Norman officials trying to find a way to avoid layoffs

By admin • June 1st, 2010

By Jane Glenn Cannon:

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A plan is in the works to save jobs targeted by a proposed city budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, Mayor Cindy Rosenthal said.

Rosenthal said amendments to the city manager’s proposed budget could reinstate 26 positions, eliminating 12 that are already vacant. The city manager’s budget recommends the elimination of 38 positions altogether, she said.

Rosenthal spoke about budget concerns Tuesday night at the first of two public hearings on the budget, which must be approved by June 8. More than 20 city employees attended the hearing, many of them speaking out about the proposed cuts.

“I understand there is a budget crisis out there, and I can understand the importance of freezing positions instead of hiring new people, but I can’t understand putting another single mother out of work,” employee Sheila Wiard said.

Wiard, a single parent who works for the municipal court, said she is among those targeted for layoffs. She said she chose to go to work for the city instead of keeping a more secure job in private industry, “because I saw it as having a lifelong potential of service to the city I believe in.”

Finance Director Anthony Francisco said a proposed budget of $134,540,647 is based on the premise that each employee would be furloughed 96 hours in the coming year and that positions would be cut.

“We’re not saying they are nonessential positions, but they are positions that are not as critical as some others. We’re trying to maintain the same level of services but do it with less money,” he said.

Rosenthal said budget amendments could save all but those that are already vacant, but that it hinged on cuts in other areas. The mayor said a sanitation rate increase also would be needed this year to keep some services at the same level.

By charter, Norman cannot raise any utility rate without a vote of the people. Residents could be asked to increase rates as early as this fall, Rosenthal said.

Francisco said the proposed budget for next fiscal year is based on no sales tax growth.

City employee Butch Crawford, who serves as president of the firefighters union, said the city ought to prepare its budget based on a 2 percent growth in sales tax “because that more accurately reflects what is going on in the economy.”

If the city will budget based on that projection and save those jobs targeted for elimination, Crawford said, then the employee unions will agree to no pay raises this year and to employee furloughs.

If the unions don’t agree to furloughs, Francisco said, then about $2.2 million more would have to be cut from the proposed budget so that it would balance. By law, the city is required to have a balanced budget, he said.

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