The slicing and dicing of Mayor Paul Dyster’s proposed 2020 city budget has begun.
And members of the Falls City Council began the cutting with their own budget, eliminating the more than $38,000 salary line for an executive assistant. That job was filled earlier in 2019 but is now vacant.
The council also chopped a more than $63,000 salary line for an accountant in the Department of Community Development and eliminated a $65,000 appropriation for consultants in the police department.
Members made a series of what they described as “housekeeping” changes to the budget, modifying the salary of an account clerk in the fire department, while adding a clerk in Senior Citizen Operations.
The clean neighborhood inspector’s job was cut but the Forestry Department gained a position.
The mayor had proposed increasing the city’s risk management fund balance from $850,000 to $1.5 million. The council cut that increase to $1.4 million.
In the first of what will be three budget amendment meetings, the council also signaled an apparent intention to attack city overtime budgets. The council members unanimously approved a $10,000 reduction in overtime for the Department of Code Enforcement.
Dyster will have the ability to review and approve or veto any of the council budget amendments. All of the amendments adopted on Thursday were approved by veto-proof margins.
The mayor had proposed significant increases in overtime funding for city departments in his 2020 spending plan, particularly in the police and fire departments. Council Chairman Andrew Touma signaled his desire to radically reduce that overtime.
“If we cut police and fire overtime by $500,000 (each), thereby saving taxpayers $1 million, (the police superintendent and fire chief) cannot exceed that number and would have to make adjustments?” Touma asked City Controller Daniel Morello and Corporation Counsel Craig Johnson.
It was stated that the city’s contracts with the police and fire unions govern such factors as minimum staffing that can lead to overtime.
However, reading from the City Charter, Touma quoted a sections that says employees who spend city funds can be removed from their positions, fired and barred from future employment with the Falls.
“Who is approving (exceeding budgeted overtime)?” Touma demanded to know. “They need to make adjustments. They cannot spend (overtime the council has not approved).”
That position was embraced by Council Member Chris Voccio.
“Well if the charter overrules (union) contracts, then why not cut overtime to zero and God Bless America?” Voccio said.
Johnson declined to offer an opinion to Touma or other council members on whether the charter provision could be used to force department heads to not abide by union staffing and other requirements that could potentially lead to overtime.
Touma was undeterred.
“These budgets are holding us hostage,” he said. “But I think we can (control overtime) within the contracts.”