Arlington City Council wrestles with budget deficit

ARLINGTON — The Arlington City Council continues to winnow its budget to try and reduce what began as a roughly $2 million deficit.

While a combination of COLA and position eliminations, reallocations of funds and reductions of expenditures could shrink that deficit by $1,330,000, Arlington City Administrator Allen Johnson posed the problem of how to close the remaining $670,000 deficit in the city’s general fund to the City Council on Nov. 21.

The preliminary budget for 2012 has already eliminated COLAs for non-represented employees, as well as managers and directors, but an additional $75,000 could be saved by cutting COLAs for uniformed police and fire personnel. Furloughs of all non-represented employees, as well as managers and directors, for one day a month, for 12 furlough days in 2012, would approximate a 5 percent pay cut and represent a further $151,000 in savings. Matching 5 percent pay cuts from uniformed police and fire personnel would yield savings of $133,000 and $61,000, respectively, for a total savings of $420,000 from all four measures. Of course, as Johnson noted, all of these measures would need to be negotiated with their respective employee bargaining groups.

If all these measures were enacted, the remaining deficit would be $250,000. During the Nov. 14 City Council meeting, outgoing Mayor Margaret Larson and several Council members spoke out in favor of reducing the benefits of their own offices, which was reflected in the budget proposals that Johnson presented to Larsen and the Council on Nov. 21. These further deficit reductions would include eliminating medical insurance coverage for the mayor and Council for a savings of $80,282, eliminating dental insurance coverage for the mayor and Council for a savings of $7,934, and eliminating vision insurance coverage for the mayor and Council for a savings of $1,835. These three reductions would save the city a further $90,050.

“It’s hard to tell people we have to cut their services if we’re not taking a hit ourselves,” City Council member Chris Raezer said.

“I don’t have a dog in this hunt, but I tend to agree,” outgoing Council member Sally Lien said, with fellow Council members Dick Butner and Marilyn Oertle echoing her sentiments on Nov. 14.

Larson and outgoing Council member Linda Byrnes both noted that it’s unusual for such part-time elected positions to receive such coverage.

“It wasn’t part of this job when my husband was mayor,” Larson said.

These measures would leave the deficit at $159,950, for which Johnson introduced a handful of tax proposals.

“Every issue that would have raised taxes went down in this last election,” Raezer said on Nov. 14.

According to Johnson, setting all the utility tax rates to 6 percent would yield savings of $250,000, while $289,000 would be saved by setting electricity rates to 6 percent, and cable television and garbage rates to 8 percent each, while leaving all the rest at their current levels. The current utility tax rates for cable television, electricity, garbage, sewer, stormwater and water are all 5 percent each, while the natural gas and telephone rates are each 6 percent.

Johnson added that an 0.1 percent increase in the local sales tax devoted to public safety would increase sales tax rate in Arlington to 8.7 percent, generating $70,000 in 2012 and $300,000 in 2013, which would allow funding for one firefighter and one police officer starting in September of next year.

“Citizens don’t want their public safety cut,” Byrnes said on Nov. 14. “If we can tell them that we’ve reduced all these other things, and this money is going toward public safety, we can put it to a vote.”

The next public hearing on the city budget will take place at the Arlington City Council meeting on Dec. 5 at 7 p.m


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