 2013, but he worries about what will happen after that, especially since he is already 21 officers below the 440 authorized and will lose more to retirements.
"People will have to determine what they want from their police department," York said. "Do we still go out to larcenies? You're getting into quality of life issues."
The council's budget hearings continue tonight with an examination of the budgets for the board of works, the parks department and traffic engineering.