Cuts in travel, cuts in training, cuts in equipment purchases are all likely to be included in the city’s budget for 2010 — but cuts to the number of city employees aren’t as likely.
That was a message that emerged Wednesday from the Lawrence City Commission’s first of two days of study sessions on next year’s budget.
“We’re absolutely trying to do this without any staff cuts,” said Mayor Rob Chestnut. “Any type of staff reductions would be a last resort.”
But commissioners also made it clear that the city’s belt is going to have to be cinched up a notch. City Manager David Corliss told commissioners that he’s expecting total city revenue to be flat for 2010. That’s a large change from most years this decade when rising property values boosted city coffers by 5 percent or more.
In a sign of how times have changed, the news of flat revenue actually was well received by city leaders, who have heard news of steep declines in other communities.
“Flat is the new up,” said Casey Toomay, the city’s budget director.
At Wednesday afternoon’s study session, commissioners heard detailed budget requests from six city departments — planning and development services, legal services, fire and medical, finance, police, and the city manager’s office.
None of the departments had long lists of new program ideas. Corliss’ office had directed department heads to prepare two separate budget proposals — one that held the line on 2009 spending levels, and another that had a 5 percent cut from 2009 spending levels.
But in another sign that job cuts may not be likely, Corliss’ order to reduce budgets by 5 percent specifically excluded personnel costs.
City employees, however, likely won’t receive much — if any — pay raise in 2010. The departmental budgets were prepared using 2009 salary and wage totals.
“I’m anticipating that we’ll be challenged to provide any significant increase,” Chestnut said.
At least one city division also may still be in jeopardy of being closed or downsized. Corliss had proposed earlier this year layoffs of the three full-time employees of the city’s Human Relations Department — which investigates complaints of discrimination in housing and employment matters. That recommendation was made in response to concerns that the state was going to keep about $1 million in liquor tax revenues that normally is distributed to the city.
Fears have eased that the state will keep that liquor tax money, and staff members are no longer recommending the closure of the Human Relations division. But Chestnut brought the issue back up again on Wednesday.
Currently, the department has three open investigations, and Corliss said the division’s employees have been assigned to help out in other departments at times.
Chestnut said cutting the division and transferring the workload over to attorneys in the city’s legal services department could still be an option.
“I think that is probably at the top of the list to come back to, if we can’t get to the right number any other way,” Chestnut said.
Commissioners will have another study session at 2 p.m. today at City Hall to discuss the budget. Commissioners must have a 2010 budget approved by the end of August.